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Smart Sourcing for Language Service Provider Selection

How life sciences companies are turning vendors into partners

The growing importance of language management

The last couple of years have driven growth for all kinds of life sciences companies – medical devices, pharma, CRO, eCOA, new entrants like virtual clinical trial providers, and health care. The pace of business expansion presents companies with good problems to manage. Regulatory approval, R&D, distribution, etc. – Language may not be top of mind, but as companies manage their own organic growth as well as the impact of technology on the language category, leading organizations are changing how they manage their network of language service providers (LSPs).

Language is on a seam in terms of criticality. It faces less regulation and scrutiny than regulatory consultancies, lab services, payroll processing. But the data entrusted to LSPs is mission critical and highly sensitive in terms of clinical trials, pharmacovigilance, post-market surveillance, patient instruments, etc. And the annual spend for a global life sciences company is often 7 or 8 figures a year. More and more, life sciences companies are looking to exert increased control over the language category than we saw just a few years ago.

What does control of the language category look like?

Governance committees: Group decisions

Up until a couple of years ago, it was still common for a single procurement contact to oversee the language category. During vendor selection, the procurement owner would work with a selection team of key internal stakeholders, most notably Quality Management, but once the MSA was signed, the procurement owner would very likely be the only contact client-side with an overall view of the enterprise to provider relationship.

With a network of vendors that is made up of three to five global providers and as many as several hundred regional/niche providers, as well as thousands of requestors each year, the task of evolving the service offering has always been a challenge for any one person.

Today, more and more life sciences companies are using a team approach to managing the language category. Gone are the days of a single point of contact left to try to move the ball forward. Today’s approach very often involves a formal Governance Committee, with an established charter, articulated strategic goals, metric targets to be hit, and well-documented reporting processes in place.

Such committees are made up of quality management and info sec professionals and key internal stakeholders, with representation from regulatory affairs, clinical functions, pharmacovigilance, and learning and development. Often, members rotate responsibilities and take turns to oversee such tasks as internal communications, innovation roadmapping, reporting, and financials.

A close-up of someone pipetting a substance into a test tube.

Complete activity tracking – including UX

Increasingly, enterprises are taking a more holistic view of activity within the language category. While QBRs were sometimes a formality – skipped sessions, lax reporting, etc., it’s becoming more common for life sciences companies to impose a standard set of key performance indicators (KPIs) across all providers.

These KPIs have become much more comprehensive than just on-time delivery (OTD) and quality metrics. Nowadays, they include qualitative metrics like Voice of Customer (VOC) survey results and Net Promoter Scores (NPS). They also standardize meaningful financial metrics such as organizational cost per word and cost per cycle, and internal metrics such as employee time spent in review functions. Taking this 360 view of activity allows the enterprise to ensure that total value from the localization program is growing year-over-year.

Network consolidation

Once upon a time, vendor management simply meant putting them through their paces in selection and a brief quality assessment. Once procurement identified a set of qualified global vendors, the job was done.

Today, life science enterprises take a different and longer view. They understand the hidden cost of complexity. Working with providers who don’t have translation memories, or who don’t use portals, can’t streamline review processes, don’t offer connectors, etc., has a measurable cost.

They look across a fragmented vendor landscape, with many global regions, most notably Brazil and China, and see less sophisticated providers. Trying to get a handle on a mix of providers, especially less experienced ones, could be a full-time job itself. Rather than scramble to manage all these contractors separately, companies want a responsible, experienced partner to provide a streamlined workflow and relieve the project management burden.

A close-up of tablets in foil and plastic packaging.

Partnership framework

Organizations are beginning to take control of third party spend, whether through CROs, eLearning content creation partners, marketing agencies, or law firms. With expanded oversight and reporting, life science companies can more easily impose terms and pricing and can even mandate that third parties are using trusted LSPs.

In some instances, moving to a managed service provider (MSP) model, where one provider plays the role of air traffic control to manage the day-to-day.

Platforms for innovation

Centralizing technology is key for translation management systems. One set of translation memories (TMs), and one set of machine translation (MT) engines can be linked to by all functional areas, giving consistent quality.

If you are thoughtful about your spend, you understand language is simultaneously important and yet not your core business. How do you grow up and manage this budget? Do you include machine translation? Do you optimize your vendor network? Can you manage the category internally or is it better to obtain outside help? Should you sign up for a platform to reduce your overall cost?

Going to RFP every three years to disqualify and qualify vendors means making only incremental savings/improvements each time. Picking the right vendor that you can trust and keeping them long term will drive cost savings. They can learn about your internal processes and integrate into your company workflow and even culture.

But most importantly, the right partner shares your commitments. Our teams know you expect reliable, quality service, and we have the experience needed to provide just that.

Learn more about how we can help.

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Mark Aiello with April M. Crehan
Mark Aiello with April M. Crehan