Size Does Not Matter

by Luciano O. Monteiro

On 01 July 2020, DELETRA entered into a framework agreement with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation (DGT) to provide translation services from Portuguese to English. The signature of this five-year contract was the culmination of a long and meticulous selection process that took more than a year.

The process began with the TRAD19 call for tenders in May 2019, encompassing a total of 49 language pairs. In the contract notice, the DGT specified that it was ‘looking for highly qualified and experienced translation service providers on whom it can rely’. In other words, they were looking for translation service providers with sufficient capacity, including individuals, organisations and joint tenders.

The call for tenders was poorly received by many professional translators, who argued that the procurement was biased towards larger LSPs. And many colleagues also shunned the whole process on the dubious grounds that cheap, low-quality translation companies would eventually win.

However, when I attended an information session in Tallinn delivered by some of people behind the procurement process, it became clear to me that it was possible for a team of translators to participate (and perhaps to win) by submitting a joint tender. And that we could do so without lowering our rates, since pricing would represent only 30% of the final quality score. With that in mind, I set about assembling a team, and I invited my trusted colleagues Lindsay and Mason to join our bid.

In order to progress to the later stages in the process, we had first of all to demonstrate linguistic, technical and financial capacity to supply the DGT with high volumes under tight timeframes. Then our core team had to take two series of tests comprising translation, revision and project management assignments.

Actually we were supposed to sit our tests just once, but a glitch in the third-party platform hired by the European Commission meant that all tests originally taken in October were cancelled and re-scheduled for January 2020 – much to our team’s dismay, since those tests were unpaid and we did not receive any compensation for the time wasted.

In the end, the DELETRA team was approved in all tests and was selected alongside two other translation companies to sign a framework agreement for Portuguese-English translations. With that result, we had beaten dozens of competing translation companies, some of them worth millions of euros in revenue, showing that size does not matter when it comes to specialised translation. And we did so without compromising on rates.

It was rather rewarding and uplifting to see the outcome of so much effort and to be reassured that small translation studios can compete on equal footing with mammoth LSPs. We are very much looking forward to a fruitful partnership over the next five years.