Technological advancements are evolving at record speed, from CO2 emission tracking to clever CRMs. To keep up with these changes and maintain a competitive edge, businesses are investing in roles and skill sets that ensure technology is effectively embedded within company processes.
One way they’re attempting this is by zoning in on the Tech Translator role.
This isn’t a new concept; a few years ago, global consulting firm Mckinsey & Company wrote an article referencing “analytics translators”, calling them the “new must-have role.” But we still lack clarity on its function.
So, what exactly is a Tech Translator? Is it a skillset, a job title, or simply an ideal? We argue that it can be any of the above, dependent on the need. Still, it’s vital to establish which departments can and should take advantage of the capabilities that a tech translator - whether one person or several different ‘minds’ - can bring.
We explore more below.
What is the Tech Translator's role?
The Tech Translator role works as a supporting bridge between the executive team and technical data teams, aligning the company mission with practical implementation and maintenance of tech.
It’s also been described as:
“...someone who can bridge the gap in expertise between technical teams, made up of data scientists, data engineers and software developers, and business stakeholders.”Taylor and Francis Online
The role has attracted considerable interest, with increasing executive buy-in from organisations that aim for an agile and effective workforce.
We’ve seen many senior management positions, such as Head of IT, CTO, or CIO, absorb these responsibilities. However, some organisations designate “the translator” as an official title, although there’s still a slight variation in the labelling; you may recognise title names such as Analytics Translator, Data Translator, or Tech Translator.
But while its description may seem ubiquitous, its core is all about good communication, prioritising projects, and ensuring clarity on strategy, informed by a deep understanding of data and analytics.
Are Tech Translators important?
Yes. For large businesses or those in a growth stage, the Tech Translator can help streamline business priorities - a sometimes underestimated need.
They ensure that the executive team can understand technical options clearly, from what impact on overall strategy has to reviewing implementation results. They are also vision makers, ‘selling the dream’ in the minds of the c-suite.
As McKinsey mentions, "translators draw on their domain knowledge to help business leaders identify and prioritize their business problems, based on which will create the highest value when solved"
Part technician, part researcher, part communicator, part project manager; their responsibilities are hugely varied and may include:
Identifying or preempting digital roadblocks in processes
Liaising with senior stakeholders on business strategy
Communicating with technical teams on business vision and project goals
Maintaining an entrepreneurial mindset
But that’s just the start.
Once a direction is agreed upon, either in the form of a project shift or specific tool adoption, they are then responsible for monitoring the progress.
One interesting insight from Thom Cunningham-Burley, Heading of Consulting at Freshminds, is
“It is also interesting at the moment that the "tech" sector has been hit hard by job losses, but I would see that as a huge opportunity for these "translators" to add immense value…connecting the strategy and the execution for technology programmes at scale."
Challenges of the translator role
Like any senior role, there are some obvious challenges surrounding leadership and conflict management. However, we’ve seen the role shapeshift slightly in the last few years.
We look at three major challenges below.
1) Liaising with a spectrum of stakeholders.
One of the most challenging aspects of the role is learning how to liaison successfully between stakeholders, both junior and senior. Communication can make or break a business, and translators have to be sensitive and intuitive to personality types.
2) Staying ahead of disruptive digital trends.
Sometimes considered “the entrepreneurial mindset”, translators need to stay connected with digital trends and transitions. This is especially important in order to maintain and grow a competitive advantage in one particular industry.
3) Constantly role-affirming.
As typical of any emerging role, responsibilities and tasks may not be clearly defined from the start. Whether businesses prefer to watch someone organically grow in the role or have clear definitions beforehand depends on each individual organisation.
What key skills are needed
A good way to tackle the above problems is to consider what a successful digital translator needs. While this will depend on the specific placement, the requirements below are a good place to start.
Project management skillset: Essential project management skills such as organisation, road mapping, and team morale. The role may also require a degree of leadership, ensuring everything has project and overall business clarity.
Strong EQ and communication: Any role that requires high levels of communication benefits greatly from strong EQ. Equally, you’ll need to be good at managing individuals with varying personality types, working methods, EQ levels, and more. You’ll find that a solid and empathetic foundation will take you a long way.
An understanding of overall business operations: Part of being a successful translator is having a good understanding of overall business strategy, and not just in a general sense. Being able to apply business knowledge to a particular product, sector, and consumer or client market is essential.
Cost impact knowledge: Whether businesses invest in a digital translator role to tighten costs or want someone to monitor the predicted expenses of rolling out new projects within the digital space, a translator role should have a fair understanding of what this entails.
Technical knowledge: In order to help manage technical teams, having a degree of digital knowledge is extremely beneficial. Communication is core. You should understand the multi-functional uses of data, which data pockets are most beneficial to business growth and how these can be packaged into useful and tangible insights for major stakeholders.
How does the future look for Tech Translators?
The business sphere is still trying to decide exactly what the Tech Translator role entails.
But that’s the trick.
It’s a role that struggles to be defined because its power lies in the subjective.
Good businesses will apply the skillset of a Tech Translator role and identify what area of expertise is most needed, e.g. an analytics translator might have a firmer understanding of transforming raw data into actionable insights, versus a digital translator, who might be more focused on leadership.
However, the core should always be the same; communication.
Equally, the need for digital translators isn’t going away anytime soon, with new products like conversational chatbots emerging onto the scene.