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Recently, I was privileged to talk with a customer that implemented Arbortext in 1999: Greg Johnson at Medtronic. Greg heads up what his executives have told him is "the most successful project Medtronic had ever done."  In this interview, Greg talks about how dynamic information delivery systems can really drive down translation costs and what reuse brings to the table. .

It's important to remember that this is the value that Medtronic has come to after 11 years of investment in their dynamic information delivery system. They have continued to develop it over time and to focus on the things that has unceasingly driven the numbers even further down.

The Benefit Content Reuse Brings to Business

Greg was responsible for bringing a dynamic information delivery system into Medtronic.  When you talk to him, here's what he says:

"You don't want to do how/what we did. It's 10 yrs later. But I want to encourage you. There are vast savings and vast reductions in cycle time and vast improvements to do in this field, if you do it smart, build your vision, and go be passionate about it."

Greg Johnson


What drives it down?

According to Greg, it's reuse. Their reuse is at 90%. Their writers are reusing written, translated, validated translations that they can prove are untouched and reused as is.  In their system, they can certify, based on the validity of the system, that they are using exactly the same content. They haven't touched it; there are no changes: they haven't created a revision that triggers other processes and other costs.

What you learn after 10 years of architected content

Greg knows that talking with others can really informed the decisions you make.  He shared with me some of the amazing results they've seen the last 10 years. They're seeing:

  • increasing product complexity
  • increasing # languages
  • increasing volume of documentation
  • increasing product overlap
  • shorter product life cycle

They've seen these trends the last 10 years and he doesn't see these trends changing. In the face of these trends, his group has shown dramatic changes and savings in a very visible project.

All the divisions at Medtronic use the same internal translation center based in the Netherlands. About 7 years ago, the director there hit on a way to collect and track cost data across all the projects that come through. In the last 7 hears, he has done it the same way every time. The data is broken down by business unit, then by content translated within a business unit. He's got inside and outside real world data on what it costs, per page, to generate these results.

Medtronic is now publishing this as a trend line internally. The data is so staggeringly better within the dynamic information delivery system when they compare it to other BUs that are using traditional publishing tools.

The proof is in the data

They've seen the translation savings numbers trend downward for for years. However, even if you're investing more for the authoring side, you still see the win in each language. You still see it even if you're only producing documentation in English. You still get the win because you're still reusing modules rather than rewriting, validating, and producing large amounts of content.

At Medtronic, just on the authoring side, the data is equally impressive:

  • Before: the first manual for a new model would see 95k new words.
  • After: new models have 55K new words; all the rest of the content comes from reusable modules.

Writers and management collaborate to plan documentation for new models taking care to look ahead to other models, so they keep getting win after win for follow-on products.

Here are the stats

The average cost per page to translate a 200 word page (including QA and everything):

- Other business units: $47
- Their business unit, groups not using the system: $38
- Their business unit, using the system: $5

Over the last 7 years all the trends are downward but the 10:1 cost reduction is monumental. $47 can trend down, but $5 will trend down, too. And it's a lot harder for $47 to catch $5.

This is the kind of cost savings and time-to-market driver that cuts across industries and geographies. They're global drivers.


Today, Medtronic has over 100 models, with variations on features and things that are all over in terms of price points.  Greg's team can crank out the manuals for new models right and left. All the features have been netted out to all 100 models and beyond.

Over the last 7 years, they've been tracking what it would have cost if they hadn't had a dynamic information delivery system. They're keeping a running total. It's a long process to see the return on the up front costs, but the return is utterly dependent on the scope of the problem.

His advice

Greg doesn't sugar coat it. He admits that it's a painful process, a long fight, but there are awesome returns. "Reuse is king," he says, "and you should push for it; don't start on authoring side thinking you will band-aid in localization later, understand up front, partner with localization partners to do this right."

It's worth it

He says that believing the stories is hard, but he's the first to tell you not to be faint of heart. "There are a lot of people finding their own way and finding their own wins." He wants more companies to join the conversation. "Spend a day, tour, spend time with management teams. See the exotic things (that other people have done). They will encourage you along the way. Keep slogging ahead, and you can get there."

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Key Concepts:

case study, globalization, make your business case, regulated industries

Filed under:

Blog, Single-Sourcing Exclusive