Miami-Dade portal trying translation

Miami-Dade portal

To ensure that Spanish-speaking residents have access to government services online, Miami-Dade County officials plan to revamp the county's Web portal and include a pilot program focused on automated translation of information from English to Spanish.

Launched in April 2001, the portal (miamidade.gov) offers county services and information. Users can perform such tasks as paying parking tickets, registering to vote, renewing library books and many other things that regularly are done in person or via mail.

The improved portal, scheduled to be operating by February 2003, will include automated translation of information from English to Spanish with the use of IBM Corp.'s portal server with translation capability.

The reason Miami-Dade is running only a pilot is because "automated translation has been known to produce unreliable data," said Judi Zito, the director of Miami-Dade's e-Government Department. "We want to review the testing before we put it out because government information must be accurate. If the machine gives the wrong information, you are worse off than when you started," she said.

Because automated translation can be complicated and in many cases inaccurate, manual translation is an alternative, however, the resources are not available, Zito said.

As for a marketing strategy, Zito explained that the pilot is going to be a low-key operation. "The main focus of our marketing strategy is on the portal as a whole," she said. "Since it is only in the pilot phase, we will put something on the Web page. However, it will be more of a 'click here' type of thing."

Although Spanish-speaking residents heavily populate the Miami area, Zito said there has not been a significant demand for translation on the site. Miami-Dade is not under legislation to mandate such a service but will do so to make information readily available for those in need, Zito said.

This translation addition to the portal makes sense, said French Caldwell, vice president and research director at consulting firm Gartner Inc. "It's a matter of looking at what you are trying to do and the audience you are trying to reach. In this situation, it is a must," he said.

According to Zito, information compiled from feedback during the pilot phase will determine completion of the project. Eventually, miamidade.gov will be available in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole, Zito said.

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