E.g., 04/07/2020
E.g., 04/07/2020

Managing Translation for Global Applications

By: Don DePalma (Common Sense Advisory)

20 September 2007

We often hear the same lament from content management and IT professionals, executives, and global brand managers: "Multilingual content is just content, isn't it? Shouldn't my CMS be able to manage foreign-language content? Why do I need a separate tool to manage my Chinese and French websites and document farms? How can I ensure the flow of accurate information across a bunch of languages?"

That's a good set of questions. Nearly 10 years ago these concerns led venture capitalists to fund several companies that characterized themselves as “globalization management system” (GMS) vendors. That's an ambitious name, but GMS is a misnomer, an artifact of the late 1990s when everything seemed somehow different (remember the bubble?) and dot.com software companies would change lead into gold.

What Is a Translation Management System?

What this category of products actually does is manage the project information, process workflow, and language assets required for large-scale translation activity. Thus, a better name for this category of product is “translation management system,” or TMS. i That's because rather than dealing with globalization (a particularly vague term for many people anyway), these systems focus on one major consequence of going global – the need to manage multiple streams of foreign-language content at a website, in a publishing system, for marketing collateral, or in a call center. Unlike your average CMS, these solutions have been optimized around three core technologies:

  • Translation technology. Not surprisingly, at the heart of most of these TMS solutions is an integrated translation memory server for storing and leveraging previously translated content. Plugging into that backbone will be some web-top translation tools that improve translator productivity and mark-up tools for reviewing foreign-language content in its context.
  • Process management. Most CMS products focus on getting documents or web pages into the system, edited, formatted and then displayed. TMS systems insert themselves into that workflow, adding the ability to send streams of dependent translations through that same workflow and diverting them to various translation tools when appropriate. The TMS tracks the status of these multiple streams of content, initiates processes, and sends notifications. These systems usually include threaded discussions, calendars, task lists, and other collaboration aids for content creators, editors, translators, and reviewers.
  • Business management. Global deployments add collaborators to a CMS project. The TMS adds project management for translation-specific tasks, resource and vendor management for capturing information about translator or agency rates and availability, and reporting capabilities that integrate with financial systems like QuickBooks for invoicing and order tracking.

Could a CMS do all of this? Well, maybe, but only if you're willing to become intimate with its many application programming interfaces and with a host of third-party translation memory, terminology, workflow, and financial management systems. You have better places to spend your time, whether you work for a language service provider or a large enterprise.

Where Can You Buy One?

Where can you get your hands on a TMS? Nearly a decade after the first rumblings of GMS, the software industry now offers a grab-bag of translation management solutions that we characterize by how companies can acquire them:

  • Buy or rent the software. Commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) products such as across Language Server, Idiom's WorldServer, Lido-Lang XTRF, and SDL's TMS were originally designed to be installed at a customer's site. Today, some are available as a co-located or hosted solution – expect that to become more common.
  • Buy a service, get the software. Some solutions are “captive,” available only as part of a language service contract. Such offerings include Lionbridge's Freeway, Sajan's GCMS, and Translations.com's GlobalLink CMS. Of course, these services-centric solutions are not directly available to other translation agencies unless they subcontract to the provider that offers the TMS.

An industry has begun developing around these solutions. Two years ago Idiom launched its LSP Advantage program to encourage translation agencies to use its WorldServer solution rather than build their own. Competitors like across and SDL have followed suit. Clay Tablet markets connectors to LSPs that let them link disparate content sources with homegrown or commercial workflow systems. Looking to an interoperable future, Sajan has crafted its own middleware that would allow enterprises to connect their data flows to its TMS and in turn to its competitors.

Should an LSP Use a TMS?

Language service providers struggle with the need to effectively, efficiently, and cheaply manage increasing volumes of content that their clients want to see in a variety of languages. Production centers in low-wage countries address part of the problem, but longer term, automation solutions such as TMS will help them optimize translation, workflow, business operations, and the human and technical assets that make it all happen.

When we drilled down into the market for translation management in a series of reports starting in December 2006, Common Sense Advisory found growing demand for the technology coming from four types of companies: small translation vendors, medium and large language service providers, functional groups within an enterprise, and enterprise IT departments. Table 1 provides a quick way to categorize your needs for translation management balanced against some business realities like budgets.

Company Type

Translation Automation Needs

Infrastructure Realities

LSP – small

•  One simple system for business and project management

•  Big company workflow

•  Low cost of entry

•  Minimal infrastructure

•  Part-time IT staff

•  Tiny IT budget

LSP – medium & large

•  Scalability

•  Interoperability with CMS and enterprise systems

•  Licensing terms that won't hamper growth

•  Typically Windows oriented infrastructure

•  Limited but savvy IT staff

•  Willing to invest in IT

Enterprise Department

•  Ease of integration

•  Outsource everything mantra

•  Portal-based management

•  Do not control their own infrastructure

•  Must beg-borrow-steal IT staff

•  Limited IT budget

Enterprise IT

•  Scalability and performance

•  Standards (SOAP, XML, DITA)

•  Documented APIs for connections to corporate systems and for other software to connect with it

•  Heterogeneous infrastructure

•  Large, experienced IT staff

•  Ample IT budget, if demonstrable ROI

Table 1 : Demand-Side Need By Buyer Category
Source: Common Sense Advisory

Stay tuned for the next Q4 GALAxy when we'll look at some TMS solutions in more detail.

Don DePalma is the founder and chief research officer of the research and consulting firm Common Sense Advisory Inc.and author of the premier book on business globalization “Business Without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing.”

i Benjamin B. Sargent and Donald A. DePalma, “Translation Management Technology,” Common Sense Advisory, December 2006.