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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comparisons of Translation Technologies

ClientSide News Magazine pictureMost of the technology used to add value to the language translation process still remains in the hands of language service providers(LSPs) and translators. But client demand for more strategic control is growing. To the educated and globally aware, language translation is no longer just another task to enable product launch; it is becoming strategic. It now garners the attention of senior level executives who want more from it. They want a strong return on their investment.
Consider Translation Memory (TM) for example. For so long, LSPs have promoted the use of TM, touting the value, but the clients seldom have physical control or possession of the database asset. The concept and value is understood, but a truly integrated approach to other enterprise systems, thus becoming strategic, is virtually impossible. Additionally, a large volume of isolated TM files scattered across translators’ or project managers’ desktops does not resemble anything enterprise or strategic.
Drawn to the appeal of taking control of the language translation process or at least possession of the translation assets, some companies are making the decision to purchase a TranslationManagement System. They aspire to take the middleman out of the equation (or reduce his involvement), delivering cost reduction and enabling new strategic benefits, such as integration into other business systems. However, as many have found, a significant number of challenges also ensue, which counters the promise of value when purchasing your own enterprise level Translation Management System.
Companies who have ventured into this proposition take on significant risk. As with any large software purchase, they must deliver the ROI to senior management. And the cost basis for this evaluation extends beyond the actual cost of the software. To be complete, one must consider the cost of product implementation, training, maintenance, integration, flexibility/adaptability, deployment time and, last but certainly not least, they must ask themselves, “Is managing language translation software our core competency?”
Businesses have grown very impatient when buying software, waiting for financial or strategic returns. A common baseline for estimating the cost of implementation of a large-scale software application has been a 1 to 1 ratio. One part is the software license; the other part is the associated services to install, configure, and train users. And that training is simply to become operational. The costs continue in order to remain current with product updates, product support, and user expansion.
A model not unique to the language translation industry is Software as a Service (SaaS). This model has been gaining a significant amount of attention from software buyers of all sorts. By definition, SaaS is a model for software delivery. It enables the software company to offer, configure, and provide maintenance, daily operation, and technicalsupport, all without having an invasive and often costly local deployment of an enterprise software system. If done properly, it is a low- or no-cost entry point to attain all the value of the software, but without having to endure complex and costly deployments. If one considers the real motivation of the buyer, it is the value they seek and not the actual software itself. Thus, the model has great appeal.
The direct benefits of this model can be correlated to the challenges presented earlier. Additional benefits are found as enhancements and upgrades to the software are more easily managed by the software vendor. Features and enhancements can be made without the user ever knowing. This eliminates the installation process on the desktop of countless machines. As language translation is a highly collaborative process, with participants residing in all areas of the globe, SaaS can eliminate a significant amount of challenge, enabling language translation buyers to obtain new-found value in an easy, non-invasive manner.
When considering a SaaS model, a few common objections do arise. The characteristics of SaaS are network based (be it LAN or Internet). This might mean that consideration must be given to security. This is likely no different from the same security concerns given to other types of Internet-based services that people have become accustomed to.
Another key consideration is location of the physical data. If you are evaluating a SaaS model to serve as your Translation Management System, you’ve secured your application functionality, but this should also include possession of your data.
Some IT buyers also point out that SaaS leaves you with nothing if you decide to leave the service vendor. This is a valid concern, but it can be mitigated by working with a partner that not only provides the value differentiator as a service, but deploys the most critical asset from this system (the multilingual data) in a standard format, resident in your environment.
The ability to integrate into other business systems might also be a valid concern when considering your translation technology solution. SaaS can also be designed to integrate very nicely into the rest of the enterprise. It is likely that the future leaders in this space will have to consider things such as a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). SOA represents encapsulated components that perform a certain function. Often, they are agnostic of the technology platform (.NET v. J2EE), enabling the enterprise to integrate easily into the SaaS Translation Management System.
For the LSP that uses another company’s technology product as the store front, danger might also exist in the fact that they have a very limited ability to implement change into the technology product. They are bound to use whatever the technology vendor offers. They are one step removed from being able to control this critical component to the overall solution.
At the recent Localization World conference in Barcelona, Spain, we were reminded that the top 20 LSPs hold only 12 percent of the total market opportunity. Further, the industry was reminded that “language service” is the dominating percentage of this opportunity. Why, then, all the fuss over technology? Answer: If not for some type of value-add differentiator, an LSP’s primary method of creating differentiation is through cost reduction.
Language translation buyers have many options when evaluating a complete solution provider. As the more advanced buyers demand more integrated technology, the debate over whether to purchase enterprise software or use it in a SaaS model will continue. While the model and method of delivery might be disputed, the benefits of the technology are not. The strategic position of language translation within the corporate enterprise will be a large factor when making any type of technology investment.
Translation buyers should strongly consider SaaS as the model for gaining access to leading translation management technology. However, use it for those things that make the most sense for your business. In most cases, the average buyer should not recreate the LSP function with their company. This deviates from their core competency. Outsource this, but integrate your business process so as to make language translation a seamless and painless process.
The implementation time for a good SaaS Translation Technology Solution, coupled with a knowledgeable language vendor is measured in hours or days. It should scale nicely from a small workgroup of 5-10 to a larger group of 500 if needed. This will allow you, the business person, the ability to isolate this new process and technology,document the returns with virtually no investment, and make the strategic decision to scale based on this data. You can completely avoid large expenditures, lengthy implementations, and increased risk of success.
Finally, don’t lose sight of the most critical component in this equation: the multilingual asset. Begin realizing the benefits of doing more with your multilingual asset than seeing a word count or cost reduction report provided by your LSP. If language translation is strategic in your company, enable broader use of this asset. This will also make the pennies-per-word discussion no longer the only measurement of value.
The language translation industry is the ideal market for SaaS. The highly collaborative, fragmented, and complex world we operate in fits nicely into this model, which offers the best of both worlds. Costs are significantly contained, returns are easily measured, and scale is a matter of adding user accounts. This is truly an example of On-demand Translation Management Technology.

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