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The Terms of Business: Saving Money Through Terminology Management

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According to Kara Warburton, chair of LISA’s Terminology SIG, most companies are still unaware of the need to invest in terminology development and active management of terminological resources. Recent work by the Terminology SIG has helped demonstrate that investment in terminology management and development can deliver a tangible return on investment, not just intangible benefits such as improved quality or customer satisfaction. In this article Warburton outlines the activities of the Terminology SIG, including a new survey on terminology practices, and looks at changes in attitude in the GILT industry that may presage a brighter future for awareness of the importance of terminology.

Kara Warburton, Chair, LISA Terminology SIG For several years now, LISA members have recognized the value that managing terminology brings to the localization industry. It’s the Terminology SIG’s job to make sure that terminology management remains a focus area for improvement, even if that means looking beyond the GILT industry itself. Because indeed it’s not just about translation. The message is simple, to quote IBM’s Globalizing your e-business web site: “Managing terminology supports your corporate brand image, and makes your products easier to use, easier to translate, and easier to adapt to global markets.”

Yet getting enterprises to focus resources on this activity continues to be a challenge.

Maybe they should consider what happens when you don’t manage terminology. Again according to IBM’s Globalizing your e-business web site: “Without controls, terminology can cause problems that will cost your company money and customer satisfaction.” We’re talking about increased support calls, escalating translation costs, increased time to market, and sometimes even product failure. Could you afford to ignore these effects on your bottom line?

I can hear terminologists now echoing these statements in the business cases that they present to the bestowers of project budgets. But often the information required to unlock the safe is more quantitative than qualitative: “How much money will we save?” or “How much productivity will we gain?” Members of the LISA Terminology SIG know from experience that it is very difficult to obtain reliable quantitative data to support a terminology management business case.

Following the publication of its last report, Terminology Management - A Comparative Study of Costs, Data Categories, Tools, and Organizational Structure, the Terminology SIG is conducting a brief survey among LISA members to help validate the conclusions of the report among a broader audience. Please take the 5 minutes required to complete this survey, which is available on the LISA home page. In parallel, the SIG is brainstorming about how to build a business case for investing in a terminology process and tools (SIG members Paolo Vanni of PeopleSoft and Mark Childress of SAP have presented this topic at conferences), and I will report our findings during the LISA Forum USA in Washington, D.C.

The focus of terminology work is beginning to shift away from translation into other domains such as content authoring and search technologies. But this shift is not occurring fast enough in my opinion. I keep wondering, why are the commercially-available terminology management tools so frequently buried within translation tools? Have you ever heard of an English writer using a translation memory system? Many, if not most, terminology problems originate in the source language. Little wonder that few source language writers or product developers have even heard about managing terminology! Content authoring systems in general lag far behind localization systems in providing terminology management functions. And having a fully-integrated solution for both authoring and localization is a pipe dream. In order to change this situation, we must stop thinking about terminology as a “translation problem.” It is a globalization challenge that starts the moment that an idea to create a product is hatched. This view is shared by other SIG members such as Paolo Vanni of PeopleSoft and Raphael Prono of Xerox.

Paolo’s experience shows that inconsistent use of terms in software user interfaces, online and printed documentation, marketing collateral, and web content often comes to light only during translation, when it is too late to correct the problem efficiently. The costs associated with improper terminology management at the source can be staggering, especially for companies with vast amounts of source material to be localized in multiple languages. A more effective solution would be to start the terminology process during the software application development phase, working closely with engineers and technical writers to define a set of core terminology and approved forms (long forms, abbreviations, acronyms, etc.) to be researched, pre-translated, and documented in an enterprise-wide termbase.

Raphael agrees. “We have come to realize that terminology management becomes a waste of time if this activity is solely performed by the localization vendor/translation department,” he says. “The trouble in this situation is that translators and terminologists facing erroneous or inconsistent source terms keep having to solve authoring problems with no hope of stopping them from reappearing. Our primary goal now is to educate our customers so they understand the long-term benefits of managing terminology from the source down. When we put a process in place with our customers where both authors and translators can openly communicate and contribute to a common terminology database, our customers get the benefits of it at different levels:



  1. better authoring and translation quality through consistent terminology re-use and
  2. translation cost reduction through higher re-use of legacy source material (using TM technology)

This sounds simple enough, but convincing customers to change their ways of authoring is the hardest part of it.”

Take a look at the agenda of the Terminology in Advanced Multilingual Communications (TAMA) conference, hosted by TermNet (The International Network for Terminology), a LISA GA member. The first two topic themes are “Information Management” and “Content Management.” Similarly, the program of the upcoming LREC conference of the European Language Resources Association focuses on multidimensional aspects such as using terminology for information retrieval and knowledge management. And the upcoming Localization World Conference is holding a day-long terminology management summit where authoring, information retrieval and terminology extraction are as prominent in the program as localization itself.

LISA first drew our attention to the importance and challenges of terminology extraction two years ago in the report of the Terminology Management in the Localization Industry survey. Now, terminology extraction is gaining recognition as an essential activity in the localization process. It appears as a key topic on conference agendas such as those mentioned above. Tools vendors are clamoring to add terminology extraction to their tools, and some companies, such as IBM, have developed their own term extraction tools.

With the interests of the localization industry on my agenda, I attended the ISO TC 37 (Terminology and Other Language Resources) meetings in Oslo, Norway. I noted with interest that a new work item will be proposed to develop a set of data categories and a markup framework for lexical resources. This proposed standard will take the principles upon which LISA’s TBX was developed for terminological (concept-based) resources and apply them to lexical (word-based) resources. Bilingual lexicons used to support the localization process are often of the latter type and so we will follow this initiative closely.

ISO TC 37 is also responsible for the Codes for the Representation of Names of Language (ISO 639) standard which is so prevalently used throughout the localization industry. Quite a stir arose when the suggestion was made that ISO may charge for the use of these codes. On September 30, 2003, ISO settled the matter by issuing a press release reaffirming free-of-charge use.

We have a long way to go before we can say that we have a handle on managing terminology. Many companies are still in denial that they need to do anything at all. The localization industry can feel proud for showing leadership in this area. We must continue to lead, one step at a time. Business case guidelines will be the next step. But I’m sure you share my satisfaction in seeing the localization industry show its counterpart, the software development industry, a thing or two about building global solutions!

Kara Warburton is responsible for defining IBM's terminology strategy, including tools, processes, and data management. Her primary goal is to extend the focus of terminology management from translation to content management. She is also a published author and public speaker on the subject.

Kara is a Canadian delegate to ISO TC 37, which defines ISO terminology standards, and the IBM representative on OSCAR. She holds a Master's degree in Terminology from Université Laval and has held positions as translator, information developer and university professor. Kara can be reached at


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
4 November 2003, Volume XII, Issue 4.3.

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider:, LISA:
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2004

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