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Why & How We Developed Our Own Translation Management System

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Nabil Freij photoWhen GlobalVision opened its doors for business 12 years ago, we looked at the state of technology in the language industry. Coming from software and engineering backgrounds, it was a no-brainer for us to invest in Translation Memory (TM) tools.

After a thorough review of the tools available in the market, we invested heavily in Trados and outfitted our project managers and key translators with the software. The investment was well made and paid off within a year.

Talking the TM story to our high-tech clients in the late 90s and early 2000s proved to be a key differentiator against outdated translation agencies that back then commanded a presence in the language service field. But by 2004, most low-tech language companies who have not awakened to the benefits of TM tools, have either gone out of business, were acquired by others that did, or withdrew into obscurity.

In that period, and in part due to its neutrality and successful marketing, Trados penetrated the language industry and established itself as a de facto standard. As it succeeded in penetrating the market, it was no longer sufficient for us to tout the benefits of TM to gain business. By then, all localization vendors and most translation outfits had already acquired the technology. The differentiator was no longer there as customers expected us to use TM tools.

ClientSide News Magazine pictureBy 2005, SDL, resigned to the fact that its SDLX offering will not break the lock of Trados on the TM market, and Trados, recognizing that further penetration will be much more difficult going forward and at a greater expense, saw mutual benefit in a buyout. But SDL, the acquiring company, is not a neutral software developer since the bulk of its revenues are in providing language services and it is regarded as a competitor by most localization and translation service vendors.

In their gut, TM tools depend on database and search engine technology that have been revolutionized by Microsoft, Oracle and Google far beyond what was available since the days of DOS (Trados was based on the software running on DOS and hence its name: TraDOS - or Translation under DOS). Furthermore, with the emergence and adoption of industry standards like XML, TMX and XLIFF, it has become easier to migrate databases and files from one TM tool to another.

Another trend was also taking shape in 2005 in the high-tech world which was spilling over into the language industry. Enterprise solutions tying databases, information, files, assets and users together via an online collaboration portal were gaining momentum and notice. Salesforce.com and other online ASP or SaaS model companies proved the viability and robustness of the technology and model prompting many followers to try to capitalize on it.

With this technology, TMs and other project assets can be made accessible over the web to facilitate project initiation, execution and collaboration. The localization process hence no longer needs to be a "box" process where localization clients are at the mercy of their vendor to know what is being done and when, and to gain access to their hard-earned intellectual property files and databases. With a SaaS model, language vendors can offer transparency and access to client information and assets, 24/7.

In addition, our own staff, client users, vendors, partners and other stake holders can all collaborate online to service the needs of the paying customer. The technology is within everyone's reach. But existing solutions were slow, expensive, complicated, incomplete and very restrictive in functionality, type of users allowed, or both.

With the advent of powerful low cost or open source off-the-shelf database and development environments like SQL, ASP, PHP, Ajax and Java, and with abundant access to experienced developers around the world, we started looking into developing our own Translation Management System, 100% customized to meet the needs of our clients, partners and internal needs. All that was needed was the foresight, funding, will and time to make it happen.

We started by writing the requirements and we outsourced the development of the first module to an off-shore vendor. By the end of 2005, our partners, freelancers and contractors were completing their qualification and legal forms online expanding our vendor database by 10 folds. This effort consolidated all the job applicants, their information, skills, rates, references, legal forms, and contact information all in one database, easy to access and maintain. A 6 man-months development time of gvPartner continues to generate a slew of new qualified language partners that have become key resources to our growing company. No similar commercial solution is available still.

By 2006, after we saw the benefits of building our own solution, we geared up and hired a team of developers who worked on laying the architecture foundation and the requirements of our enterprise portal for managing projects and client data.

By 2007, our team of three developers released gvTerm, which made the client terminology available online for their search, browse, review, update and export. This gave our clients the ability to allow access to their terminology and keywords database to any user they wish, including their partners that integrate with them, and even our competitors that are second sources to our clients.

gvAccess - Managing Projects Workflow and Tasks Online
Figure 1: gvAccess - Managing Projects Workflow and Tasks Online

gvTerm - Searching Your Terminology OnlineBuilding
Figure 2: gvTerm - Searching Your Terminology OnlineBuilding

Later in 2007, our challenge was to consolidate all the queries and ticket items into an online database that permits easy entry, automatic search against existing queries or terminology databases, publishing, moderation and response.

Figure 3 gvCollab - Entering Queries OnlineQueries
Figure 3: gvCollab - Entering Queries OnlineQueries

Queries accumulated over time became a knowledge base for all future translators and reviewers to draw from while updating, translating or editing our clients' material. Together with the Terminology Database (TD) and the Translation Memory (TM), the Query database (QD) became a potent weapon improving quality and facilitating project execution.

Lease or Own?

You definitely have more options in 2008, but the following are the benefits that we are experiencing by having built our own:

  • Technology neutral and TM-tool independent. There is much to say about not having the strategic functions of your organization at the mercy of one vendor or even worse, a competitor. Our clients have a choice. They are not locked into a proprietary tool and can request their data in their preferred formats. Having our own development team allows us to accommodate our clients' needs.
  • In addition to the fact that our clients now have immediate access to their project files and status, they can benefit from our in-depth development expertise in the latest software technologies to make their localization projects execute more efficiently and effectively. We've integrated our TMS solution with many of their tools and databases using web services and connectors.
  • While our worldwide project managers and production staff have central access to resources, project data and project assets, they also have the ability to enhance the process and recommend changes. Having our own IT team permits us to attend to all their needs to improve their throughput and efficiency.
  • Our partners have all their tasks and POs organized online where they can complete and bill. Our accounting is integrated as well into it automating bill payment and invoicing saving endless hours of mundane manual work.
  • Our Sales and Business development staff benefitfrom having a compelling story to tell our clients. They also have full authority to request key changes to our solution to permit winning new business. This is the competitive edge that the next generation of localization vendors will clamor for.

Today, it is a challenge to buy a solution from a vendor and use it out of the box and gain all the above benefits. Even if you look at the best solution, from the most reputable vendor, you will still need to invest in the hardware, software and customization (hence developers) to achieve these benefits. Perhaps you will not need the same number of developers to support the solution, but you will definitely pay a handsome sum for the purchase of the software, support and lack of authority over unctionality and code that will control strategic functions of your operations.

For those who think an IT team is too costly to carry, I say: first find out what your true cost of ownership is, add to it the liability that you will assume with the new vendor and then compare against open source software and off-shore development; you will be amazed at what you will find!

About the Author:

Mr. Freij is the president, founder and owner of GlobalVision International,
Inc. (www.globalvis.com), a Software Localization and Translation
specialist. He is trilingual and holds an MSEE from Brown University and an MBA from Bryant University. Freij has worked for 20 years in the hardware, software, and localization industries. He has traveled the world and lived in five countries. He is frequently published and quoted. You can read Nabil's bi-weekly blog at http://globalvis.blogspot.com

Published - January 2009

ClientSide News Magazine - www.clientsidenews.com

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