For companies well on their way up the localization maturity ladder, it’s easy to justify investing in a translation management system (TMS) to streamline complex workflows. The hard part is navigating the vast array of TMS solutions available—an amount now nearing 100—and all their bells and whistles.
TMSs have never been more customizable, adaptable and automated than they are today, which is great, but what does the ideal solution look like for your localization program? Now and as you scale?
This is a decision made simpler by leading with what you want to achieve. Cost savings? Speed? Brand consistency? Transparency? As we explained in a recent infographic on the TMS selection process, your own requirements can help put translation management tools into context.
Today we’ll explore the various features on offer and what to consider when mapping them to your (immediate and future) needs. Let’s start with the features your TMS must have as a baseline so that you know where to start your search.
TMS features every business needs
Before diving into a full comparison of translation management systems, look out for these absolute must-haves:
The most important feature to look for in a TMS is its ability to integrate with your content workflow. Isolating the translation process is far too slow and expensive. A good TMS will automatically ingest source content and deliver the localized versions no matter where your content lives (whether in a CMS, marketing automation platform or knowledge base, for example) or in what format or file type.
Ask: Does the TMS integrate with our existing systems? Does it support custom integrations to our homegrown technologies as well as to any additional platforms we might need in the future?
Manual, on-premise processes can no longer keep up with rising demand for round-the-clock localization and distribution. Trust us—the only way to handle increasing volumes, business continuity and collaboration between teams and locations is to manage translations in the cloud, where you can store and share content in real time and with faster access to data.
Ask: How does the TMS use cloud services to store and automate updates to translations?
Translation Memory and other tools
A good TMS will include the use of a translation memory (TM), a database of current and past translations that helps avoid translating content more than once. Other tools that might be of use include automated quality checks that can reference a glossary to ensure consistency—not just in basics like spelling and grammar, but also with tags or placeholders commonly found in software—and version control or an audit trail so you can go back to pinpoint any specific issues.
Ask: What tools does the TMS offer? Which do we really need?
Does your localization strategy use multiple vendors and translation methods (for example, through a combination of professionals, machines and crowdsourcing)? If so, you need a vendor-agnostic solution that gives you the flexibility to choose the resources you need and to move projects between them in the proper order without disrupting processes.
Ask: Can we incorporate our own vendors and methods into the TMS? As we grow, can the TMS support large-scale, multi-vendor management?
Centralized intelligence is critical when it comes to saving money and making strategic decisions. A good TMS monitors data in real time on all aspects of the translation process, from spend to translation speed to quality, and distills findings into easy-to-read, need-to-know reports.
Ask: What are the analytics and reporting features of the TMS? Can the raw data be transported or accessed by an API?
Most TMSs offer a single workflow. Some offer workflows that are too complex for the average user. What you really need, if you want to provide users full visibility and control while better managing timelines and resources, is a TMS that lets you customize your workflow and automatically map projects to the most cost-effective translation methods.
Ask: Who will be using the TMS and what workflows do they need? Does this TMS support those needs?
The more contextual information you can provide translators, the better. Ideally, they can see the source and translated content in the original format and layout, which gives the translator both visual and contextual reference. Otherwise, you might run into issues during linguistic review or testing.
Ask: What visual aids does the TMS offer? Screenshots? Live previews?
Last but not least, your TMS needs to be secure and updated regularly. This might sound like a given, but insufficient security is still out there.
Ask: Does the TMS comply with all industry-relevant security standards and certificates? (The most important include GDPR, SSAE 16, SOC2, PCI DSS and HIPAA.)
The above isn’t an exhaustive list of must-have features. Depending on your situation, you might also consider things like:
- Pricing: Under a strict budget, you might be able to eliminate solutions solely on cost. Also note that pricing models vary (for example, by number of licenses, base cost plus throughput or more rarely, number of languages).
- Vendor stability: This one is often overlooked, but it matters. Is the TMS vendor a one-man shop, a small startup with venture capital or a well-established company? The amount of investment into the TMS can indicate whether the vendor is built to last.
- Speed of deployment: How long will it take to implement? Some take months while others take days, so it’s a question well worth asking.
- Interoperability: Does the TMS allow you to import and export content in industry-standard formats? In other words, does the platform make it easy to switch translators or vendors if you need to without eating into your budget or causing delays?
- Support: What level of customer support does the TMS vendor include (or charge more for)? If possible, ask a current customer about things like responsiveness and the ticketing system’s ease of use.
- Your LSP: If you work with a language service provider, make sure they sign off on your chosen tool. They must be able to take ownership of new processes, so consult with them to ensure their needs are met, too.
Narrowing things down
Evaluating all these translation management tools can overwhelm even the savviest loc teams. It’s tempting to simply go for the package that offers the most functionality, but then you might be buying more than you need. On the other hand, you don’t want to lock yourself into a technology that can’t grow with your program.
Do you have the in-house expertise to future-proof your investment? Don’t worry if you don’t. All you need is a wish list of deal-breakers, must-haves and nice-to-haves for now and for the future. Armed with this list, an unbiased resource (like an independent TMS consultant or tool-agnostic LSP) can help narrow down your options. Finally, always run a pilot before you commit!
Need more information before engaging vendors for RFPs? We’d love to help. Also, check out this year’s ranking of TMS vendors from G2 Crowd or the Language Technology Atlas from Nimdzi for full lists of TMS technologies to choose from.