How Slack Chose and Implemented a Translation Management System
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How Slack Chose and Implemented a Translation Management System

Slack is one of the largest, most trusted digital business communication platforms in the world. It has more than 1,600 employees in nine countries and was recently acquired by Salesforce for $27.7 billion. Any decisions made by a company of this size take a lot of consideration and must happen with the least amount of interruption to business operations. So, when Michael Harris, Slack’s Senior Business Systems Developer for Localization, was tasked with leading the charge to migrate to a new translation management system (TMS), it was no small matter.

Understanding a TMS

Let’s start here: A TMS is critical to businesses looking to move into new markets, because it is what companies use to manage the content they’re translating. As software that automates many parts of the localization process, a TMS generally includes at least two types of technology: process management technology to automate the flow of work and linguistic technology to aid the translator.

For Slack, a TMS is the backbone of their content management and translation consistency. It houses their database of translated content as well as the termbase that governs their terminology and translation rules.

Harris’s view when moving to a new TMS was pretty simple: “We have built our TMS as a parking lot where our stakeholders can give us the content that needs to be translated. From there, we can pipe it out into other systems.”

Slack’s TMS requirements

There are many things to consider when choosing a TMS. In our blog post A Buyer’s Guide to Choosing a Future-proof TMS, we go into detail about what you should look for. Below are a few of the must-haves.

  • Integrations: Make sure your solution works with your content workflow, regardless of where your content resides and what type of file it is.
  • Cloud-based deployment: Resist being tied down to an on premise process. A cloud-based TMS allows you to store and share content in real time, providing faster access to data.
  • Translation memory (TM) and other tools: Avoid translating content more than once by using a TM, which is a database of current and past translations. Other tools include automated quality checks and version control.
  • Vendor management: Choose a vendor-independent solution for maximum flexibility, as your localization strategy will likely need to involve multiple vendors and translation methods.
  • Reporting: Monitor data on all aspects of the translation process to help you save money and make more strategic decisions.
  • Customizable workflows: Customize your workflow so it becomes the most cost-effective translation method for your needs.
  • Visual context: Increase your chances of getting an accurate translation by allowing translators to see source and translated content in the original format.
  • Security: Ensure that your TMS is secure and can be updated regularly.

For Harris, there were four specific requirements guiding his decision.

  1. Ease of upload: Slack needed a system that allowed them to ingest files in a straightforward way. File uploads, adding new content and updating content in the future had to follow the simplest process possible.
  2. Fixed investment: This included initial and ongoing costs. Harris was always looking ahead and the solution had to be scalable. “We had gotten into a difficult situation with previous tools because they had this volume-based pricing, and we were getting into traps where certain decisions required us to increase the amount of money that we were spending,” he said. The team had to make sure that the new tool didn’t put them in a situation where adding a new language would require price negotiations for the tool itself.
  3. Team accessibility: The solution had to allow any project manager to find a piece of content and make a change through a user interface (UI) that was intuitive and responsive.
  4. Smooth implementation: The development and transition had to be as cost-effective and smooth as possible.

Benefits to Slack

Slack benefits from the new TMS in multiple ways, but one of the biggest is the reduction in time spent using the system, which equates to about a half-day to one day saved per week per person. Translation time also dramatically decreased, with the turnaround time going from three to five days to just 24 hours. Harris notes that he can now say with confidence to his internal stakeholders, “You don’t even need to think about this. It’s going to be done in 24 hours.”

Putting the right TMS in place has a wide range of other benefits. It allows internal teams, translators, clients and other stakeholders to collaborate effectively. It also can automate many steps of the translation process, such as uploading and analyzing files, to save time and money. Other financial benefits include tracking translation costs, organizing projects, keeping track of payments and centralizing suppliers and clients.

Not every TMS does everything, which is why it’s important to identify your needs and take the time to select the right one for your business—whether it’s an off-the-shelf solution or, as in Slack’s case, custom-built.

Recommendations from Harris

There are a few things that Harris recommends when implementing a TMS. “The first recommendation that I would give is to always make sure that you are including your language service providers’ capabilities in your evaluation. When we evaluated our language service providers, the application programming interface capabilities were extremely important—and that’s been really valuable to us.”

His next recommendation is to keep it simple. He advises steering clear of what he calls a “feature matrix,” where you try to get every possible feature a TMS can provide packed into one solution. He suggests thinking about what you really want to accomplish and building a system that both does it well and is robust enough to grow.

Finally, make sure you pay attention to the resources and timelines that are involved in the process. Harris admits that he probably underestimated the change-management challenges. Even though the migration has been very successful, he reflects that “when we did the initial planning, we really had our stuff together. We had a lot of documentation and we knew exactly where we were going. But as the migration drew closer, because we became dependent on engineers and things like that, it became a lot more difficult to figure out what our timelines were.”

But if Slack can do it…

You can do it. Probably not in exactly the same way, but you’ve just received advice from a seasoned professional who works for an international organization with a lot of content constantly expanding into new markets. Now Slack has a TMS that is strong enough to take them into the foreseeable future, regardless of where that may be in the world.