The Six-Step Process for Selecting a Translation Management System (TMS)
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The Six-Step Process for Selecting a Translation Management System (TMS)

The Six-Step Process for Selecting a Translation Management System (TMS)


On last count, there were more than two dozen Translation Management Systems (TMS) of various sizes and shapes in the market. It does make your head spin. One thing’s for sure: your company’s choice of a TMS can no longer depend on someone’s whim, a Google search, or what a language services provider (LSP) is lobbying for.

TMS selection must be based on a systematic needs analysis and involve all stakeholders. You can achieve this by following the six steps that we discuss in this post.

1. Analyze requirements

Bring in all key stakeholders right at this stage. This group consists of anyone who’s going to be using the TMS and often includes marketing, IT, product managers, the localization department, finance, and even your support or help desk. It always varies from one company to another.

It could take one meeting or several to nail down everyone’s needs, depending on how centralized your localization process is. There are no wrong answers; you just want everyone to tell you what they’re looking for in the next TMS.

Your list of needs might look like the one below, or it could be longer or shorter. This is just an indicative list:

  • Existing integration or plug-in with AEM
  • Strong, well-documented API, all areas of TMS accessible via API
  • File filter customization
  • Customizable analytics portal
  • Customizable workflows
  • Ability to modify workflow mid-project
  • Uptime of 99% for hosted TMS
  • Ability to customize UI look with corporate brand
  • LQA program support
  • Customizable MT workflows
  • LSP performance metrics tracking
  • Automatic file prep
  • Workflow automation
  • Automatic project handoffs and handbacks
  • Tracking and management of historical project data
  • Connector to corporate ERP

2. Rank and categorize

It starts getting tougher from here on. No TMS will be able to accommodate all of your requirements, or at least, to your satisfaction. That’s why you need to prioritize them as Must-have, Really-want, Important, Nice-to-have, and Somewhat-trivial, then ask stakeholders to rank their needs from 1 to 5 accordingly.

The “must-haves” are deal breakers. If a system doesn’t have them, it’s disqualified. Ideally you don’t want to have too many of these, but often they end up claiming 35-40% of the criteria. Next are the items that you really want. You want them almost as much as the must-haves, but they’re not deal breakers; and so on down the list.

Now, scoring can be tricky and you might need to do some arbitration. Not everyone’s going to have the same perspective: what may be trivial to one team might be a deal breaker for another. But it is better to let these differences come out at the start of the decision-making process rather than at the end, or worse still, after the decision is made.

You could form a committee to represent various teams and have it go over the priorities. While it must hear everyone out, it should be empowered to have the final say.

The needs also have to be categorized according to the different functions they may fall under, such as business management, workflows, or language processing. You can go more granular with these categories.

Ranking and categorizing may prove to be a lengthy process, and you may well ask why you need to go to such pains. Because it is critical that you understand what your most important needs are. In the next stage, this will help you shortlist vendors that are strong in areas you ranked most important.


3. Shortlist vendors

The first few places you can look are TMS Live by the research firm Common Sense Advisory, and the technology directory of GALA, an industry organization. You will still need to do your due diligence, as on both websites, vendors add the TMS descriptions and features themselves, though CSA does provide a brief commentary.

Next, you can talk to your LSP. Remember that a TMS that works well for your LSP isn’t necessarily one that’s going to be great for your enterprise. Let them know what your priorities are and they may be able to recommend some solutions, as in the course of their work they evaluate a fair number of TMS.

Similarly, you can approach your language services industry connections and colleagues at other companies and ask if they have done any TMS evaluations. Again, keep in mind that what worked for them may not necessarily work for you, as their priorities may be different from yours.

Finally, you can go to an independent consultant.

4. Evaluate

Once you have your shortlist, it’s time to evaluate. That is, draft an RFI or RFP. If you have done a good job of listing your needs and ranking and creating a hierarchy, this stage should be relatively easy.

For the RFI, list all of the needs you ranked as number one priority — your must-haves. If vendors don’t provide these features, then they’re instantly out. You might have a large list of six to ten potential TMS vendors, so hopefully the RFI will help whittle it down to three or four for the RFP.

In the RFP, use the rest of your requirements that you ranked from two to five. If more questions popped up at the RFI stage, be sure to throw them in there.

Now comes the part where you have to evaluate the RFP. If you’re using a numerical scoring system, you can also assign a weight according to your priorities, so that your scores reflect what’s actually important to you. If a vendor scores highly in the trivial categories but not so much in areas important to you, the weighting system should help balance out the scoring.

An RFP is also the stage when pricing comes into play. TMS pricing is not usually published on vendors’ websites, so until now this factor is more or less obscure to you. Vendors will also tell you what features they can make available at an extra cost.

5. Pilot

After evaluation, you should do a pilot project. This is essentially an extension of the evaluation stage, the difference being that it is hands-on. Not all vendors may be able to facilitate it, and if your mind is already made up, you may not need a pilot, but it is an option to consider.

If you do want a pilot, the best case scenario would be to have the TMS installed and connected to your content systems so that you can try translating and see how it actually works. If it’s cloud-based, the installation should be pretty simple.

However, if your organization is large and has complex content management systems, the integrations required may not readily exist. Neither you nor your vendor may want to invest in the cost of a custom integration to connect it to your key system in the pilot stage. Still, you could try setting up a demo account and a staging website, which is basically a simulated environment for you to test out everything without actually touching your live environment.

6. Decide

And now we come to the decision stage. But actually, you have been arriving at this stage incrementally all along, if you followed the steps prescribed here. When you selected your business requirements based on stakeholders’ input and ranked and categorized them, you built the foundation for the decision. Then you generated a list of vendors and evaluated them through RFIs and RFPs based on this foundation. If you did a pilot, you are definitely much safer.

When you finally make a decision, it’s not a step that stands on its own, but is the result of a systematic process that helps reduce buyer’s remorse and increase your confidence.

TMS selection may seem like a lengthy process, but it doesn’t have to be if everyone is motivated enough. Also, by adopting a transparent and participatory process, you will set the right expectations and avoid a situation where you will have to look for a scapegoat.