Vendor neutral Translation Management Systems
Vendor neutral Translation Management Systems illustration

A level playing field to empower translation buyers

Consider playing a match where not only are you the visiting team but you are also faced with the situation that the referee of your match is supplied by your opposition.
Translation service providers sometimes promote a fully outsourced model in which they offer translation services and translation platforms within their own technological infrastructure. This approach is based on the notion that customers need not be burdened with specialized tasks and technologies that are not within their core competence. I do not subscribe to this point of view for various reasons.

I am reminded of proverbs from both Russian and German: “doveryai no proveryai” and “Vertrauen ist gut; Kontrolle ist besser”. In the paraphrase made famous by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, these words translate loosely to “trust but verify”. I maintain that the same principle holds true for client-side participants in the translation industry. Outsourcing of translation projects to one or more service providers is a well-established practice. That is the “trust” part. But what about the “verify”?

Customers who have progressed through Common Sense Advisory’s localization maturity model to at least the managed stage will have realized somewhere along the way that they need an infrastructure of their own. Why is this, you ask? The answer: to participate in validation of the translation completeness and quality, to ensure preservation of acquired linguistic assets under their own roof, and to provide independence from any one service provider. Let’s examine these three reasons a little more closely.

Even the best and most sincerely quality-conscious service providers can make mistakes. And the downdraft on pricing that the industry has experienced in the past decade has resulted in many corners being cut. In the interest of self-preservation, clients must institute quality checks of their own. Few service providers will allow competitors into their proprietary infrastructure to conduct a quality review.

A more realistic solution is to deliver translation output in some kind of shared platform or a standardized data interchange format. This approach allows translation, editing, and proofing resources unfettered access to project content in work-in-progress format. Here, clients have two fundamental choices: deploy an infrastructure themselves within their own production environment that uses data interchange, or employ an external infrastructure. In the latter case, a vendor-neutral playing field provides the best meeting ground. To combine the best of both worlds, a vendor-neutral environment that truly supports industry-standard input and output is best. Prospective adopters of such an environment are best advised to test input and output. Special attention should be paid to the output, with a keen focus on both segmentation and metadata support. All that glitters is not gold!

The question of who owns the intellectual property represented by translated content has been debated again and again. Some service providers state right up front that the customer owns the IP. They readily provide the translation memory and terminology databases upon request or as a standard project deliverable. Others will not do so unless specifically asked. And there is a pesky minority who will actually hold translation memory ransom in an attempt to retain the client’s business. I advise my client-side customers to insist upon a service level agreement that clearly specifies their ownership of all linguistic assets produced. In this scenario, it behooves clients to invest in technology to house and reproduce the translation files. The ability to view project files in their “raw”, work-in-progress format provides peace of mind. Customers can validate that the correct linguistic assets have been delivered. Having translation memory stored in one’s own environment is like having money in the bank. You may choose to spend it in the same place again, but you have at least empowered choice.

Vendor neutral technology enhances the value of empowered choice. Providers who feature combined translation services and technology may argue that using their own proprietary systems creates savings for the customer. This may be true in the short run, and if the customer only concentrates on the immediate word price. But sooner or later, customers tend to regret adopting this model. It locks the customer into a technological and service cul-de-sac that can have an adverse effect on pricing policy in the longer term. Adverse, that is, for the customer!

Even though translation buyers may be satisfied by the service provided by their regular vendor, soliciting comparative quotes from time to time is a good practice. Translation buyers need to keep in contact with pricing and service trends. Even just the act of getting alternative quotes puts your traditional provider on notice that they’d better sharpen their pencils and their service offering.

Furthermore, years of industry experience have taught me that sending the same content and instructions to a selection of prospective providers will frequently result in substantively differing analyses. As the buyer, how does one know which analysis is accurate?

Access to a translation technology platform provides buyers with the necessary toolset to perform their own quantitative analysis. Removal of reliance upon the service providers for such analysis removes ambiguity and facilitates negotiation with potential partners from a position of knowledge.

Customers who have control of their own linguistic assets have the freedom to provide them to any prospective supplier as a potential source of leverage. This can reduce cost and increase consistency. The investment in control will be a small fraction of a customer’s total translation expenditure and the savings can be substantial. And translation buyers do not need to purchase in-house solutions. There are excellent cloud-based systems that provide all the attributes necessary for a vendor-neutral translation solution. It’s the smartest way to go!