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What a Difference 18 Months Make: Translation Management Systems
Posted by Donald A. DePalma on October 2, 2008  in the following blogs: Business Globalization, Market Data, Technology, Best Practices
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When we last drilled down into the translation management system (TMS) segment in early 2007, we found a near dead heat in features and functionality among two commercial contenders, Idiom and SDL. A year and a half later, the race has grown more interesting. SDL now offers Idiom as one of its brands. Some players have pumped up their investment to field more competitive offerings. Language service providers (LSPs) like Lionbridge and Sajan have come on strong with updates to their “house” offerings. Other LSPs, like thebigword and Translations.com, have commercialized their systems for sale without language services, while providers like Plunet and XML Intl have partnered instead of building out their own comprehensive solutions. What's the best TMS?

One of the most frequently heard phrases in information technology is "it depends." Which TMS is best depends on what you want to do with it. In a 2005 report, we surveyed the remnants of the "globalization management sector," reviewed what representative products like GlobalSight and WorldServer actually did, and renamed the category "translation management" to reflect actual capabilities and use cases. Earlier this year, we sharpened our definition of the category in a report on TMS evolution and revolution, defining translation management systems as the software that orchestrates the business functions, project tasks, process workflows, and language technologies that underpin large-scale translation activity. TMS software coordinates the work of many participants in the communications value chain, working inside, outside, and across organizations. In our latest assessment of TMS offerings, we address the "it depends" decision by evaluating systems in four categories:
  1. Translation-centric systems from firms such as the Alchemy unit of Translations.com, Kilgray, Lingotek, MultiCorpora, SDL-TRADOS, and XML-INTL. These vendors emphasize the capture, centralization, and leverage of content assets across languages, projects, and, ideally, across enterprises.

  2. Business resource management TMS products from suppliers like AIT, Beetext, CrossGap, Language Networks, LTC, Plunet, Project Open, and XTRF. These TMSes are optimized for business management comprise a virtual enterprise resource planning system for language service providers and translation departments inside corporations.

  3. Enterprise aspirants from globalization software vendors such as Across, SDL, and Translations.com. These suppliers hope to become the backbone of a corporation’s translation efforts or the foundation of a language service provider’s practice. Ideally, they want these buyers to bring in their entire suite of tools for translation and, in some cases, authoring and global content management.

  4. House solutions from LSPs such as Elanex, Lingo Systems, Lionbridge, Prisma, Sajan, and thebigword. Translation companies have a long history of blending commercial products like TRADOS with applications they developed themselves. Some of the more ambitious LSPs have taken their home-grown code much further than others, creating full-fledged, competitive TMS solutions in the process -- but their offerings are typically available only to their translation customers.
Which solution did we conclude is best? You may have already read a press release or two from top scorers in these four categories. What our scoring mechanism shows, if you look at it in detail, is the systematic evaluation of over 100 critical features in five major functional areas: language tools, business data, project control, connectivity, and business process monitoring. So while just four TMSes could win their respective categories, solutions that meet your organization's needs for specific functions like collaboration, analytics, vendor management, or accounts receivable might have scored higher than the category winners in those specific business-critical functions. We think that the real winners in this race are the corporations, government agencies, and language service providers that rely on technology to improve their global position.

Over the last 18 months, there’s been no shortage of technology, partnering, consolidation, and marketing activity in this sector. What's next for translation management More of the same, for sure, but you should also expect much more aggressive competition as everyone jockeys for a strong position. Across has already gingerly stepped across its traditionally German-regulated "don't mention a rival in advertising" edict with indirect references to SDL. Companies like Kilgray and MultiCorpora pitch their technology strength and independence from LSPs. Elanex and Lionbridge have set the stage for other LSPs with house solutions by deciding that their "all mine" TMS might be more valuable to its clients if used by more people. And as SDL approaches its 2010 witching hour for its amalgamation of SDL, TRADOS, and Idiom TMS offerings and their replacement with new technology, rival suppliers will surely play the fear, uncertainty, and doubt cards that accompany any software release that requires migration and re-development. Their argument will be, "since you have to migrate anyway..."


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Keywords: Global content management, Service-specific market studies, Translation management systems, Translation technologies

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