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Do You Really Need a Translation Management System?

October 26, 2021
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You have started translating your company’s content, but do you need your own Translation Management System (TMS)? It’s not always obvious what a TMS does… or even what it is!
When you enter the world of global business, the amount of translation technology you need to learn about can quickly become overwhelming. Terms like translation memory, computer-assisted translation, and machine translation are used all the time… or you might hear them being called TM, CAT, and MT.
You’re expected to know what all these terms mean. Plus, it’s often your responsibility to decide if you need the software tools for your business.
One category of software you will come across is translation management systems. Companies often assume that they need a translation management system if they are going to translate their content.
But, is this true?

What is a translation management system?

A translation management system is a project management software that improves the efficiency of managing high-volume translations. It automates many steps of the translation process that would otherwise be labor-intensive and provides a central hub for translators and other parties to interact with translation projects.
If you are unfamiliar with translation management, a major source of confusion is knowing what constitutes a translation management system in the first place. The term is sometimes used to refer to software tools with a disparate list of features.

TMS vs CAT: Are they the same?

One type of software you might mix up with TMS is computer-assisted translation. This describes a set of tools that are used to help translators during the task of translating.
The key difference between the two is…
  • Translation management software — Helps you to manage translation workflows, providers, and projects.
  • Computer-assisted translation tool — Improves the efficiency of the translation task itself.
The lines between the two terms are sometimes blurred. One software product might claim to be a TMS when it’s basically just a CAT tool. Another tool might be solely a TMS with no CAT functionality at all.

7 handy features of a translation management system

With so many different translation management systems available, one way to compare them is to look at their features. Asking if you need a particular feature in-house can help you to identify if you really need your own TMS or not.
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Common features of translation management systems are:
  1. Project management — The core functionality of a TMS is project management. It will allow you to see all the translation projects currently being carried out, track their progress at a glance, and assign tasks to the relevant content creators, translators, and reviewers.
  2. Workflow design — Different content types and language pairs will have different workflows. For example, one language pair might go through 2 rounds of review while another goes through 3 rounds and in a different order. You can design your workflows, often graphically, in the TMS. Some aspects can also be automated, such as checking source files for changes and automatically submitting them for translation.
  3. Timesheets — Individual content creators and translators will be able to log the time spent on particular tasks directly in the TMS, so you get a fine-grained view of how long each project is taking and can better estimate overall completion dates.
  4. CAT tool integration — TMSs can often integrate directly with computer-assisted translation tools. This provides a seamless interface for translators and means that you can pass content through the tool itself, instead of sending it via email or other channels.
  5. Analytics — Managing translated content can be complex. It’s helpful to have high-level analytics so that you can see at a glance how all your projects are going. TMSs often have a dashboard where you can customize which analytics you see.
  6. Supplier directories — Translation teams can be huge. Every time you add a new language pair, you need to add at least one new translator, though often more. A TMS provides tools for project managers to identify which of the translators have capacity and distribute translation tasks based on their skills.
  7. Cost estimation — When you ask a translation provider for a quote for a particular project, your project manager will analyze your content and use the advanced cost estimation within the TMS to get an accurate quote.
As you can see, the common denominator for all these features is project management. Although the TMS does handle the content, it primarily does so because it’s easier for the user to manage all the different suppliers.

Does your company need its own TMS?

When companies come to us, they assume that they need their own translation management system in-house (or in the cloud). This may be true, but it’s often not.
They make this assumption for various reasons…
Sometimes they have been burned by previous translation providers who have dropped off the radar. They want to ensure that all their intellectual property remains in their own systems, so they don’t lose out if this were to happen again. Other times, they have just been told by software providers that they will need a TMS.
Everyone’s situation is different. However, in general, we recommend you must have a very clear reason to purchase your own TMS if you decide to buy one.
A huge benefit of working with a good translation provider is that they take over the most labor-intensive and complex parts of the project management for you. If you want to get the most from your relationship with your provider, it’s usually advisable to use their own optimized TMS to handle this project management.

But will using a provider’s TMS save me money?

It’s worth clearing up a common confusion here. Translation management systems are often sold to companies like yours with the promise that you can save a lot of money if you use the software.
This promise assumes that translation providers wouldn’t pass on TMS savings at their end to you. In this competitive world that is rarely the case. A good translation provider will always pass the savings of a TMS directly onto you.
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Adding your own TMS usually costs you more than using that of a provider.
Two additional costs associated with using your own TMS include:
  • The rental charge for the TMS software. A good translation provider wouldn’t charge you for this when you’re using their system as it’s part of their ongoing operational costs.
  • The cost of managing the TMS. This can be significant. To manage the software efficiently, it may require a dedicated person in your business who has extensive experience with TMSs. Often, companies don’t have such a resource so they end up paying their translation provider to manage their in-house TMS.
With these costs and restrictions, it begs the question… where is the value in having a TMS in-house?

Do you need these translation management system features?

Perhaps you have looked at the above list of features and thought “Yes! I absolutely must have these functionalities within my business. The benefits beat the restrictions.”
Maybe you have allocated enough dedicated resources to manage all the individual translators yourself in-house. If you are not working with a translation provider, a translation management system can certainly be a vital piece of software.
If so, the next step is to find the right TMS for you. If you’d like advice on this, just let us know and we’ll try to help you if we can.
If you are looking for other ways to improve your translation process, download a free copy of our eBook 10 Profitable Tips to Streamline Your Translation Workflow.
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10 Profitable Tips to Streamline Your Translation Workflow

Like any manufacturer, you know that a streamlined workflow is the key to a successful business. However, the idea of having a “streamlined translation workflow” might seem unusual.