What is a TMS?
When the industry originally promoted the idea of a Translation Management System (TMS), it was still undefined what a TMS was and what it wasn’t. Moreover, competing solutions such as Globalization Management Systems (GMS) and Global Content Management Systems (GCMS) floated similar concepts. And, it didn’t help that the acronym, TMS, also referred to Translation Memory Servers. This created ambiguity for the industry and solution buyers.
So, what is a TMS? GALA, the Globalization and Localization Association describes a TMS as a system that “automates the translation process, makes it more controllable, and eliminates repetitive tasks.” Some solution providers might even go as far as referring to a TMS as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for translations.
Whichever definition you might prefer, at its core, a TMS is a technology-enabled work environment that streamlines role-based activities and business functions to facilitate content translation. This open-ended description is purposeful since features, automation, and scalability can vary significantly with each TMS solution.
In general, there is no industry standard of requirements and capabilities that a TMS must satisfy. At a minimum, it must enable translation workflows and provide tools to carry out essential translation tasks. Moreover, TMS solutions usually include proprietary and non-proprietary technologies (software and hardware). Sophisticated TMS solutions often integrate multiple business functions to provide a richer work environment and seamless value chain.
Who Provides TMS Solutions?
Typical TMS solution providers come from two different camps. The first camp includes larger, traditional Language Service Providers (LSPs) such as SDL, Lionbridge, TransPerfect, RWS, translate plus, and other LSPs. These LSPs have the resources and know-how to develop customized technology solutions. The idea is to make language service delivery scalable and efficient. In addition, technology can help enhance the client experience and ensure repeat business as well as brand loyalty.
The other camp consists of dedicated software companies who specialize in localization technologies. This group includes companies such as memoQ, Memsource, Smartling, XTM International, and other technology players. These solution providers typically do not offer language services to supplement their technology, but some do. For example, Smartling provides translation services to buyers of language services who do not have a defined pool of LSPs.
Who Uses TMS Solutions?
TMS solution providers design their offerings around two target markets:
- Language Service Providers (LSPs)
- Buyers of language services
By default, the first target market makes perfect sense because TMS solutions provide a work environment for content translation. In addition, using a TMS solution assumes knowledge of translation processes and technologies. Moreover, the majority of LSPs do not have the resources to develop their own TMS solutions. Or it is not part of their business strategy to invest in home-grown TMS solutions. Therefore, many LSPs with adequate volumes of work rely on off-the-shelf TMS solutions to optimize and streamline their service delivery.
The second target market includes any organization that has sizeable and regular demand for language services. So, in theory, this could be a much larger target market. However, organizations with sizeable demand tend to have many translation buyers and diverse needs. Coordinating and centralizing translation needs as well as requirements across a large organization is a difficult task.
In addition, various organizations that procure language services do not feel that managing a TMS should be a business focus. Or they simply can’t justify ownership of a TMS solution because it isn’t a priority. As a result, many buyers of language services prefer not to own and manage TMS solutions themselves.
What are the TMS Hosting Options?
Following are typical deployment scenarios for TMS solutions:
- Onsite hosting (client owns and manages the TMS)
- Remote/cloud hosting (solution provider hosts TMS, but client owns and manages TMS)
- Managed services hosting (solution provider, usually an LSP, hosts and manages TMS for client)
Although onsite hosting is still a viable option, it is becoming less common because it requires the greatest level of ownership and consumes valuable company resources. Fortunately, advancements in cloud computing have changed how the industry can deploy technology and deliver language services. This is where remote/cloud hosting offers advantages over onsite hosting. Clients who still want to maintain close control and appreciate direct involvement would benefit from remote/cloud hosting.
The third option, a managed services TMS, removes the client from the day-to-day management of the TMS and its key activities. Consequently, this option targets language service buyers rather than LSPs. Basically, this option still offers a customized TMS solution but without the hassle that direct ownership and management involves.
Overall, a managed services TMS promotes “passive” client users by delivering convenience to the organization. However, “passive” does not mean “unconcerned” users. TMS solutions with adequate reporting capabilities can provide usage data, performance reports, and other trackable insights. They put the client in the driver’s seat without requiring the client to do the driving.
However, a managed services TMS can also have a drawback in a multi-vendor environment. Essentially, this option can raise trust concerns among competing LSPs. Although it makes sense from a language services buyer’s perspective, it can dilute the brand and service delivery of LSPs who must deliver their services through a technology hosted and managed by a rival. This is one reason why a managed services TMS can encounter pushback in multi-vendor environments.
What Roles Does a TMS Support?
A TMS supports two main categories of users. The first category covers roles that we encounter at LSPs. For example, project managers and vendors/freelance translators. The second category includes language service buyers. This category might include project requestors and project managers. Just to clarify, when I say “role,” I am not referring to the actual job title of a user.
Furthermore, the TMS design determines the role of a user based on assigned activities and permissions. For instance, a translator is a resource who performs specific tasks to translate content using CAT tools. In contrast, a buyer of language services might be the project manager who sets up a new project, enters relevant details, and uploads the project files.
In other words, a TMS associates roles and activities to define role types. The specific mapping is a design question and a matter of applying industry best practices. This means that TMS functionality and design philosophy is up to each solution provider. Therefore, comparing roles and reviewing assigned activities as well as permissions provide a good glimpse of the configuration of a TMS solution.
Following are examples of roles featured by the TMS solutions of Memsource and Smartling:
- Memsource: Administrator, Project Manager, Linguist, Guest, Submitter, Buyer, and Vendor
- Smartling: Account Owner, Project Manager, Translation Resource, Requester, Agency Account Owner, and Translation Resource Manager
What Capabilities Do TMS Solutions Offer?
I had mentioned earlier that there is no strict set of requirements and capabilities that a TMS must satisfy. However, the capabilities of a TMS usually reflect the role-based activities required to enable content translation.
These capabilities might include the following:
- Order intake
- Project management
- Resource management
- Translation asset management
- Workflow management
- Business analytics/reporting
- Technology integration (API/connectors)
The above capabilities represent broad categories. The specific features and true capabilities within each category are often in the details. That is, the level of automation and flexibility can vary by provider. Therefore, I would always recommend taking a closer look at the features and how they work to gain a better understanding of true capability.
In addition, many TMS solutions allow integration with other technologies, for example, Content Management Systems (CMS). Some TMS solutions include a set of standard connectors to interface with other (external) systems. Or one can design custom connectors through the TMS’ Application Programming Interface (API). This is a great way to further expand automation and system capability as needed.
How is a TMS Priced?
The traditional software licensing model that applied to the original generation of TMS solutions is obsolete in today’s cloud computing environment. Therefore, current TMS solutions use subscription-based pricing. This provides greater flexibility to scale TMS capabilities and features based on client needs and number of users.
More importantly, subscription-based pricing allows even smaller organizations to take advantage of a TMS. This is one key reason why the TMS market should continue to grow and see greater adoption by diverse organizations.
What are Key Benefits of a TMS?
The primary benefit of a TMS is the ability to achieve scalability and efficiencies for content translation. Moreover, a TMS provides an integrated and streamlined work environment for LSPs and language service buyers. This means better process control and quality assurance, which has a direct impact on time, quality, and cost.
Another key benefit is the level of visibility and transparency that a TMS provides to stakeholders. The localization industry and language services used to be a mystery to many buyers of language services. However, rising globalization resulted in increasing demand for language services and produced more mature buyers. Accordingly, a TMS reflects this maturity and the desire to move away from a black-box approach to delivering language services.
Furthermore, a TMS doesn’t just enable the automation of content translation. It also generates valuable information that can provide insights and analytics to make smarter business decisions.
TMS solutions provide a technology-enabled work environment for content translation. Primary target markets include LSPs and language service buyers. Although onsite TMS hosting is still an option, it will likely become even less of a common scenario in the future.
In addition, successes in Neural Machine Translation (NMT) together with cloud computing are changing the delivery of language services. In fact, several TMS solution providers utilize varying levels of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to optimize workflows and translation quality.
And as the TMS market continues to grow, I would anticipate more entrants into the battle for market share. The ongoing competition between traditional larger LSPs and dedicated technology solution providers should advance innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. Unorthodox and innovative solutions should expand the user base of TMS solutions beyond the current primary target markets.
Lastly, I anticipate the pricing models for some language services to change in the foreseeable future. What is becoming standard for software could also become a viable pricing model for TMS-delivered language services. That is, subscription-based pricing could replace the current per-word and hourly pricing for selected content translation. Likewise, price erosion and commoditization of language services will sustain the pressure on LSPs to further lower costs. Therefore, TMS solutions should help both LSPs and buyers of language services to achieve their respective goals for cost containment.