The localization industry is, by its nature, distributed worldwide. The best translators are native speakers living in their locales, though their knowledge of technical content means many are part of the brain drain from developing countries. Common Sense Advisory estimates that the global market for outsourced language services was $8.8 billion in 2005, growing at 7.5% per year. This is big business and localization has seen many revolutions in the technology used to move content to and from translators, each one improving speed and accuracy.
It began centuries ago with handwritten documents sent by mail. Typewritten scripts reduced errors. The facsimile (fax) machine cut days or weeks off of turnaround time. Email was equally fast but dramatically reduced typos, since translators could copy and paste source files into their word processors.
File transfer protocol (FTP) broke through size limits on email attachments, but more importantly added the possibility of “uploads” and “downloads” directly into the file systems of the original language authors and the target language translators. Language service providers (LSPs) arose as middlemen to manage complex translation projects.
Sophisticated new application programs called “translation memory” (TM) were developed. A given sentence or phrase need be translated only once, then the program could scan a new document for exact or partial matches of the text in the TM database. Productivity climbed and costs dropped, primarily for companies with large documentation sets.
The translation cycle time was not always matched to the time needed to complete a new product release, however. Products often shipped first in the developer’s language, then later in other locales. This was comfortable when release cycles took years. “Point releases” (e.g., Visual Studio 6.1) reduced cycle times to months, putting pressure on the writers and translators.
So companies using content management systems (CMS) scrambled to integrate translation memory into their CMS. Trados was a leader and its 2005 acquisition by SDL International has put nearly 90% of the desktop TM market in its hands.
The translation community has since created its own special case of CMS sometimes called a translation management system (TMS). Leading TMS, like the Idiom World Server and the SDL TMS, can capture all the details of a translation project, from cost estimates at project start to payments to all the translators, reviewers, and approvers upon project completion. They promise to return translation-project control to in-house managers. These large and expensive packages of system software are installed in a company’s IT infrastructure. Yet they are well worth the investment, if they restore control over a process that is growing more complex exponentially.
The latest step in the localization revolution in SaaS (software-as-a-service) is “GaaS” (globalization-as-a-service), in which large globalization providers offer TMS in a hosted mode, letting clients access it via web services. Lionbridge acquired the Logoport TMS in 2005 and a portal solution from its recent acquisition of Bowne Global Solutions. It then combined these to run as a web service called Freeway, developing an API to allow customers to integrate Freeway into their own CMS. The “free” in Freeway comes from the fact that Lionbridge does not charge for the use of its TMS. It makes its money from the translations themselves, done by thousands of translators worldwide. Idiom has responded with a hosted version of its TMS called World Server On-Demand.
Monthly translation costs remain comparable and will continue to grow for GaaS users. But initial investment in translation management technology has plummeted from six figures to nothing for companies if they outsource their translation project management. GaaS providers are attracting large numbers of firms that prefer not to invest in the deployment and management of a TMS, offering them participation in a system that gets upgraded continuously behind the scenes and has proven itself robust enough to handle the world’s largest enterprise translation needs.
Ektron has integrated Freeway into its CMS using the OASIS standard X-LIFF (XML language interchange file format) to send source files as XML to Freeway, which returns target language translations directly into the Ektron CMS within minutes.
If your company has a website that posts news frequently, globalization as a service promises near-instantaneous simultaneous multilingual translations of corporate messages into all your key markets. It’s a far cry from translation by Pony Express and slow boat to China. So GaaS up and head for the Freeway.