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Workflow Technologies: Top 10 Must-Have Features

Posted by Nick Peris on September 2, 2013

A Typical Localisation Workflow

Example of a Typical Localisation Workflow

Over the last few years, the number of Globalization Management Systems (GMS), Translation Management Systems (TMS) and similar Workflow technologies dedicated to Localisation has increased steadily. It is not quite comparable to the explosion in the number of Content Management Systems (CMS) but the choice certainly has increased. As a result it has become more complicated to thoroughly evaluate all options available, and the rise of more specialised subcategories such as Localization Management Systems, Proxy and Cloud-based solutions, Crowdsourcing Portals etc.  only adds to this information overload.

This evolution indicates that this technology sector is vibrant and not yet as saturated as the traditional CAT tools market. It remains innovative and in my opinion contradicts analysts who argue that GMS’s will be absorbed by CMS’s and the booming eCommerce platforms.

In fact, there are so many CMS’s and eCommerce solutions around, from the big players such as EpiServer or Adobe Experience Manager (formerly Adobe CQ) to open-source solutions like Drupal and proprietary systems provided by website integrators, that there is no way these can be relied upon to provide workflow features which can respond to the specific requirements of the translation supply chain.

The GMS sector has also become more of a replacement market, where Enterprises are often looking to replace an existing GMS with their second or third technology. A certain lack of innovation, excessive licensing costs and mergers among some of the traditional big players have created an appetite for diversity and an opportunity for innovators.

There are certainly some interesting new technologies. Some focus on the User Interface and the easy-of-use, others on community with in-tool forums for users to share tips and experiences and real-time Support to keep production streaming. Others yet allow segment-level task completion and embedded MT to enable real-time progress. Most, if not all of these efforts seem to concentrate on improving ownership satisfaction which has long been a shortcoming of GMS’s.

Unfortunately, fundamental GMS features can sometimes be lacking when these tools are released at an early stage in their Development, or when their design is not aware of the requirements of the entire supply chain. Prospective GMS-buyers should not get distracted by the bells and whistles, and miss possible issues with the more essential features.

The 10 fundamentals below should be your starting point and the rest should only come as extras. The order of priority between these will depend on your own business process.

Automated Quote Process

Workflow systems are used by Enterprises which have a regular stream of translation requirements. Vendor rates are usually pre-agreed rather than negociated on a project by project basis. The Workflow technology should be able to hold these rates and automatically generate a quote when a translation request is submitted. It should be able to handle minimum charge, PM fees, volume discounts and provide a workflow step where the requestor or authorised user can accept or reject the quote.

CAT Tools compatibility

Ideally there should be an online translation interface as well as the option to download translation requests and work offline.

The online interface should include enough features to ensure it can be used by professional translators: Spell-Checker, Tag Checker, Terminology Checker, Concordance Search are the minimum required.

The offline option should be vendor-agnostic and offer XLIFF as well as the bilingual formats for the main CAT tools such as WordFast, memoQ and Trados. The ability for these tools to connect to the online TM and Glossaries and update them in real-time is also expected more and more commonly.

Connector library

CMS connectors: GlobalLink hybris extension

The GlobalLink extension, available from the hybris website

A library of CMS and eCommerce adaptors should be available. GMS’s such as GlobalLink provide a library of connectors for the most common systems as well as an API to create connectors for new CMS and eCommerce platforms or proprietary systems.

There should also be the possibility to monitor FTP locations and file systems.

Dedicated Review Portal

Client review or independent linguistic review is common in translation chains where volumes a big. This is mainly due to the fact that big volumes mean multiple translators must work simultaneously, and the Review step is needed to enforce consistency and monitor quality trends. A dedicated Online Review environment can make this process immensely more efficient if it’s kept clear and free of the more specialised features required in the Translation Interface. Client-side reviewers are rarely linguists and more likely employees whose primary task is brand and marketing related. Live in-context preview is more relevant to them than a side-by-side segment layout.

The Review environment should have its own reporting tool to monitor quality if error categories and scores are used. Reports on individual projects (online scorecards) and Organization-level reports are equally as important. The system should keep an audit trail of changes, and offer some workflow functionality towards Implementation whether it is done by the reviewers or by the translators.

Changes implemented in the review tool must be automatically added to both the final deliverable and the translation memories.

File Filters designer

Most file types will be supported out-of-the-box but it is also crucial to have the ability to easily add future or unusual file types without having to resort to Professional Services. The file filter interface must be flexible and allow Administrators to import filters from CAT tools but also create filters online in the GMS. I have yet to see a tool, let alone a GMS, which does that as well as a Alchemy Catalyst and its EZparser but hopefully that day will come. In the meantime do not settle for a system that wouldn’t let you parse all tags in a JSON or other custom XML and ensure post-filters are supported (e.g. for HTML code nested within XML or XLS).

Linguistic asset management

A good GMS will let users with appropriate permissions perform all TM and Terminology set-up and maintenance tasks natively. This includes manual editing of both asset types, TM sequencing (with leverage priority, penalties, update TM selection), workflow-driven automatic updates, terminology extraction and approval. All users need the ability to search TM’s and Glossaries, while only experts will get the permissions to perform Maintenance.

Project creation templates

The key to workflow management is automation. Clicks are a GMS’s worst enemy and should be a primary focus during User Acceptance Testing.

Any repeatable task should be recorded and automated. The requestor should not have to type anything other than the project name. Everything else should be available through menus and selectable options, each with the most commonly used choices pre-populated. Ideally, the software should interactively learn and remember the behavior of each user, but pre-programmed defaults are the current standard.

Reporting Tool

Jaspersoft iReport DesignerThere should be a choice of download formats, and a way to create custom reports based on queries to the underlying database. Client-side users don’t always need visibility into the linguistic side of the system. What they do need is flexible on-demand reporting. Whether there is a live dashboard or a facility to run reports, the system has to be customisable so the reports respond to their Organization’s needs both from the point of view of Program Management and Financial tracking.

Unlimited number of users

The pricing should not be directly linked to the number of users. I have often come across Enterprises with state-of-the-art workflow systems where the vendor side PMs had to download and upload translation kits on behalf of their freelancers. The hidden cost of such a limitation is monumental and the amount of negative sentiment generated towards a system which is supposed to automate repetitive tasks cannot be recuperated.

Role-based permissions should allow Administrators to control what everyone is doing at a granular level, and all routine user assignment should be automated. Once you own a GMS, every single transactions must be seamlessly supported, and no one should ever have to be delayed by timezones.

Workflow designer

Localization workflows vary. The technology you choose should offer enough flexibility to support your business process without too much adjustment. The Workflow Designer should offer a customisable library of human and automated steps and the possibility to have more than one outcome to each workflow step (e.g. Pass/Fail, DTP/no DTP etc.). The best Designers have a graphic interface and allow the easy cloning of existing workflows.

Posted in CAT Tools Comparison, Translation Management Systems | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

WorldServer v. SDL TMS

Posted by Nick Peris on March 20, 2012

Designing Workflows in WorldServerSDL recently made a statement via the SDL Users Group on LinkedIn updating and clarifying their strategy for their 2 competing Workflow Management applications, WorldServer and TMS.

Paul Harrap (Enterprise Localization Consultant at SDL) said: “We’ve obviously got several products that fit the same broad product niche in the enterprise TMS space (…) and need to focus on one for future Sales and Marketing to avoid a confusing message to the marketplace. That is World Server.” more

Tim Lee (Director of Product Management at SDL) added: “(…) As the person responsible for product management of SDL TMS and SDL WorldServer, please let me start by confirming that SDL continues to be committed to both TMS and WorldServer with dedicated teams and roadmaps for each product respectively.more

The overall message is that WorldServer is now the flagship product, but support and development will continue for both products until at least 2013. This may be seen as a change in direction compared to what was originally stated when SDL acquired Idiom in 2008, and the priority seemed to be given to TMS. However, SDL commits to a Service Pack 3 for TMS 2011 and at least one new major release, tentatively called SDL TMS 2013.

Giving priority to WorldServer is in my opinion the correct choice, but this still seems like a non-fully committed announcement, and we could easily see another adjustment by 2013 or later. Having first hand experience using and managing both applications, I want to take this opportunity to share with you what I think are the main strengths and weaknesses of each system, and why my personal preference goes to WorldServer.Designing Workflows in TMS

Designing Workflows

WorldServer is the clear winner in this category. It has a very intuitive, flexible and powerful graphic workflow designer. TMS really only offers lists of entries to pick from, and I find the Workflow/Configuration distinction inefficient.

WorldServer workflows can go back and forth, but also loop and go through parallel Steps. It can skip Steps, or offer multiple transitions in and out of every Step. The transitions are represented as radio buttons when a user completes the Step. In TMS, one can only Submit a Task to the next Stage or Reject it back to the previous one.

You can also add your own custom Human Steps and Automatic Actions (through Java script imports) to WorldServer’s catalog (more about customisations in the next section). Even the Task History shown within projects is much clearer, with a graphic representation of the full workflow, with current Step visually highlighted, as well as a list of past Steps with owners, time stamps and global comments included.

Customising FunctionalitiesCustomisations in WorldServer

This is another of WorldServer’s core strengths, thanks to the immense flexibility of its design. Custom automation can be created using the SDK and is relatively easy to add. Even easier are the “LSP pages”: jsp files dropped into the WorldServer installation folder structure let you add custom dashboards for project overview or even some batch processing (e.g. push all languages within a Project Group from a given Workflow Step through a predetermined transition)

User permissions in WorldServer can seem confusing at first, but once the Administrator gets familiar with them, the possibilities are limitless. Each users’ privileges are defined through a set of parameters. All of these are fully customisable, meaning that you can not only adjust their settings but also create entirely new categories.

  • User Types define the general rights: project view or edit access, TM and TD read or write access, possibility to edit offline, import export etc.
  • Workflow Roles: define who is assigned specific Steps in a Workflow, in conjunction with the Locales. This may be set for specific users or entire Workgroups.
  • Workgroups list users of all types, locales and roles assigned to a Program, Customer or Project Type
  • Project Types are presets used during project creation to automate the linking to TMs, TDs, Filter groups, Workgroups, Cost Models etc.
  • Clients determine access to the Transport Portal for project submission or quote requests by third-party users.

All this potential for customisation can mean time-consuming setup. Thankfully by exporting and importing WorldServer Objects settings can easily be copied from a test to a production environment. Items can be backed up for recovery or roll-back, either in batches (e.g. all settings for a certain customer) or individually. For instance, you could export a whole workflow as an xml file, rename it and reimport it to quickly create a variant of it.

Filters are also much better in WorldServer than TMS. While in TMS Filters are SDLX-based and only some can be customised,  in WorldServer they can be imported from a number of CAT tools (Trados ini, xsd, dtd, raw xml). All Filters can be edited from the WorldServer UI, they can be teamed up in Filter Groups and linked to Project types. WorldServer Projects use the out-of-the-box filters unless the Project Type is linked to a custom filter for the given File Type.

But WorldServer filters are not perfect in every way: I have experienced problems with certain rtf files, json files, even xlsx (in relation to repetitions) in WorldServer 2009. Still few tools can filter xml and resx files as precisely as WorldServer: the content of one tag can be set to be exposed to translation or not depending on the value of another tag’s attribute. There are even desktop CAT tools which can’t do that!

User Interface FeaturesDesigning Workflows in TMS

Here TMS has a few unique features that its users would probably miss if they migrated to WorldServer. For example, Project Managers can impersonate other users to check the content of their Inbox, or even submit Tasks on their behalf if they were unable to do so themselves. This is much faster than logging as those users every time. TMS also lets translators upload multiple deliveries within the same zip file. The version control is smart enough that you do not need to open the project for which you are submitting a delivery. Another interesting out-of-the-box feature of TMS is the QA Check which can be set to run automatically to prevent submission to the next Stage if for example there are untranslated segments or Terminology inconsistencies. The QA Check can be overridden by users if needed, but it is a useful automation.

Overall though, I find the .NET Framework-based UI is a lot more rigid and prone to screen freezes than WorldServer’s Browser-based UI. The latter is more friendly and requires less training and user support because it mostly works like any website. That said, it is also one of the downfalls of WorldServer: the browser support is not always keeping up, particularly with Firefox. Since browsers are often set to auto-update, this is a problem. Browser-specific issues can be difficult to troubleshoot. Getting a hotfix from SDL for them has proved impossible.

For linguists working online WorldServer’s Browser Workbench has an edge over the outdated TMS Translation interface. Again it benefits from being browser-based which makes it more intuitive and versatile. User support is much lighter with WorldServer than TMS.

CAT Tools Compatibility and Offline EditingTM Searches and Maintenance in TMS

Things are a little more complicated when it comes to working offline, which is the most common scenario. Both tools have removed support for TTX (i.e. Trados 2007) in their 2011 releases. This is part of the push for linguists to migrate to Trados Studio. TMS relies on ITD’s for work in SDLX which is also very outdated. Both tools support downloads for Trados Studio. Up until WorldServer 2009, the “free” tool Desktop Workbench was available and quite full-featured. In WorldServer 2011, it is only compatible with projects using legacy (i.e. Idiom) file Filters and not the new Studio File Types, which require Trados Studio. Even worse, Desktop Workbench is about to reach end-of-life. In short, whichever Workflow system you are using, SDL are actively pushing for linguists to use a version of Trados Studio, whether it is the full desktop tool, Studio Online for TMS or Studio Express for WorldServer 2011. None of these are free.

Translation Memory and Terminology ManagementTM Searches and Maintenance in WorldServer

This is an area where I’ve always had concerns about TMS.

WorldServer still benefits from a more CAT Tool-agnostic approach dating from the IDIOM era. It can be used as a full-fledged Translation Memories and Terminology Repository and Portal. Through User Types and Workgroups, access to the Tools tab can be precisely managed. Users can view selected individual or Groups of Linguistic Assets, and the Administrator can easily turn Editing, Exporting, Importing, Purging, on and off for either Linguistic asset types. Term-based workflows can even be created so the Terminology approval process can be managed exactly like any other WorldServer Project.

For offline work, TMS relies on scheduled TM exports. These are usually weekly occurrences; exports are made available through a dedicated page in TMS, which unfortunately is quite difficult to search through when there are several pages of TMs. I observed and heard of several cases where the export stopped working, often after a Service Pack upgrade, so not only is this impractical it is also unreliable. By opposition WorldServer has none of these issues and all the solutions: any user with the right permissions can export and import a TM or TM Group at any time. TMX exports can also be scheduled to process automatically, as often as every 15 minutes if you so wish. I’ve only seen this process fail once, and I must admit it was my own fault…TM Sequencing in TMS

TM sequencing can be setup in both systems. TMS is the only one to allow the updating of multiple TMs. But WorldServer has a more sophisticated leveraging algorithm, cycling through all the TMs in the Groups for each fuzzy band, including ICE (in-context) Matches and reverse leveraging.

IT and infrastructure

TMS earns a few more points here: for example LDAP support makes User ID Management more flexible. It also appears less complicated to install because WorldServer has so many separate components.TM Sequencing in WorldServer

However WorldServer is immensely more scalable. The database architecture is well thought-out and individual components can be separated into clusters, which has advantages for troubleshooting and reliability.

Posted in CAT Tools Comparison, SDL WorldServer, Translation Management Systems | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Cheap Translation Tech: Who does What…and for How Much?

Posted by Nick Peris on August 24, 2010

Rolling out old tools

Recession-buster CAT tool prices? Low-cost TM Tech? Scrappage scheme on Translation tools older than 2 years?

Subscription-based software rental or money-mental discount on SaaS?

No, the marketing slogans in the Translation Software industry haven’t been quite that exuberant. Yet the cash flow worries experienced by all the Translation Technology providers, have generated a certain amount of creativity especially when it comes to pricing. So if you’re on the market for a new CAT Tool, you should probably ask yourself: “Where is the best value for my discount?”

Clichés about the dark days we live in abound (including in this article…), and it is clear that no one would part lightly with hard-earned cash to buy a Translation Memory technology license. The truth is one can get such technology for as little as €0 and about as much as one has to spend. This may always have been the case, but what I think has changed is that market leaders can no longer rely on reputation, exposure and existing market penetration to comfortably roll-out the next generation of expensive technology.

Differentiating by offering compelling technological advances is no longer a bullet-proof strategy either. There are plenty of talented tool developers around who are ready to offer imaginative solutions for a modest fee. Features such as mobile phone-like predictive text will not prompt anyone to spend thousands, or even hundreds of Euro.

In fact, mainstream TM technology with all its bells and whistles is facing a problem similar to that of the automobile industry: the multitude of options and gadgets inflating the price of applications with constant update and patch requirements has left the market wide open for a good value yet sturdy alternative.

Though it is not a complete answer, a low-cost market for TM tech is developing as a consequence. Freelancers, Agencies and Corporations alike are no longer willing to spend on expensive licenses to buy software which will be outdated within a year or two. So offers started appearing where the license itself has an expiry date. Pay for a year and then decide what to do: renew, upgrade or move on.

The concept of software rental was set to run further of course: complete with the advances in software hosting, Cloud-computing, where the users connect to the application over the internet and does not need to install or setup anything on their own machine, it became SaaS: Software-as-a-Service. This is a trend much bigger than the Translation software industry alone, which offers many advantages such as seemless updates and crucially regular cash-flow for the provider. It also requires an important shift in the mentalities where ownership of the tool isn’t transferred to the Translator, while the ownership of the translation produced with it must remain with them.

All this put together means that we may have reached a fork in the road after which licensing models will be transformed: but which way will they go?

    Starter Edition, Translation Workspace, MemoQ, Deja Vu, Across, Wordfast

  • the unglamorous route of feature-reduced time-limited ownership
  • or the controversial path of rental, or Software-as-a-Service.

Both options at this point show serious limitations. The reaction of Professional Translators could be described as luke-warm at best. On one hand entry-level traditional licenses are too limiting to users who already own a fully-fledged copy of a previous version. On the other software rental has not yet earned the trust of the user-base, concerned with intellectual property questions and confusing price structures.

The table on the right-hand side (click to expand) highlights the strengths and weaknesses of some of these subscription-based low-cost CAT tools:

One thing I hope is sure: the days of paying hundreds of Euro for entry-level licenses are over in our industry, and that has to be a good thing.

If you are due an upgrade, it is most likely that there are good deals to be had on your favorite software provider’s site. If you are looking to invest in your first entry-level CAT tool however, spend some time analyzing your needs against what is on offer. Entry prices may be low, but the value and limitations varies widely from one tool to the next.

Posted in CAT Tools Comparison | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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