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What's a TMS? And Why Isn't It a CMS?

TMS stands for translation management system. Essentially, these products help organizations manage and monitor their translation processes. When the first software products in the category appeared, it was not obvious at first why they should be considered a separate category from CMS, or content management systems. Fast forward to today, and the features and functions of TMS are quite distinct from the more commonly known solutions in the content category. So who uses a TMS and what does the system do for them?

There are three different types of users who purchase a TMS or use a SaaS-type solution:  

1. Enterprise departments that consume translation services. This could be marketing or product development or both. Occasionally we see corporate-wide adoption but this is still rare, especially outside the IT sector. These buyers often select a solution with a strong translation memory capability.  

2. Companies that sell translation services.  These companies, also known as language service providers (LSPs), include translation and interpreting agencies, software and web localization firms, plus special service companies that do multimedia services. These companies often select systems with business management capabilities, such as invoice and purchase order creation.

3. Translation departments within large organizations. Assuming the team includes in-house translators, any system adopted must include tools for individual contributors who perform translation and editing tasks. These groups also manage internal customer relationships with many other departments. Like LSPs, internal translation teams typically mix in-house and outsourced tasks even within a single project. But for financial reporting, budgeting, and revenue tracking, their requirements look like the other enterprise department users rather than an LSP – they aren’t running a translation company off the TMS data.

Why do companies use a TMS? Here are the functions that most organizations take advantage of, and that you can expect to find in most TMS products on the market:

  • Business management modules. Customer management to nurture prospects, convert leads, track customer histories, and analyze client performance. Vendor management to store contact information, track performance metrics, manage workloads, and coordinate schedules. Project management to plan projects, assign tasks, track progress, manage costs, and share status. Financial management to generate invoices and purchase orders, quote new jobs, track timesheets, and calculate profit or loss margins.

  • Process management modules. Workflow configuration to design process flows, apply workflow templates, or clone previous projects. Process control for automating handoffs, gating for manual intervention, loopback for corrections, portal-based control for distributed workforces, and real-time data viewing. Collaboration features for online interact of multi-site teams, including supply-chain participants.

  • Language processing tools. Centralized translation memory capability to store previously translated segments, pre-translate new content, flag known terms, post-process after human translators finish, and allow multiple resources to simultaneously work on the same material. Webtop and desktop tools for translators, editors, reviewers, and other workflow actors. Plug-ins to authoring environments.

  • Connection management tools. Simple in/out connections for import/export of files or data. Pre-built connectors for content management and other enterprise systems of record. Application programs interfaces (APIs) for custom integration.

  • Analytics and business process monitoring (BPM). Project analytics to compile data from various system modules, display statistics via dashboards or visualization tools, and mine for historical data. Business process monitoring to track individual processes and tasks so that state information can trigger alerts, escalations, and complex flow logic; audit trail logging.

Enterprise marketing departments and product development organizations that outsource large volumes of translation each year have shown a 30% reduction in cost and considerable improvement in time-to-market through TMS adoption. However, it is not always recommended for companies just getting organized for translation. These systems require experienced teams operating with a defined process and multiple roles staffed by professionals.

To learn more about these systems, check out Common Sense Advisory’s reports, “TMS Users Revealed: How Enterprise Buyers Deploy Translation Management Systems” (Feb12) and “How to Select a Translation Management System: What Enterprise Buyers Need to Know” (Nov11).

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