Localization strategy

Translation Management System: How It Works, and Key Features to Look For

Businesses that aim to connect with customers worldwide use a translation management system to streamline their translation process. Learn how to choose the best TMS for your needs.
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Doing business globally requires brands to speak the language of the buyer. To understand and engage with a product, customers worldwide expect quality content that considers their cultural context at every stage of the buying cycle.

One of the most effective ways to achieve that is using a translation management system (TMS). Designed to help businesses automate, translate, and manage content for international markets at scale, a TMS is an important resource for global growth.

We’ve put together this guide to help you choose the right TMS for your business. It addresses key features and benefits, technical requirements, costs, and best practices for integrating a future-proof solution for translation management into your global strategy. Let’s dive in.

What is a translation management system?

A translation management system is software that automates repetitive or manual tasks to make the translation process as efficient as possible. From uploading and the actual translation to publishing content, a TMS aims to improve efficiency and scalability for growing companies that use multilingual content to connect with audiences across the globe.

It’s important to remember that translation is only one of the many steps in the overall process of localization—which ensures the all-around readiness of a product or service for a foreign market beyond just the written word. The moving parts of localization require a high degree of organization and control to successfully launch products across different languages and cultures.

By incorporating project management and business intelligence features, a TMS can fully support multilingual content management as well as the localization workflow. From uploading localization files and the actual translation to reviewing the quality of the output and sending it back to the source, a TMS can serve as the central hub where all localization processes converge.

The difference between translation and localization

To better understand what makes the best translation management system and how it works, it helps to differentiate between translation and localization. Both terms often tend to be used interchangeably, but they have different definitions.

Translation and localization differ in the following ways:

  • Translation is the transfer of text from one language (the source) to another (the target). The goal is to accurately reflect the meaning and purpose of the original.

  • Localization is the process of adapting that translation to the culture of the target market so that it looks and feels as native as possible.

For example, there are multiple versions of Spanish based on the country or region—European, Mexican, Argentinian Spanish, and so on. Delivering the same translation to all of them can cause issues: Certain terms may have different meanings, currency symbols will vary, formats for telephone numbers and postal addresses will be different, and the behavior of consumers won’t be the same.

Key features of a TMS

Translation management systems vary by specialization, type of content, and user requirements. Still, most contain a core set of functions:

  • Automated importing and exporting of content
  • Support for multiple languages, concurrently
  • Tracking of progress from import to translator and reviewer, and export back to the source application
  • Report generation
  • Time management
  • Vendor management
  • Project progress monitoring and reporting
  • Billing, invoicing, and cost tracking
  • Machine translation (MT) capability
  • Integral translation memory (TM)
  • Integral glossary or term base
  • Integral in-context support or knowledge base
  • Out-of-the-box integrations with other tools
  • Application programming interfaces (API) for connectivity to existing systems

By seamlessly integrating all of the above capabilities, a TMS provides translation and localization teams with a centralized platform for collaboration. It’s an all-in-one tool for taking products or services global and is key for implementing a localization strategy.

Worth noting: On-site TMS solutions used to be a common option but cloud-based systems have now become the industry standard. This is due to their:

  • Scalability and flexibility
  • Enhanced security
  • Easy integration with other software
  • Smooth implementation
  • Easy access from anywhere at any time
  • Cost-efficiency thanks to maintenance and infrastructure savings

Why does a business need a translation management system?

Managing the continuous delivery of multilingual content—an expectation in today’s global markets—can quickly become a complex and time-consuming endeavor when you have dozens of content types and you need them available in multiple languages.

A TMS is more efficient than spreadsheets

For decades, spreadsheets were the norm for translation. They might have worked for small-scale translation projects, but localization needs have evolved so fast that things can quickly spiral out of control with ever-growing teams of managers, linguists, developers, and designers working across time zones and geographies.

In a process where you need to constantly monitor, update, and modify a spreadsheet, with several people accessing and editing its content, it’s easy to make mistakes that can cause major problems.

When using spreadsheets for translation, the process starts with copying content from its source to the spreadsheet and then spreading it across to translators. Once they’re done translating, they send their work in the form of a text document or another spreadsheet that must be once again copied and pasted into the original spreadsheet.

A TMS minimizes errors and ensures a good UX

Automating as many steps in the process as possible is essential to reduce human error. For example, a piece of text ending up untranslated or pasted into the wrong cell of a spreadsheet are common problems that a TMS can easily help you avoid. The alternative would be hunting down all the issues and manually fixing them, which can be a tedious and time-consuming process.

Moreover, without a TMS, you run the risk of overlooking some of those errors altogether. This can translate into a degraded user experience (UX) for customers, loss of potential buyers, fewer sales, and the list goes on. Not to mention the difficulty to calculate the real cost of your process and your translation management ROI.

With translation software embedded in your localization strategy from the start, the improved ability to manage multiple languages across a product or service line means:

  • Faster time to market
  • Stronger international brand reputation
  • Increased global revenue growth

A TMS speeds up the time to market

Translation can be time-consuming, especially when the volume of product and service information keeps growing. Any tool that makes the translation and localization processes faster than manual management directly impacts time to market.

Recently, it has been common for products to sit in warehouses ready for shipping but waiting for translated documentation. As supply chains move faster, a more effective translation process, made possible through an integrated TMS, becomes critical to moving faster when entering new markets.

A TMS strengthens global brand reputation

Reputation is based on perceived quality, the buying experience, and the user experience that customers get when using the product or service. A highly respected international brand can remove cost objections and assure new buyers that the experience will be beneficial.

Translated content is often the global buyer’s first exposure to a company’s culture and values. The quality of that translation, how well it respects the buyer’s culture, and the responsiveness of the company when entering new markets are all important. A TMS, with its quality control and review processes, can make a big difference in brand perception and acceptance from day one.

A TMS can increase global revenue growth

Revenue is directly related to time and reputation. When you can move faster and are perceived as a quality company, revenue follows.

On the one hand, the faster you can bring a product to new markets, the faster you can start selling it and see a return on your localization investment. On the other hand, maintaining a strong brand perception—to which a TMS’s built-in QA processes contribute significantly—results in a positive customer experience across markets that holders buyers and keeps them coming back.


The benefits of using a translation management system

Learn how a translation management system can help you open the door to global business by automating, managing, and translating all your content into the languages your audiences speak.

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The benefits of using a TMS

Without an integrated translation tool, translation teams need to coordinate via email, spreadsheets, or disparate chat tools. The use of freestanding, special-purpose applications like translation memories and machine translation (MT) engines can help, but it also adds to the complexity if you have to handle them manually.

As soon as translation requirements get more complex, manual processes can considerably slow things. When content moves from format to format and person to person, the probability of errors and omissions increases exponentially. Translation platforms address all these issues by giving a business a dedicated workspace for end-to-end translation project management.

Translate content at scale through smart automation

One of the key advantages of translation technology is its ability to automate tasks like:

  • The content flow through the translation cycle
  • Communication between various stakeholders
  • Report generation
  • Quality assurance reviews

And much more. Once the content is entered into the system, it remains there throughout the process, eliminating version control issues.

The degree of automation varies from system to system, as do the configuration options. For example, some TMSs use integrations with multiple machine translation engines—each with its own strengths.

Foster collaborative teamwork in the cloud

One of the most powerful aspects of working within a translation management system is its team collaboration and communication functionalities. For example, the ability to leave comments for other stakeholders, send automated notifications to other tools used within the company, and deliver real-time status updates can dramatically reduce the time spent on coordination.

This is especially beneficial for distributed teams scattered across different countries and time zones. Translation is a highly collaborative process involving project managers, department and product managers, translators (often outside contractors), and others—working in a unified communication environment makes this much easier to track and manage.

Integrate with your existing tech stack

A TMS doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Content is created in other systems like content management systems (CMS), product information management (PIM) software, and other creation and publication systems. When translated content is complete, it needs to move into these systems in the correct language. A TMS allows just that by integrating with your systems.

For example, in sales, the ability to quickly retrieve and share translated materials can help automate the sales information-sharing process. APIs can automatically deliver translated content to customer relationship management (CRM) systems, making the customer experience more positive. This can mean increased sales and fewer customer service issues.

Ensure translation quality and consistency

Translated content represents your company or organization in a global transaction. Poor quality or inconsistent style reflects poorly on your products or services. Maintaining quality is a primary reason to invest in a TMS—it helps ensure that each piece of content remains consistent and accurate.

The tools within a TMS that are designed to not only maintain a consistent voice but to avoid unnecessary translation costs include:

  • Translation memory: This technology saves earlier translations and compares word-for-word matches to determine if the previously translated content can be reused.
  • Term bases: They give translators and reviewers consistent guidelines on the meaning and usage of words and phrases that appear frequently in product documentation and other content.
  • Translation style guides: A TMS may support the creation of native language style guides that are automatically included with the translation package, ensuring consistent voice and brand identity.

Other built-in tools for helping with context include the ability to attach screenshots with text—useful for user interface (UI) translation or when working with multimedia content like video. Commenting is another useful feature—it gives project managers and other stakeholders the ability to attach comments to a piece in context.

Reduce translation costs

The internal tools mentioned above serve an equally important function when it comes to reducing translation costs. They eliminate many manual tasks to speed up the workflow when dealing with high volumes of information in multiple formats and languages.

When all parts of the workflow converge in one system, project managers have a better understanding of where costs are going and can begin to take measures to reduce them. They can identify areas that require fewer edits or content that could be reused. They also may be able to identify opportunities for automation or streamlining of task management.

Streamline the overall translation process with machine translation

One major factor in saving time and reducing the cost of translation is the growing viability of machine translation engines. These MT tools, usually developed by specialized providers, use AI and machine learning to provide a basic translation that can serve as a starting point for human translation.

Some TMSs integrate one or more MT systems into their workflow, generating a translation and including it in the package sent out for translation and localization. It’s advantageous to have access to multiple MT options as some are specialized for various types of content, like technical documentation or software UI elements.

Manage multiple translation vendors on a single platform

Many TMS providers offer features for managing multiple vendors, including financial management tools like payables, invoicing, and reports for localization managers. For example, you can assign multiple vendors to a translation job on a first-come, first-served basis, eliminating endless email follow-ups.

Moreover, modern TMSs let you collaborate closely with your translation vendor in a shared project. The vendor can add assets (e.g. term bases) and assign linguists, while you keep full visibility of the work done in the project.

How does a TMS simplify the translation workflow?

The basic building block of any TMS is a defined translation workflow. This workflow can vary from project to project, and from company to company, but typically follows a standard pattern that includes the following steps:

  1. File preparation and content extraction
  2. Team assignment
  3. Translation, editing, and proofreading
  4. Review and approval
  5. Re-import of translated content back to the source

The TMS automates and streamlines each of these steps so that project managers can keep a helicopter view of the entire process from one central location. It also helps ensure that all parts of the process are completed properly and on time, with no bottlenecks, which is key to keeping projects running smoothly. Let’s see the ways a TMS simplifies each step of the translation workflow.

File preparation and content extraction

The first step in the workflow is the preparation and extraction of content for translation. This is the process of making all assets available and suitable for localization. Developers will name and store each file appropriately for each language in a content repository, into which they will later import the translated content as an updated version of the same file.

A TMS simplifies this process by providing easy synchronization with repositories hosted on platforms like GitHub, GitLab, or Bitbucket. This allows project managers and developers to pull content from the repository and push translated versions back while keeping track of changes made.

Translator selection and communication

Once the files are ready for translation, project managers need to select a translator. Whether an in-house team of translators or an external partner, a TMS makes it easy to manage their assignments and tasks from one central location.

Automatic notifications, for example, help keep everybody informed about changes in project status, deadlines, added tasks, and other important updates. Some TMS solutions will even let you order translations from within the platform, eliminating the need to contact and onboard external vendors.

Translation, editing, and proofreading

Whether the project involves 100% human translation or a combination of MT and human work, the TMS provides an interface that facilitates this step. Linguists can easily access their tasks, work in an easy-to-use editor that’s context-rich (automatically captured UI screenshots, term bases, feedback from other stakeholders, etc.), and quickly submit their work for review.

The same goes for reviewers and editors—the platform allows them to get automated notifications when a project is ready for review, easily find the assigned tasks, review them, add notes or comments where appropriate, and flag any issues with the translation quality. If automated QA is enabled, the TMS can also flag consistency or quality issues automatically.

Review and approval

The translation workflow normally involves an internal review and approval step to ensure the accuracy and suitability of all translations. The TMS allows multiple stakeholders, such as project managers, designers, developers, marketing specialists, or other domain experts to review the content from one central location.

The system also allows project managers to provide feedback on the translations quickly and easily, whether it’s a simple comment about stylistic preferences or more detailed instructions on how to fix a specific issue.

For example, if a phrase overflows in a particular language, project managers can easily flag it so translators provide alternative translations that fit the space better.

Re-import of content for publication

Reintegration of the content from translated text to the final format is the last step of the workflow.

Deploying the translated content into a project, or pushing it to a production environment is done automatically in the TMS platform. All stakeholders get notifications when the process is complete, and developers can easily check that all translations are in place and ready for launch.

Evaluation factors for translation management systems
Automation Automating repetitive or manual tasks saves time and effort for both project managers and linguists. A good TMS will include features such as automated notifications, QA checks, and more.
Usability The TMS should be user-friendly, easy to learn and navigate, and provide a rich context experience that enables linguists to quickly find what they need.
Flexibility A flexible TMS should allow you to set up and customize workflows, review processes, roles, user rights, and access levels to best meet the needs of different teams and stakeholders.
Scalability Content-heavy companies shouldn’t have to worry about how many words, languages, or projects the TMS can manage. A robust solution should be able to easily scale up to meet your organization’s growing requirements.
Quality assurance Besides including traditional CAT tools such as translation memories, term bases, and glossaries, a modern TMS should be able to automate quality assurance checks to help translators fix typos, formatting issues, incorrect tagging, inconsistencies in terminology, etc.
Support for different file formats A good TMS should offer support for multiple file types, such as DOC, DOCX, CSV, HTML, XML, JSON, and more.
Native integrations A TMS should provide native integrations with popular platforms and services—content management systems, project management solutions, etc.—with no need for middleware.
Predictable pricing To measure ROI, you need to understand the total cost of ownership, as well as identify any hidden costs that might arise in the long run. The best TMS will offer blexible and predictable pricing structures—with no hidden fees for implementation, integration, training, maintenance, etc.
Machine translation capabilities If you plan to use MT for a faster turnaround time, the TMS should offer a wide range of fully managed MT engines and automatically select the best engine for your content type and language pairs.
Access to data and customizable reporting You need to be able to easily track the progress of your projects, measure translation efficiency, and monitor performance. The system should provide informative metrics that will allow you to quickly identify trends, spot areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions.
Technical and customer support Reliable customer service should be available at any time you may need help setting up or using the system. The TMS vendor should also provide regular updates, training sessions, and other resources that will help you maximize your productivity.
Robust security The platform you select must guarantee secure data storage and transmission. Strict adherence to established regulations, two-factor authentication, on-premise hosting behind your firewall, and regular security audits are essential for protecting your data.
Free trial period It’s important to be able to try out the platform before committing. The best TMS will offer a free trial period, allowing you to test the system and make sure it fits your business needs.

Supercharge your translation management with Phrase TMS

It’s possible to get all of the above—and more—from Phrase TMS, the enterprise-ready translation management system within the Phrase Localization Suite. Companies worldwide rely on Phase TMS as an end-to-end solution to speed up the translation of their website, web or mobile app, help content, marketing collateral, etc.

With Phrase TMS, you get:

  • A fully-featured CAT tool with advanced features such as automated QA checks and a visual editor with real-time previews of translated content
  • Powerful automation capabilities
  • Translation memory to keep you from translating the same work twice
  • Term base to help translators stick to your preferred terminology
  • Automated translation quality assurance to keep translations accurate and consistent
  • 30+ integrations, from content management systems and marketing automation platforms to source code repositories and other 3rd-party systems
  • The choice to leverage add-ons—Phrase Orchestrator, Phrase Analytics, Phrase Translate—for customized workflows, detailed reporting, and machine translation
  • The ability to order professional translation services in one click and manage them from within a single platform
  • Robust security features to ensure secure data storage and transmission
  • Comprehensive technical support and customer service
  • A predictable and flexible pricing model
  • A free trial period to test the platform before committing

Phrase TMS is the best choice for enterprises looking to speed up their translation process and expand their global reach in the native language of their customers. Try it out today, and see why it’s the top-rated translation management system on the market.

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