A Sampling of Client Requirements and Vendor Challenges
Georg Kirchner, PTC
PTC, a leading supplier of PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) software, derives 60 percent of its revenues from non-US markets. Quality translations at reasonable cost and quick time-to-market are essential to our global outreach. For success in our endeavors, we depend greatly on our localization vendors. This article gives an overview of PTC requirements that our language service providers (LSPs) struggle with periodically.
At PTC, the localization project managers (L10N PMs) coordinate activities of the extended team:
- Localization engineers automate and internationalize;
- Localizers translate terminology and software, answer vendor queries and review deliveries;
- Off-shore DTP teams perform production work;
- Engineering teams build the localized software;
- QAEs test localized products;
- Other departments such as Publications and Development assist in the background by answering vendor queries and correcting source material.
Vendors, both multi-language vendors (MLVs) and single-language vendors (SLVs), translate the bulk of the documentation and provide other auxiliary services. For any given project, PTC splits the target languages across multiple vendors. Collaboration between vendors is limited to activities such as translation query processing and is facilitated by PTC.
In this scenario of fragmented localization projects, the extended team, including vendors, interacts intensively from beginning to end. Responsiveness, agility, and an entrepreneurial spirit are essential qualities for successful vendors. Here is a sampling of our requirements that aren't always fully met. Some of the observations mentioned below go beyond the here and now, addressing LSPs as an industry-wide group.
Despite our best efforts, translation volume fluctuates when plans change or request-for-quotation estimates are inaccurate. PTC expects vendors to increase or decrease their translator teams on short notice. Negotiating the delivery date is not automatically an option when volume increases. Vendors must develop strategies to tap into a bigger pool of qualified translation talent on demand. If competing requirements are an impediment, we expect vendors to initiate a clarification of our priorities.
While PTC aspires to a translation factory-like routine for outsourced work, not all material or projects fit neatly into an efficient process: multi-media, graphics or legacy material translated without translation memory support, and so forth. Understandably, these exceptions are cumbersome to handle and require separate processes. As part of the total awarded work, however, PTC expects its vendors to accommodate these extraordinary items.
L10N Project Managers: Generalists and Specialists
The L10N Project Managers (L10N PMs) at PTC have well-rounded skills, often including a strong background in translation and hands-on experience with translation and project management tools. Furthermore, they perform all project tasks: scoping and costing, scheduling, executing, and closing out. PTC finds that matching L10N PM skills on the client and vendor side adds value to the relationship.
Working with Multiple Vendors
For cost, quality and risk management purposes, PTC often splits projects among multiple vendors. But supporting the varying offerings and differences between vendors increases our administrative overhead. I think this can be addressed in two ways:
1. Standardizing of L10N Tools Infrastructure
Tools for data storage, engineering, translation, project management, collaboration, financial management make up the L10N infrastructure. To optimize operations, vendors promote their L10N infrastructure for their clients. Conversely, PTC as a client promotes its L10N infrastructure for all its vendors. Since no two systems are alike, both vendor and client become costly interfaces between differing systems. While a single industry-wide infrastructure seems unlikely, advancing xml-based authoring tools, push-button publishing and translation management systems will drive convergence.
2. Standardizing of Service Offerings
Furthermore, I'd like to see basic L10N tasks, including productivity metrics, defined and standardized. These tasks, either individually or concatenated into workflows, will be catalogued as industry-standard service offerings. This will reduce the number of variables in choosing basic services. Vendors would compete on non-standardized offerings.
Do LSPs Meet Our Expectations?
The closer PTC works with its vendors, the smaller the variance between our expectations and vendor deliveries. Significant in-house capabilities grant PTC flexibility in its sourcing strategy. We harness the strengths of our vendors and work around occasional gaps. Small vendor organizations are generally more agile and feel comfortable with taking on project fragments. Big vendor organizations fully apply their resources best if they are awarded complete projects. Looking ahead, I expect that the maturing and proliferation of translation management systems will address some of the above challenges and eliminate others.
Georg Kirchner joined PTC (Parametric Technology Corporation) as a technical translator in 1995. After three years in L10N project management, Georg advanced to Management in 2001, supervising L10N PMs and leading the MCAD localization program at PTC. Georg serves on the Advisory Board for the L10N PM Roundtable of the Localization Institute.