When I buy a product at Walmart it is scanned at the check-out counter. At that moment, the entire supply chain it took to produce that product is alerted; another product is moved into the assembly line, and the new product is on the shelf the next day. This is an enormous logistical challenge, and Walmart achieves success through very sophisticated automation systems and standard supply chain integration. Walmart is able to achieve such a high level of supply chain automation and integration, because very early in their history they convinced their suppliers to standardize the hand-offs in the supply chain around the most optimal way to produce what a customer wants, in the format they want, where they want it and at the best possible price. I am beginning to see clients in our industry requiring their translation vendors to do the very same thing.
Collaboration, integration, standardization and cooperation are all the hot buzzwords today. Why? Because clients are realizing that vendor silos are limiting their ability to achieve enterprise-wide objectives around time, cost and quality.
The Walmart supply chain is one built to support the movement of products, but what does the same set of challenges look like when it is a movement of digital information?
The translation industry is reliant upon a digital supply chain. We move words around, and the consumers of these words expect the latest and greatest instantly on the device of their choice in a simple and easy way. We can thank cloud computing, the iPhone, Google, Twitter and Facebook in large part for creating this new level of expectation.
This new expectation has a massive impact on our translation supply chain. The age of the “translation project” is waning and new age of the “translation utility” is waxing. Translation as a utility is a concept describing an always-on, on-demand, streaming translation service. Machine translation (MT) might come to mind first, but I see MT as just another important productivity tool in the translation supply chain. It is the configuration and integration of the supply chain tools and vendors to achieve “translation as a utility” which is the next frontier, where the biggest challenge lies and where the real value is created. Perhaps a Walmart of words or a FedEx of words will emerge?
Supply chain automation requires standard inputs and outputs. Otherwise, the systems and hand-offs between various vendors in the chain breakdown. The translation industry is suffering from this problem. The supply chain has not kept pace with the rapidly growing need for translation as a utility. Interoperability, extensibility and flexibility across systems and tools is currently limited. But this is beginning to change.
IBM announced today the formation of a partnership to work towards solving these challenges. In partnership with LISA (Localization Industry Standards Association), Welocalize, Cisco, and Linux Solution Group (LiSoG), IBM will offer an open source version of IBM’s TranslationManager/2 (TM2) to be called OpenTM2.
“There is a recognized and growing need for standards in the localization industry. However, despite our best intentions, standards themselves can often be vague and open to multiple interpretations. What is needed are reference implementations and reference platforms that serve as concrete and unambiguous models in support of the standard.” acknowledged Bill Sullivan, IBM Globalization Executive. Mr. Sullivan suggests, “Freelance translators are the backbone of the localization industry. These translators have longed for free and open translation tools to increase their productivity. Our expectation is that by providing OpenTM2 in the open source environment we can enlist the aid of this army of dedicated users to bring OpenTM2 even closer to the realization of a flexible open platform to mature data exchange standards our industry desperately needs.” Please see Kirti Vashee’s blog for interesting read on this topic of standards.
IBM, Welocalize and the other partners are working to make this open platform a reality. Our first reference implementation will be a standard integration between a content management system (Joomla), a translation management system (GlobalSight) and a translators workbench (Open TM2). The Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) plans to document and publicize the standard data exchange format to be utilized in the reference implementation, and these standard data exchange protocols will be expanded to include additional implementations until a standard, extensible and interoperable eco-system is formed. It is an ambitious goal, but market forces are driving the change, and I believe we will see the change through.