Over a month ago Idiom was acquired by SDL. They were the last of the independent GCMS (Global Content Management Systems) vendors. Now they are to become the second technology platform to be hidden away in a translation services company. Why does SDL, a company who has a majority of its revenue coming from translation services work, have a vested interest in keeping translation process hidden? I hope the answer obvious.
But really what does this mean for the ecosystem, why should it matter and if it’s so important why don’t I hear about it? I’ll cover the four major constituencies and how they will be effected.
Customers have lost the only independent option for translation. The one thing that Idiom offered was the ability to remain service vendor agnostic. You could buy a translation business process without being told which service provider you could use. This means that you could negotiate the cost per word for translation.
Instead, the new approach will mean that if you want to use a specific vendor you will need to organize your business processes to use their approach. This also means that if you’re not satisfied with a specific vendor, you will have additional switching costs around replacing the technology from your business process and re-training your staff.
What about in house translation, will they be able to use these tools? Both WorldServer and TeamWorks offered the ability to use in-house translation with translation teams. But will this be something offered by independent LSP’s as they develop their solutions (you’ll read why they’ll be doing this a little later)? I doubt an LSP will be ready to support such a large user community.
Globalization is not a priority. The base of this problem has to be that when a C-whatever of an ECM vendor travels to a foreign country he always has someone to shuttle him around and make sure that he’s always understood. We forget that English isn’t a global language. (Though there is at least one country on every continent that it’s an official language.) Europeans know this all too well as anything related to the EU needs to be presented in 21 languages. So to most ECM vendors language translation is an afterthought, getting very little corporate attention.
The few in internal roles that evangelize globalization, lack the authority or attention to do anything but simply be along for the ride rather than drive strategy to focus on this market. They end up reacting to strategy. For them they could simply watch the problems unfold and change strategy yet again.
Unfortunately this means that the real ultimate home for GCMS missed the last opportunity to acquire the technology to enable their platform. I think the time to remain vendor neutral and make a major change in global information technology just passed by everyone. I see customers pushing for this from the vendors a little more loudly here in the future.
Linguistic Service Providers
LSPs have been burned twice. First time was when so many of them went with TeamWorks from TRADOS for their globalization processes. But after the acquisition of TRADOS, most were looking for a quick exit not wanting their business process under control of the largest competitor, SDL. Idiom saw the opportunity and repackaged WorldServer for the LSP market. Quick to escape from under the thumb of SDL, LSPs switched platforms only to be back under the thumb of their largest competitor.
Today there is no option for the LSP beyond growing their own. Several have done this but I’m not sure if it makes sense. The problem I see is that when you look to embed your custom technology into a customer’s business process you create a bigger business decision. The technology investment brings with it requirements for platform and technical specifications that most services providers could easily support. It also forces the customer to choose one vendor and this is not always a great idea. You often find one vendor to support FIGS (French Italian German Spanish) and another for JK (Japanese Korean) for example.
First thing you have to understand is who is a translator. When I organized the TRADOS 7 World Tour 2005, I learned a lot about translators. One, they’re located all over the place. Two, they’re experts in specific industries, healthcare, legal, or technology, first and users of translation tools second. This means that the news is often slow to reach the community.
This is even hindered further when the leading community ProZ makes no mention of the acquisition. You would think something with this sort of effect to the industry would deserve coverage. Of course it could also be that since translators use the desktop tool rather than the workspace tool they saw no interest. But nor is LISA (Localization Industry Standards Association) posting anything on the acquisition.
Over time translators will find that in order to continue to find work many will need to join translation agencies rather than work as freelancers. The power of GCMS was that it allowed easy external participation in enterprise workflows. This will probably also mean a drop in the cost per word that translator are able to charge.
A Market with No Advocate
Since Jonathan Clark left Lionbridge, there has been no one left to be the advocate of GCM. Jonathan was a change agent who knew what the market needed and pushed equally on all the vendors of the space. He knew what both the customers and the translator wanted because he listened. So who would be an independent voice for Globalization?
I think a great champion would be, Yves Champollion, the creator of WordFast the cheaper alternative to the desktop tools used to perform translation. Yves understood the cost pressures that freelance translators were under and developed a solution to solve those problems. In developing or championing a tool to support the project management around translation, I think Yves could do to GCMS what he did for translation memory.