Sophie Halbeisen is the Director of Business Development at Plunet Her main focus and expertise is workflow consult-ing for translation business management systems for language service providers and language departments. She manages more than 150 client accounts in both North and South America.
The evaluation and implementation of a tool is a serious project, one that — in a best case scenario — you only want to do once. While it’s a project that can set your company up for success, it can also be a painful process that costs lots of time, money, and resources.
In this article, I want to share seven tips based on real-life experiences that will hopefully help you with the preparation, evaluation, and ultimately with the selection of your translation management system (TMS).
Most companies do not take the time to thoroughly prepare for the selection of the right TMS and fail to include the right stakeholders. This approach may not only have negative consequences for the selection process, but also negatively affect user adoption and the overall success of the chosen tool.
Everything starts with the right goals, and hopefully a mission statement for the project. This is because the deployment of a TMS carries with it a change in the entire management process of an organization.
01 – Set yourself a project mission and goals
With a clear mission and goals, you not only ensure that all stakeholders are aligned, but it will also be easier to make decisions — some features and goals might be incompatible, e.g. security settings that get in the way of more automation features.
If you have set your objective, decisions can be geared toward it, and it can be a rewarding experience for the project team. Measurable goals will also allow you to check whether a project was successful upon completiong.
Here’s an example of a tool implementation project mission: “Create a scalable infrastructure that allows our company to grow from a small translation agency to an international multi-million dollar business.”
And here are some examples of company goals:
- Automate all redundant tasks, so project managers can focus on client relationships and revenue growth.
- Centralize all information to allow global teams to work together and access critical data regardless of their location around the world.
- Create meaningful reports that help senior management teams make informed decisions to fuel our growth strategy.
- Store and manage files in a secure environment that allows customers and vendors to be incorporated seamlessly into the workflow while following strict data protection guidelines.
A clear mission and goals are the first step to identify critical features for your business. For each of the goals, the evaluation team can define what needs to be done for the goal to be reached (e.g. the exact reports that management needs or what “secure” means for the business) and check back later when tools are in closer consideration.
02 – Include all relevant stakeholders
Looking for a TMS can be a serious challenge because it involves almost all stakeholders of a translation business or department. The solution will not only be used by the project managers, clients, and vendors, but most likely also by sales-people, vendor managers, quality assurance (QA) staff, system admins, IT experts, senior management, and the accounting team.
And, as always, every team has different requirements and preferences that can result in conflicting goals, which may lead to additional difficulties in the selection process. I was once involved in the testing of a tool that, after a thorough proof of concept, was approved by each of the stakeholders involved, only to be vetoed by the security team who checked the tool afterward. If the security team had been brought in earlier, time and resources could have been saved and, ultimately, quite a bit of frustration throughout the organization.
Once the stakeholders have been selected in an evaluation, it’s important to ask who will be the main stakeholder in the decision-making process — often, these are senior project managers, operations managers, or the CEO. It’s also crucial to decide who needs to be part of the decision with regard to compliance matters (e.g. the IT/security team), budget approval (e.g. finance or procurement), and the question of who will be affected by the change without being a main stakeholder (e.g. accounting).
Not only does their input matter for the evaluation and selection process, but their buy-in is essential for the implementation itself and the long-term success of the workflow deployment. Staff members who are involved in the decision-making process are the ones who identify with the project and express ownership and accountability.
If it’s not feasible to have an evaluation team that covers all stakeholders, it may be recommendable to ask stakeholders to list their needs, not just in regards to features, but also potential roadblocks and the data that is needed for their job or department.
- IT/Security Team: What kind of security measures are required for tool deployment? Is a cloud tool a viable option or does the tool need to be hosted on-site? Which access controls are needed to follow security protocols? Are there any standards that need to be followed (such as GDPR or HIPAA)?
- Senior management: What kind of reports need to be run at the end of the month? Which filters are needed to classify projects, sales, and profits?
- QA staff: What criteria are used to rate vendors? What kind of access to projects and vendors is needed to assure good work performance?
- Accounting: What kind of data need to be available for extraction from the TMS for accounting purposes? How often will this data be needed (once a week/month) and in what format? What’s a minimum requirement for functionality?
03 – Know your budget
If possible, allocate a realistic maximum budget to the project team, so they know the range they can make decisions within. This prevents teams from falling in love with a system that later gets shut down based on price, which can be extremely frustrating after a thorough analysis (and makes it harder for the “second choice” tool to be accepted).
Once the mission, stakeholders, and budget have been identified, the time is right to narrow your selection down to just a few tools for further evaluation. To find a list of tool providers, we recommend checking out language associations such as the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), European Union Association of Translation Companies (EUATC), and the Association of Language Companies (ALC), and of course research companies concentrating solely on the language services industry.
Once a couple of tools are found that are of interest, based on their online presence, the next step is to make sure to listen to real users’ experience.
04 – Talk to real reference customers
Ask for reference customers from the tool provider or, even better, talk to people you know are using the software and can give an unbiased experience report.
Make sure the reference customers work at an organization of similar size and scope in order to get a relevant experience report. If the TMS selection is done by a two-person agency, it doesn’t make sense to speak to the tool provider’s largest client who has 250 employees. If you’re doing business in Canada or Brazil, better insight on complex tax settings are better sourced from a client in the same geographical region than from a client in the US, where services don’t get taxed at all.
These conversations will help any company understand the advantages of the tool up for evaluation and also to find out its weaknesses and tips for smooth deployment. Asking an existing customer what they would do differently if they were to choose the system today is a great way of bracing for challenges that the tool provider might not be able to prepare you for.
And another, perhaps unexpected (but amazing) side effect of talking to references is that you might meet a business partner, potential client, or even make a new friend in the industry.
05 – Question to ask your tool provider:
What’s your biggest challenge in achieving your goal?
After talking to references, it’s time to ask the tool provider some tough questions. Everyone knows how to present their product and how to shine during a demo, but every tool has its weaknesses and companies have their flaws — and it’s always best to work with a company that is self-aware and honest, not just a good sales organization.
The best question to ask a software company is “what’s the biggest challenge you face in achieving your goal?”
The answer to this question can provide useful and fascinating insights into the weaknesses of the product and help determine if these weak points are a deal-breaker.
For example, the answer “our product is very complex due to the level of customization and therefore has a steep learning curve. Companies need a couple of weeks for deployment, and we recommend having a dedicated person on staff who maintains the software” could be a valid reason for concerns if a company needs to go live in two weeks and is short on staff. On the other hand, it would not be a problem for a company looking for a comprehensive solution that is part of a long-term strategy.
If the company is not willing to share any challenges, read this as a red flag. Software development is hard and complex — if no issues are reported, they probably have never written a line of code or tried to connect two complex systems. Honesty and self-reflection are key.
Once the provider and tool are chosen with confidence, it’s time to prepare for the hardest part; the implementation.
06 – Spread the knowledge across your team
It is extremely important to have dedicated TMS “gurus” who will be the main contact for the implementation and the first person to contact if anyone in your team has questions regarding the software and your specific setups. This role is especially crucial in the first weeks after the go-live, where everything is still new for the users, but also going forward in the communication internally as well as with the tool provider.
Nonetheless, extensive knowledge of such a critical system should never just be exchanged with one person — otherwise, you risk losing the invaluable understanding of the system if that person leaves the company. Employees with configuration rights have a lot of power over the company’s data and they can become indispensable stakeholders that keep the business running.
A TMS is not just an automation tool, it stores all business data and client information, so it is crucial to make strategic decisions in regards to access rights and knowledge transfer. In the case of small businesses, have the CEO or owner join the sessions to secure knowledge of this investment for the long-term, and never underestimate the value of having a second source for every system admin.
07 – Calculate your ROI and celebrate success
Implementing a tool is a huge project and after using a system for a while, nobody can imagine having ever lived without it. In addition, expectations usually rise with a system, so there will be a lot of new needs and requirements after implementation. To ensure good measurement (and celebration) of success, set a timeline to check in on the goals and mission. If these have been achieved, celebrate that milestone and set new goals (e.g. additional automation or increased standardization).
Since some successes are hard to measure with a TMS, a great tip is to collect data processes, for example by tracking time of certain processes, such as:
- How long does it take to create a quote without a tool/CAT tool integration?
- How long does it take a PM from project intake to having the right vendor assigned when using Excel and email?
- How many customer invoices had to be corrected in a given month due to human error?
- How many vendors were paid late without a standardized invoicing process?
- How many emails are exchanged with a given client until a project is finalized?
Another great way to measure success is to look at business decisions that were make because of the new data at your disposal. For example, one day the realization may set in that the relationship with one or more customers is not profitable, which leads to adjusted rates so this doesn’t adversely affect the bottom line, or a new client could be onboarded that requires a customer portal you didn’t have before.
In any case, once you have hard data, you can compare the numbers with your new processes and analyze the real value of a new tool.