Moving towards automated workflows
Managing product information* for delivery in multiple languages is a major challenge, one that becomes more complex with each additional target language. Add in regulatory issues that can vary from country to country for products in regulated markets like life sciences or defense, and the maze gets even more difficult to navigate. Fortunately there are workflows and technology that can bring a company much closer to automating the translation of multilingual product content.
*The easiest way to understand the scope of product information is to look at any Amazon Product page. Everything on that page is product information: search facets, reviews, FAQ, specs, comparison tables, even ads! Amazon has trained all of us, even B2B buyers, to want that level of PI.
Building an end-to-end content creation, management and localization workflow
The holy grail for product information managers is an automated workflow where content is developed in a centralized repository (like a Component Content Management System or CCMS) that feeds into a Product Information Management system (PIM) that, in turn, automatically publishes properly formatted (including metadata) content to a variety of media, including web, e-commerce, help desk systems, PDF, etc. If translation is required, the CCMS can transmit content via an API to the translation management and memory systems used by the Language Service Provider (LSP) for translation. Alternatively, as the ecosystem evolves, content will be sent for translation directly from the PIM. If the LSP is full service, the translated content is returned to the CCMS with its metadata intact. If a proprietary content development platform (such as eLearning courseware or a survey platform) was used, the workflow returns the translated content as properly formatted content in the same format as the original. Simple, right? Well, not really.
The reality: don’t let your product information requirements be a bottleneck
The reality, even with sophisticated companies selling complex products globally, is that there seldom is a workflow like this in place. Instead, they rely on authoring software like Word or Framemaker and manual publishing processes. With ever-faster time to market requirements and automated manufacturing and distribution, content becomes a bottleneck, a costly one. We have encountered examples of finished and sold product sitting in warehouses while documentation is translated. Unacceptable, but it is the reality much of the time.
The technology exists, the culture of acceptance often doesn’t
The tech chain that makes this happen is available. Content can be created in a Component Content Management System (CCMS) that can, in turn talk to PIM systems increasingly being adopted by enlightened businesses. It can also connect with the translation vendor’s systems. This ecosystem approach gives product information and distribution managers a much more agile process that treats that information as ‘chunks’ of data.
Transitioning to an automated ecosystem approach is neither easy, nor is it inexpensive. It requires planning and extensive retraining of documentation teams, information architecture development, migration of existing content, and development work to align systems. However, once in place, the company will see marked gains in productivity, time to market, error reduction, and cost reduction. And the place where those gains can be most dramatic and measurable is translation.The savings in time and cost can be significant. Sounds great, right? Don’t underestimate cultural acceptance issues.
All too often people are the roadblocks
I’m going to offer an example to support the contention in that subhead. This is not an unusual situation, in fact it is a common one. A major manufacturer of complex products with extensive documentation requirements and multiple languages has been trying to implement a digital content strategy for years. There is awareness of the options and, being engineers, they have explored them quite thoroughly. Cases have been made, budgets accepted, and yet they still deliver us piles of Word docs for translation. Why? Because their people won’t change the way they work. The structured XML content processes used by a CCMS requires a change in the way people think about content creation. Tech writing is a profession that is often change-phobic. The reality is that leadership has to mandate changes and then provide the training and tools required for implementation and acceptance. Often the solution is to bring in information management consultants who have dealt with both the technical and cultural issues. This is typically the most cost-effective way of making these changes. The upfront in time and money is not insignificant but the effect is comparable to the transition from manual assembly in manufacturing to robotic assembly lines.
Breaking the bottleneck
It is not unusual to know you have a problem while not knowing exactly what it is or what to do about it. When you look at product information workflows, the bottleneck may not always be obvious. Cultural acceptance and/or reluctance by management to spend on what they see as an unglamorous cost center are the two most common bottlenecks. Identify them, break them, and you can begin an adoption process.