For Product Executives (Product Managers, Product Directors, VP of Product, and Chief Product Officers) in growing international companies, time-to-market is of the essence. Being first (or among the first) to release new products, features, and updates to global consumers are critical for brands looking to secure and maintain a competitive advantage and increase market share.
Carefully optimizing products for the commercial translation in advance, via a process known as ‚internationalization’, helps brands anticipate and eliminate potential stumbling blocks in the translation workflow that could slow the pace of international release.
Once prepped, products need to be rapidly localized to resonate with target audiences - every detail of product packaging, advertising, and literature expertly adapted to speak natively to consumers.
Weighing in the balance with the speed of product release, though, is the quality of translation and localization efforts to adapt products for foreign-language customers. Rushing to export bug-ridden or poorly localized products can do serious damage to brand reputation, affecting consumer confidence and loyalty.
And here’s where technology comes in. It plays a pivotal role in matching speed with quality for global product management – enabling businesses to deliver products quickly to an international customer base without compromising on local-version adaptation or testing.
This guide breaks down the role and functionality of key translation technologies and explains how the right tech stack can help companies accelerate high-quality international product launch.
Pressure on companies to get products to customers ahead of the competition is nothing new, and the advantages of being first to meet a consumer need have always been one of the key drivers of product innovation.
In a global digital economy, however, things are changing.
Fuelled by ever-increasing access to product information, peer review data, a wealth of online shopping choices, and fast-track delivery channels, everything about the modern retail cycle is accelerating.
Added to this, e-commerce platforms have increased the number of companies jostling for consumer spending, supported by international supply chains enabling them to reach larger cross-border customer groups.
This means shortening windows of opportunity for companies to secure vital market share with new product launches or feature updates, and a compressed time frame in which to enjoy premium pricing and high-margin sales before competing products drive down rates or commoditize entire sectors.
Across the world, businesses are responding by placing a heightened focus on reducing time-to-market cycles, working to beat competitors to the punch.
For international Product Managers, Directors, CPOs, and other product execs, this means not only an effort to accelerate product readiness but to ensure that products are adequately adapted to meet local-market needs – looking and feeling as though they were natively designed for foreign-language customers.
As with other key areas of the customer journey, the right technology can help product teams create efficiencies and slash product launch cycles, including delivery times for translation and localization – from packaging and user information to marketing and promotional materials.
But getting the best out of language technology requires a strategic approach, supported by a fundamental understanding of the balance between human and computer input in creating successful global consumer experiences.
Before diving into the wealth of tools available to automate and accelerate the translation process, it’s helpful to frame how technology supports language adaptation efforts as well as defining clear boundaries between the roles of software and human beings.
To look at it simply:
What translation technology is not:
Putting your localization on autopilot! Translation technology isn’t about sacrificing high-quality foreign-language products for machine-generated content.
What translation technology is:
A partnership between humans and machines, speeding up key processes while ensuring quality and accuracy.
This differentiation is important, especially where misconceptions may exist around the role of technology in the translation and localization process.
Concerns typically range from the enduring damage done by glitchy early versions of Google Translate to fears that the rise of Artificial Intelligence will render the need for human input in the translation process obsolete.
In fact, modern localization workflows represent an advanced hybrid of human-machine cooperation (called also “augmented translation”).
In some areas of the process, the software works to accelerate the delivery and consistency of manual tasks. In others, it identifies linguistic matches, patterns, and efficiencies at a pace and scale impossible for humans to replicate. Sometimes, language technology completes whole sections of language conversion using advanced machine translation tools.
At all times, however, the technology works in collaboration with human language experts who translate, coordinate, edit, manage and test the process to ensure a final localized product that feels and behaves like a native-language creation.
A huge range of tools exists to help expedite the translation process, ranging from hyper-specific niche applications to comprehensive management platforms designed to manage end-to-end language programs.
In general terms, however, tools can be grouped together by the phase of the process they support.
Content Management Systems (CMS) are designed to manage and organize the creation, modification, distribution, and publication of content. With diverse international teams collaborating to produce product content (usually involving a mix of freelancers and agencies), CMS platforms help bring everything together so that key materials can be easily located, shared, version tracked, and archived.
Digital Asset Management (DAM) tools typically do the same for video and image content, creating annotated visual libraries which enable teams to efficiently store and locate media assets used in product collateral – from video tutorials to blog and images to social content. When it comes to website content, Web Content Management systems (WCM) provide the infrastructure to manage and edit content across complex digital platforms, including e-commerce stores, microsites, and more.
Leading the pack of CMS, DAM, and WCM providers focused on unique user experience are names like Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), HubSpot, WordPress, or Drupal, to name only a few. Other established players Include OpenText, Episerver, Oracle, Sitecore, and Acquia. Last but not least, you should not forget about Help Authoring Tools (HAT) for documentation and help like Madcap Flare/Lingo or Adobe RoboHelp.
A critical step in the translation cycle is adequately preparing products and content for translation – a process that helps flag up any likely obstacles when converting original source content into a new target language.
Internationalization software focuses on structuring and tracking the pre-translation phase, automating the detection of common issues such as alphabet characters (on the very basic level, introducing Unicode), user interface design, coding structure, and website metadata translation. Many translation management platforms offer integrated internationalization functionality, while specialist tools like Lingoport or QT focus exclusively on this phase of the process.
MT software uses advanced computing power to automatically translate between one language and another, without involving a human being. The technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, moving from clumsy rule-based logic, through Statistical Machine Translation (SMT) to advanced ‘Neural Machine Translation’ or NMT.
Today, whether built by global tech giants like Google or Microsoft, or specialist developers such as Systran, Omniscien, Kantan or Globalese, machine translation has many commercial use cases - especially where the content to be translated is of a functional nature and requires little or no nuanced adaptation for a specific regional market. Despite its progress, however, MT is seldom deployed alone – a typical workflow involves expert human translators who will review and edit machine-generated content in a hybrid model (so-called Post Editing, MTPE/PEMT).
Often confused with machine translation, Translation Memory (TM) tools (such as memoQ) work by creating a database of words, phrases, and even entire paragraphs that have been translated before in prior translation projects.
By leveraging and continually improving this repository (supported by human input to approve, edit and update translations), TM software can rapidly accelerate translation time by instantly detecting sections of content that may not require re-translation and considerably drive the localization costs down, especially on repetitive content. Effective use of translation memory databases can help global organizations focus their efforts on new or updated content, eliminating the need for redundant checking of text that remains unchanged.
Terminology Management differs from Translation Memory software by focusing on the specific way keywords, acronyms, slogans, or other text is translated into each new target language. Examples include TermWiki, Acrolinx, qTerm, and MultiTerm.
With large, ongoing content creation and teams of global linguists collaborating to ensure high-quality localized product versions, Terminology Management tools ensure brand consistency and a unified tone of voice, equipping translators with authorized translations of essential vocabulary.
Commonly referred to as ‘Translation Management Systems’ (TMS), these tools offer broad functionality for translation project teams to collaborate and track project progress. Purpose-built for translation programs, they provide an important bridge between internal teams and external agencies, linking in any third-party collaborators (such as content writers, graphic designers, testing teams, etc.) in a single portal.
As well as providing a hub for group work, TMS platforms often integrate directly with CMS and WCM systems to access source content and with TM and MT tools. They can also offer built-in translation/terminology management features, as well as financial tools to manage budgeting and translation costs. API, integrations, and connectors are the keywords that make all that magic possible. Examples of TMS platforms include Across, XTM, memoQ, XTRF, Plunet, Smartling, and Wordbee.
Platforms to assist with website localization range in complexity and structure. Some are based around a web proxy approach, essentially creating a ‘mirror’ of the original website and creating an automated workflow to generate and update foreign-language versions. For brands requiring international sites with content different from the original source-language site, web localization systems may act more like specialized translation management platforms, integrating with WCM systems and managing collaboration between teams to create highly localized regional sites.
Audiovisual translation tools have a specialist focus on adapting rich media files for global audiences (for examples, check out Ooyala or VoiceQ). From feature films and TV shows to product tutorials, marketing content and e-learning resources, adapting multimedia content calls for a whole new toolkit. As well as working with a wider range of file types to allow video and audio, specialized platforms for dubbing, voiceover and subtitling require additional capabilities for editing, annotation and collaboration.
For software Product Managers, a world of applications exists designed specifically to help minimize back-and-forth between programmers and language teams. These tools can involve integration with platforms such as GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab, Slack or JIRA, and place emphasis on automating manual processes as well as ensuring translatable content can be quickly and easily extract from source code to be distributed to translation teams, together with any necessary contextual annotations, screen captures, or other guiding information.
For both functional and linguistic testing, QA tools provide thorough frameworks to ensure every aspect of a localized product is error-free. Specialist applications replace confusing Excel-format bug reports, enabling real-time review and editing of translated content. This allows testing teams to accelerate key QA steps by performing locale-specific reviews, automating batch edits, detecting inconsistencies or cross-referencing text with terminology databases. QA-focused software tools include XBench, Verifika, QA Distiller and lexiQA.
Despite the breadth of tools designed to help product teams fast track the translation process, even the world’s most advanced software can’t help to reduce time-to-market without the right team, workflows, and underlying plan.
Getting the best out of technology means planning, researching, and implementing it correctly.
If poorly executed, technology risks not only delivering only a portion of its potential benefits but potentially even delaying the process due to unforeseen issues, functionality gaps, or incompatibilities.
Some tips for getting the best out of translation tech include:
With a blend of in-house and off-site resources collaborating on complex projects, knowing where and how the work is going to happen is critical. When multiple technology systems are connected in a single workflow, there can often be an overlap of functionality, especially when it comes to communication. This can lead to comments and annotations going unseen, duplication of correspondence in emails as well as within platforms, or key pieces of information never reaching their intended recipient. To eliminate this risk, an overarching plan detailing steps, communication channels, and feedback or collaboration platforms brings everyone onto the same page.
Along with clarifying processes, making sure that a full assessment of all content requiring translation has been completed is vital when looking to reduce translation time frames. Nothing slows projects down or delays launch as much as additional requirements appearing unexpectedly, derailing workflows, and throwing timing into disarray. Audits help track what needs translation, where it lives and ensures all necessary users have access, including:
As self-evident as it sounds, technology won’t accelerate anything if intended users don’t understand how it works. Investing time in training key users on software functionality can feel like a frustrating hold-up when the clock is ticking, but the long-term efficiencies of a team who know their tools inside-out often outweigh any short-term downsides. To double down, knowledge libraries offering self-serve refreshers or troubleshooting also eliminate time-lost to on-the-job training or workflow bottlenecks.
When building a translation tech stack, it doesn’t always work to ‘Frankenstein’ a set of tools together. When choosing which technologies to evaluate, demo (and, most importantly, pay for!), it’s an important step to ensure that they will play nice with the rest of your toolbox. As such, designing a stack that is not only comprised of best-in-class components but also works seamlessly as an overall program is a key to creating a framework that allows for accelerated delivery.
Lastly, with so much effort, energy, and investment in technology, it’s essential to make sure that it’s actually working. This means tracking and benchmarking translation projects against previous language programs to ensure that new tools are in fact shortening development cycles and allowing teams to roll out new products and features to international consumers faster than before.
A focus on incremental workflow improvement, adjusting process steps, or the way key tools are used, also works to further improve efficiency and ensure that each new project is quicker than the last – without sacrificing thoroughness or quality. The technology itself will also feed into this process of consolidation, as terminology and translation memory repositories reduce the amount of human input required to replicate source language accuracy, tone, and brand.
The right technology can deliver a critical commercial advantage in competitive international markets, allowing companies to ship localized products faster and release updates with minimal delay.
For even the most complex translation and localization requirements, a workflow supported by the optimal configuration of specialist tools lets both product and language teams automate key steps, collaborate effectively, and reduce overall program cycles.
However, selection, integration, and deployment of technology are key – each tool is only as good as its implementation, and it’s essential for software to act as a facilitator to rapid and accurate teamwork, not a barrier.