When I started in this industry, more than 20 years ago, my boss at the very first translation company I worked for had to teach me everything involved in the management side of translation companies. I had been working as a terminologist for a couple of years and all the processes and tools in project management were a mystery to me. My boss started me out with a “translation management system” that was nothing more than a sheet of paper lined with cells where I had to handwrite in the date, the name of the client, the name of the contact person, the deadline, the name of the translator and the editor, and the total price. After several weeks using that “tool”, I asked my manager if I could design an Excel sheet with a few fields that would allow me to use the filter and the search button and, ultimately, make the whole process less time‑consuming. She was apprehensive about the change; she was worried that a virus would destroy that file and that it would be lost forever. In her mind, a paper was a safer way to keep track of our jobs, so to reassure her, I promised I would print out the sheet on a weekly basis so that we would always have a hard copy.
I was still using that same Excel-sheet method right up to the beginning of 2017. I know, unbelievable. It had evolved over the years and looked drastically different from the original design. I had even got some of my IT friends to help me add new features so that I could get the most out of my data.
Investigating TMS on the market in 2014
In 2014, when I started receiving more complex assignments and needed a more in-depth look at profitability rates, I realized it was time for me to upgrade. I started reading up on the Translation Management Systems that were available at the time. I have to say that I was eager to find a good system that would not only let me keep track of my projects, but also integrate my collaborator database, my client list, and the invoicing and purchase order system. After some research, I decided to ask for a demo and a meeting with a few of the companies that offered this solution. My general impression was that these systems were rather expensive and involved a large investment with high capital expenditure. I wasn’t sure a small company with a low turnover like mine could make such a huge investment… I had also noticed that these systems were quite rigid: they couldn’t offer the customization I was looking for. I knew how I wanted my interface to be arranged so that I didn’t miss any data, but these solutions offered a completely different approach when it came to project views. I decided to stick to my Excel sheet for the time being.
Designing our own TMS
2017 brought a huge ongoing job that required more extensive management, and it was then that I realized I needed a more diverse system. Since traditional management systems fell short of my needs, we discussed the matter internally and decided to design our own TMS. We hired an IT company and worked for months on the design of Prometheus, a brand-new application that would become our management hub. The user interface was colorful and, like my Excel sheet, the different colors represented different job statuses. It also had a collaborator database that was integrated with the job tracking system and a basic job profit feature. In addition, it had a client list and several other features designed to help us comply with our ISO 17100 certification. After almost half a year of hard work with the IT company, we launched Prometheus and were finally able to integrate all the processes of the translation company into a single workflow.
All except for invoicing. We postponed integrating our invoicing system because we had already spent a huge amount of money on creating our own application. Since the system was scalable, we decided to start using it without the main invoicing feature and leave that for a second release. Despite having a new system, I was frustrated; I desperately needed a comprehensive system that would address all the needs of a translation company, but we had exceeded our budget and couldn’t afford to spend more. Another reason for my frustration was that, despite having a customized system, I had paid twice as much as I would have for any other industry TMS. I kept telling myself that it was worth the money because now I had the perfect system that was designed by me.
Drawbacks of a DIY approach to TMS
I have to admit, begrudgingly, that it didn’t take long for us to start seeing the flaws. The web-based system was cloud-hosted and, although we paid a lot of money for a good data subscription, it was infuriatingly slow. Sometimes we had to wait several minutes for the system to load the data if it loaded at all (we often got fatal errors). We also realized that some of the features didn’t work properly, and when we asked the IT company we had hired to fix these issues, they took their sweet time doing so. It turns out that they hadn’t fully grasped some of the concepts because we were the first translation company they had worked for, and many of the industry-related nuances had passed over their heads. Similarly, we noticed that the initial design lacked a good number of features that we hadn’t originally thought of, but once again, money became an issue. Every time we asked for a quote to add new features, the price was too high.
After a couple of years, and an increasing number of complex jobs coming from our clients, I finally admitted that the tailor-made system was a huge mistake. Asking a general IT company to fully understand how a translation company works so that they can develop an efficient tool that can meet our needs was a complete waste of time and money. Likewise, my company was losing money because my project managers were wasting precious time trying to deal with system flaws and because they were unable to automate tasks. I came to the harsh realization that I needed to start all over again and find a solution that, beyond the shiny interface and the color coding, could help my business be more competitive.
TMS research, take two – what’s on the market in 2019?
“What do other translation companies do?” That’s a question I often ask myself when I’m at a dead-end in a critical business decision. “I need to go and find out”. 2019 was quite a busy year in terms of traveling. I attended GALA, ELIA ND, NTIF, even CLINT in Argentina… These are some of the top conferences in the translation industry nowadays. Apart from gaining insights from the best in the business, making new connections with other CEOs, and attending highly informative talks from great professionals, I also had a chance to see live demonstrations from the latest technology companies and talk with their salespeople all about how their systems work and how they differ. In addition, I talked with my peers in the industry and asked what systems they were using and what the pros and cons were for each.
I saw demos from virtually every TMS company out there. After looking into all of them, I found I was most impressed with XTRF. Not only did the system seem to be the most innovative of them all with unbeatable design and a sleek look, but it also seemed to be the most flexible and reliable. I really liked it, and my mind was almost made up, but something was still gnawing at me: was this system suitable for a small company like mine? I didn’t want to make the same mistake again and choose a system that wasn’t good for the size of my company. In fact, I wanted to work in an environment that would grow with my company. A system that is powerful enough for five people, but also for 50. I didn’t want to give up any of the features of the top TMS just because my company was a small one.
Why we chose XTRF
With XTRF, I can get all of the state-of-the-art features without having to settle for less. I started with five licenses, which was perfect for the size of my company and was compatible with my budget. I also got some discounts for being part of a translation association and they gave me very flexible payment options. Therefore, I truly believe that XTRF fulfills every translation company’s needs, regardless of the size.
After all the communication problems I had with the IT team behind my tailored solution, I had to be sure that the company I chose had great communication skills and that I could reach them anytime in case I had trouble with the system. However, that wasn’t really a concern, because all the other XTRF users I had been talking with spoke very highly of XTRF’s support service. And I got to experience this firsthand during the first few months of implementation. This is an added value you truly appreciate as a client: knowing that someone is always on the other side to help you through the implementation process of a tool that has a wide array of features and flexible options.
The benefits we’ve noticed – already!
But the best part of using XTRF was all the benefits for me and my team. Automation is now a reality. My project management team is ecstatic to be working with this system and to have left our own solution behind.
One of the biggest improvements they found was complete, real-time control over the ROI for each project, which allows them to assess project profitability and make decisions while it’s still active in order to reduce any possible losses. They’ve also noted more efficient file management processes; now there’s no need for back and forth emails with cumbersome files and attachments, everything is available on the same platform. Previously, our invoicing system was separate from our management system, meaning we had to create POs and invoices for our collaborators and clients from a different app. As you can imagine, this was a huge waste of time. Now all our collaborators and clients can see their POs and invoices directly on the platform, which is a win not only in terms of efficiency but also in terms of transparency.
With XTRF, communication is simpler and more efficient. Our collaborators can find all job instructions and materials they need in one place and easily check them at any time by logging into the Vendor Portal. This significantly reduces the potential for miscommunication. The alerts function has also been extremely useful for us since it allows us to manage multiple tasks while our linguists are working. With our previous system, we needed to constantly check the projects’ status to make sure they were on time. Now, when a linguist finishes a task, the project manager in charge receives an email with a link that takes them directly to that project so they can proceed with the final steps. Workflow customization is another feature that we’ve found to be quite useful on multiple levels. For example, we have certain accounts whose projects always require the same language pair and the same linguists, so with this feature, we no longer have to waste time entering repetitive information. Since we consistently receive projects with the same characteristics, we can use a template to cut out mundane tasks and take advantage of that time to manage more important matters. And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg.
I’ve highlighted some of the biggest changes we’ve noticed since implementing this system, but there are many more that, despite not being mentioned here, make us glad we decided to choose XTRF.
I might have a small company, but this doesn’t prevent me from working with the best tools on the market.
Director, Exero Soluciones