By Paul Trotter, CEO Author-it Software Corporation

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More and more businesses are expanding into international markets. A critical success factor for this expansion is high quality, cost-effective, and timely translated written content. Responsibility for this typically falls on internal translation departments or localization partners. Translation comes at a high price, exceeding the cost of writing the original content after only a few languages.

Current approaches to localization rely on technologies and processes that have minimal scope for improvement. The localization industry is under increasing pressure to find new ways to improve cost-efficiency, quality, and time-to-market.

In this article, I will try to explain what content management is and how it can help your organization more efficiently write higher quality and more effective documentation, re-use and share content across documents, have strict control over standards and branding, publishing that content to print, help, and web formats, and significantly reduce the cost of localizing your content.

What is Content Management?

First, there is no single agreed definition. Content management is a relatively new discipline, and if you ask the many suppliers of content management software they all have different definitions. Of course most of them make the definition suit what their software does.

It is fair to say that many people incorrectly regard content management as applying solely or mainly to the management and delivery of web content. This is a very limited view, content management software covers a much wider area and can be categorized as follows:

  • Web Content Management – This was the first and is the most common use of the term “content management”. They are primarily used to help manage web sites and web content. In this context the word “content” refers to any resource used to build a web site. Most of these systems are only concerned with managing the delivery of the web site. The authoring and maintenance are done by other products.
  • Document/File Management – Document and file management systems are designed to manage whole documents and other files rather than the words and pictures inside them. They know little about what the files contain and treat them as a “blob” of data. They rely heavily on users defining and applying metadata to give them more information. In practice, metadata is seldom applied to the content, making these systems of little more use than the file system.
  • Digital Asset Management – Similar in nature to document and file management systems in that they manage files, but focused on multimedia, so they provide little or no functionality for text intensive files. They are used mainly to create a central repository for graphics, video, flash, and other multimedia files, and provide archive, search, and retrieval functions.
  • Source Control – Again, similar to document and file management, but primarily concerned with managing source code, which are pure text files. They usually have poor support for dealing with binary content. They usually provide integration with software development environments.
  • Enterprise Content Management – This is one of the latest categories in the content management and does not have a clear definition. Most providers in this space are actually combining many of the other categories and calling it “Enterprise” as it provides a wider scope.
  • Component Content Management – This is the category that provides the most benefits for localization and the one we will be focusing on. Rather than storing documents, they store and manage the small re-useable components that are used to assemble documents. Components come in various sizes and types. They can be as small as a single word or as large as many paragraphs, or they may take the form of graphics or hypertext links.

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Component Content Management can be regarded as an overall process for originating, managing, and publishing content right across the enterprise and to any output.

Content management should be an end-to-end process providing the ability to track, manage, and control what happens to your content at all stages on the documentation cycle. From authoring and importing, to storage and document assembly, and multi-output publishing.

What is the difference between Managing Content or Managing Files?

The answer to this question is the key to why Component Content Management provides so many benefits over traditional file management systems.

The key aspect to managing any kind of data is to manage how the data can be created and changed. This is the cornerstone of enterprise applications of all types and is the only way you can truly manage information. The next step is adding value to it.

One popular approach to document and file management is to move the files from the file system into a database. These files are stored in exactly the same format in which they are created in. These systems typically provide access control, version control, metadata tagging, and search capabilities. They provide little control over the modification or creation of the files in the first place, and rely entirely on other applications to do that.

Let’s look at this problem from a different perspective. Let’s say your organization is using Excel spreadsheets to manage their financial accounts. At some point this approach becomes unmanageable for a variety of reasons. It is decided to move to a purpose-built accounting system that uses a back-end database, allows multi-users, provides audit trails, has financial reporting, and manages the information properly.

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Would you just move the Excel spreadsheets as they are into a file management system and expect it to magically create a profit and loss statement, or chart of accounts? Of course not. That would be impossible. Instead, you would move the data from the spreadsheets into the predefined relational database structure provided by the accounting system. Now you would be able to get all your reporting and ensure data was entered correctly, have multiple users editing without fear of overwrites, and exercise a much greater degree of security over your data.

Would you expect to be able to continue editing your accounts in Excel? Of course not. The information is no longer in Excel format, and doing so would bypass your controls and auditing. You would now edit the information in a controlled fashion in the accounting system. No longer would you get an unbalanced transaction or have information changed by unauthorized sources, but best of all your, reporting is a mouse click away.

Component Content Management provides the same evolutionary leap for content. It provides a more effective and more efficient way of authoring, managing, publishing and localizing your organization’s documents, images, web content etc…

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Why do you need Content Management?

Content is an Asset

For one thing, generating content takes time and money—often, lots of both. As such, content should be treated as the valuable business asset that it is.

To get maximum value from your documentation resources, you should be able to do a number of things:

  • You should be able to re-use content across documents without copying, so that you can write it once, and maintain it in a single place no matter how many times you have used it.
  • You should be able to use content created for one purpose equally well in other contexts and for other purposes.
  • You should be able to translate re-used content once and have it automatically reflected where ever it is used.
  • You should be able to publish to print, help, and web outputs without having to modify or make different versions of your content.
  • Ideally, you should be able to involve more people in the documentation process, such as subject matter experts, application developers, localization teams, and trainers for example.

These measures provide the potential for increasing the quality and consistency of your documentation, for reducing the cost and time involved in producing it, and for gaining more value from every piece of content that you create.

Control is Essential

All of this needs control. Assets are of limited use if you can’t efficiently manage them. Having tons of content that you can’t find, organize, protect, or use effectively is simply a waste of time.

Involving more people is a good idea, but it requires serious organization. Wider access can be a disaster if the system can’t cope.

You must be able to:

  • Set and enforce your standards to ensure the consistency and quality of your documents
  • Control who in the organization can create, see, use, and publish content
  • Find the content components when you need them
  • Manage the content life cycle through drafts, reviews, localization, release, and archiving
  • Control what can be published to each output channel

What are the Savings and Benefits?

An Example of Cost Savings

Localization can be a complicated and expensive process. One mention of localization and the immediate reaction from your financial department may be to reach defensively for their wallet. Costs can be unpredictable and can quickly get out-of-control, particularly if you don’t know what to expect. You may choose to manage the translation in-house, or to outsource it to an external company that specializes in localization and translation.

In simple terms, translation is not a cheap task. Let’s look at an example to put this in perspective:

The average cost a translator will charge is around 25 cents (U.S.) per word. Take a document with 500 pages and an average of 200 words per page. That’s 100,000 words, so you’re quickly looking at $25,000.

Now remember that’s just for the initial translation. The growing cost comes when you make modifications to the original document and need it retranslated. Most translation agencies use translation memory tools which help reduce the effort involved in retranslating a document, but they still charge for the whole document (albeit at a reduced word rate for the text already translated).

When using translation memory tools, a fuzzy match is returned where a text string is similar, but not identical to the original. An exact match (100%) is returned where there is no difference or variation between the two strings. Translators often charge different rates when text is found as an exact match, as a fuzzy match (with the match falling between a certain percentage), or is a new translation.

Let’s get back to our example. You now modify 15% of these pages, and add 20 new pages. Without allowing for fuzzy matches, the cost of retranslation can quickly climb to $11,550.00:

20 new pages – 4,000 words @ 25 cent per word $1,000

5% change – 5,000 words @ 25 cents per word $1,250

95% unchanged – topics with 95,000 words @ 8 cents $7,700

Total cost of retranslation = $9,800

Over time, these costs quickly mount up. Our example was just one document into one language. Translate that same document into 10 other languages, and multiply the cost 10 times. Translate a further 10 or 100 documents into multiple languages, and watch your costs skyrocket!

How Component Content Management Can Reduce Translation Costs

Because of the unique way content management products can store and manage content, savings are quickly realized:

  1. You only translate objects that have been modified—For example, let’s go back to our 500 page document which we’ve now updated. Rather than sending the translator all 500 pages again, only the 20 new pages and the 5% of modified pages are exported as XML. Using our previous example this would reduce the cost of retranslation from $9,800 to $2250!
  2. Text is only translated once—One of the biggest strengths of component content management is reusability. The same components are reused in multiple documents. For example, the same Copyright Notice (or even an entire introductory chapter) may be used in many documents. Each component only requires translation once. You can even reuse content as small as a phrase, sentence, or paragraph which takes reuse even further, and again are only translated once.

    Cross references and hyperlinks don’t even require translation. Because these are inserted at publishing time, taking their text from the heading of the component they reference, they aren’t stored in the text making less text to translate. Likewise, reference texts are defined by templates, so only the template requires translation.

    Our studies have shown an average of a 30% reduction in word count because of reuse.
  3. The XML files do not contain formatting—When the same text string is found using different character formatting, translation tools do not always identify it as an exact match. As the XML files do not contain formatting, this helps to increase the exact matches found.

Benefits for Localization

When you manage your content at a more granular level there are a number of things you can do that you just can’t do with whole documents.

Some of the specific benefits to localization are:

  • Translate Content Once—The system knows what content is translatable, has been previously translated, is reused, or has been added or changed since the last translation. Only content that actually requires translation is sent to translators, which significantly reduces word count and cost of translation.
  • Faster Time to Market—Localization and content creation can run in tandem, allowing translation to finish much sooner. Content is created in small discrete components that can immediately be sent for translation. This avoids the costly exercise of translating drafts or waiting for completion of the entire source content.
  • Automated Single-source Publishing—Once source content is translated and reviewed, it can be published directly to print, Help, and Web formats without tweaking or rework. This provides substantial savings, and eliminates inconsistencies in translation across delivery formats.
  • Cleaner Translation Memory—Translatable XML contains only text and semantic markup, increasing translation memory accuracy, and eliminating the effect of formatting on memory matches.
  • Improved Accountability—Only content that requires translation is sent for translation. Each piece of content has an accurate word count recorded and is known by all parties in the process, avoiding any surprises or disputes.

Overall Benefits of Component Content Management

Component content management provides significant benefits and cost savings over traditional document authoring and maintenance methods. Some of these are:

  • Faster Time to Market—Because authors spend far less time creating and recreating the same content, reviewers spend less time reviewing, translators spend less time translating. Publishing to print, Help, and Web formats is fully automated. This is achieved by controlling standards, eliminating duplication, and effectively managing creation, localization, and publishing of content.
  • Efficient use of Resources—By eliminating repetitive creation and maintenance, more of your resources can be devoted to improving the quality of the content and adding value to your documentation. Many clients report savings in excess of 20%, through reuse of content.
  • Major Production Cost Savings—Flow naturally from the efficient creation, maintenance, and management of documentation content. With products like Author-it, you effortlessly achieve more documentation for less outlay, and time taken to product a page through traditional authoring tools can be halved.
  • Slashed Translation Costs—Content is translated only once no matter how often it is reused. Translators only ever work on new or changed source content, so you don’t pay for them to handle unchanged text. Real projects have shown reductions in translation word count in excess of 30%.
  • Improved Quality and Usability of Content—Through easy definition and enforcement of standards you can guarantee consistent documentation structure and formatting, increasing readability and usability. Using single-source content ensures 100% consistency wherever it appears.
  • Improved Workplace Satisfaction—Free authors from tedious, time-consuming tasks such as formatting and repetitive updates, so they can concentrate on creating and improving content. Reviewers gain by reviewing content only once, regardless of the number of end deliverables. Writers save 95% of the time they usually spend formatting content.
  • Increased Customer Satisfaction—Consistent, accurate documentation of all types means fewer calls to customer support, because you’re providing the right information, at the right time, in the right format.

About the Author

Paul Trotter is the founder and CEO of Author-it Software Corporation. Paul is a popular speaker at events all over the world on topics ranging from technical writing and help authoring to content management and localization. For more information about this topic or other content management issues, contact Paul at