Idiom Translates Globalization Software into Strong Growth
January 31, 2007 Alex Woodie
How do you spell “success”? If you’re Idiom Technologies, it depends on what language you’re starting from, and where you want to end up. The Waltham, Massachusetts, company writes Java software that helps global companies take the pain out of translating their work–whether it’s software documentation for Oracle (one of its customers) or owner’s manuals for General Motors (another one)–and streamlining its ongoing maintenance. 2006 was a breakout year for Idiom, which says it tripled its customer base over 2005. Que bueno.
Idiom got its start last decade when Eric Silberstein, a Microsoft employee, was stationed in Bejing for the launch of the first Chinese version of Word. Silberstein, who would later go on to found Idiom in 1998, was appalled at the process behind translating a product into new languages, according to Dave Rosenlund, Idiom’s vice president of marketing and new business development.
“He witnessed the absolute insanity that goes on in translation. He couldn’t believe the hoops that people jump through to make that happen,” Rosenlund says. “The dirty little secret was translators were using this translation memory on their desktop, and customers would pay them so much per word. Little did we know, they’re only translating 30 percent [of the work], because they had much of the work in memory, previously translated. They were just cleaning it up, but they were charging me for the full document.”
Silberstein would go on to capitalize on that “dirty little secret” by developing a server-based Globalization Management System (GMS), written in Java, that would save customers time and money as they translate and localize their content into other languages, and strive to keep that content up to date, so new products get to market as quickly and as profitably as possible.
Idiom would go on to name that GMS product WorldServer. The product provides two functions. One the one hand, it provides some computer-assisted translation (CAT) capabilities, so customers don’t have to pay high translation fees. WorldServer also works with third-party translation tools, such as the one offered by industry leader Lionbridge, which just happens to be headquartered across the suburban Boston street from Idiom.
The other function is content management, where WorldServer acts as a content management hub that streamlines the many steps that go into translation, including the initial translation, publication, the application of markup to the original, and the re-publication of the content following the elimination of the markup, as well as all the transportation back and forth from content-generators and translators and publication.
Once a batch of content has been successfully translated into a new language using which ever method is preferred by the customer, WorldServer keeps a record of it. Over time, as the content is gradually updated to reflect changes, WorldServer applies algorithms to the new content that can get a very close match to the localized language that is the goal. New words or phrases that WorldServer can’t confidently localize are highlighted for a human translator to fix.
“Now my translator is only being asked to fill in the blanks,” Rosenlund says. “It dramatically accelerates translator productivity.”
Idiom customers typically save about 50 percent of their globalization costs by adopting WorldServer, and benefit from 70 percent faster turnaround time on globalization activities, Rosenlund says. However, instead of taking the money savings, most of these customers opt instead to double the number of languages that they support.
WorldServer can help companies close what Rosenlund calls the “globalization gap.” “Globalization is almost always measured in months. But there are top line revenues and bottom line expenses associated with that delay that can be hugely significant. There’s a reason why companies like GM, Oracle, and Wal-Mart spend seven figures on globalization. . . . By internalizing a GMS like ours into the content lifecycle, we make globalization part of the ongoing process, instead of at the end of the process, by essentially automating what used to be human steps.”
Idiom currently counts 55 companies as customers of WorldServer, many of which run the software on their own Windows, Unix, or Linux servers equipped with SQL Server or Oracle databases. The entry-level version of the product, which supports 20 users on a two-socket machine, costs about $50,000.
One of the hottest growth areas for Idiom is its new software as a service (SaaS) offering, which it unveiled in mid-2006. In the SaaS offering, Idiom provides access to WorldServer running on its multi-tenant servers for $4,995 per month. If security is a concern, they can upgrade to the dedicated server SaaS offering for $8,995 per month.
Idiom expects much of the growth in 2007 to result from sales of the new on-demand offering, as the SaaS delivery mechanism hits full swing, and third-party companies continue to develop products that plug into WorldServer. Overall, sales picked up dramatically last year, especially during the fourth quarter, resulting in a 70 percent increase in revenue in 2006 over the previous year, according to Rosenlund.
By Idiom’s reckoning, the market is ripe for picking. The company estimates that the 15 largest language service providers, such as Lionbridge, have captured only 20 percent of the $10 billion global market. However, the company estimates that, for every dollar spent externally on an LSP, companies are spending 75 cents to $1 on business processes, such as gathering, organizing, and putting content into forms, shipping, and publishing.
“There are many many human labor-intensive steps,” Rosenlund says. “There’s $10 billion in spend, but it’s a $20 billion problem.”
This article has been corrected. Eric Silberstein’s name was misspelled, as was Idiom Technologies’. IT Jungle regrets the errors.