Interoperability in Localization (Part I)

This article was originally posted in the Wordbee blog. Wordbee are the makes of the translation management system and CAT tool for translators.

You’ve used Google Maps at some point in your life, right? We all use it to search for addresses anywhere in the world, view the map of a city, and look for the route to go from one place to another. We can even position ourselves at street level to get a detailed view of a corner or spot of a city, as if we were really there.

Most people don’t think much about it. But you and I know that those maps don’t just exist within the Google Maps platform. They can be found almost everywhere, in a multitude of web applications and mobile apps. This is a flavor of what is called interoperability, a topic that is very dear to many localization professionals and a word that gets thrown around a lot.

In the first of two articles we go back to the basics of interoperability and its place within localization.

What is interoperability?

Interoperability is the ability of an IT system/product to work with other systems/products, and exchange information or services, in a more or less complete and error-free manner, with the help of standard data formats and communication protocols.

Why is interoperability considered a must?

In a globalized society, with an increasing number of systems and applications at our disposal, interoperability is key for the development of global markets and systems, because it helps to prevent the undesirable effects of fragmentation.

Here is another example of everyday interoperability: the use of the ATM at a bank other than our own. A dedicated (virtual private) network connects ATMs to the archives of the network member banks: we can perform standard banking operations like cash withdrawals, payments, maybe adding mobile phone credit, and checking our bank account balances or printing bank statements.

All this is possible because a specific inter-banking body addresses all the technical aspects involved in operating ATMs and provides standards. 

How can interoperability take place? 

Interoperability takes place through the implementation and use of open standards. It can be achieved at an early stage, i.e. when systems are not yet implemented; alternatively, if the systems are already operating, integration techniques can be used to make interoperability effective.

An essential condition is that systems are able to exchange data in a format known to both parties. To do this, standard communication protocols and data formats are necessary. XMLJSONSQLTCP/IP, and SAML, to name a few, are typical standard sets for interoperability. 

Within the translation and localization industry TMX (Translation Memory eXchange), TBX (TermBase eXchange), and more recently XLIFF (XML Localization Interchange File Format) are all XML-based and the most commonly used formats for language data exchange – although they are not exactly interoperability standards. 

TMX has been in use since the end of the previous century and aims to offer a non-proprietary system for the exchange of translation memories between different systems in order to minimize or eliminate the loss of data.

TBX is meant for the exchange of terminology data which, in most cases, is managed in terminology databases. 

XLIFF file is a bilingual file containing source and target strings together with relevant metadata: full document name, source language local settings, target language local settings, document type, string identifier in source language, translation status, and local settings for each translation language. 

Where can interoperability thrive? 

In addition to data formats and communication protocols, to implement a flourishing interoperability strategy we need the cloud. If set up correctly, the combination of cloud computing and interoperability offers considerable benefits: reduced total cost of ownership and overhead, easier integration, easier management and maintenance, availability of monitoring tools, data access for different applications, full automation and much more.

A translation management system – like Wordbee – includes every little aspect of the localization production chain: from job assignment to order management all the way to job completion (including invoicing, quality assurance, detailed analytics, and reports). At the same time, through APIs and connectors, it can collaborate with a variety of systems: digital asset management systems, content management systems, ad-hoc documents, documentation management systems, and many other types of systems.

When do we need interoperability? 

The combination of interoperability and cloud computing is essential when your business needs scalability, i.e. if you want your business infrastructure to be flexible, customizable and adaptable to the needs of your organization, able to respond to specific needs in a timely fashion. 

IT systems should be scalable downward as well as upward, to increase or reduce your system’s capacity, because even in the event of a malfunction, a scalable architecture guarantees a minimum level of service.

In part 2, we dig deeper into the topic of interoperability and examine the role it plays within a translation management system.


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