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Nimdzi Exclusive: SDL Language Cloud First Impressions

17 June 2020

In May, Nimdzi participated in a private demo of SDL’s new enterprise product, SDL Language Cloud. Our initial impression is that this new product represents a strong step  away from SDL’s old-fashioned Worldserver and translation management system (TMS) interfaces into an all-new user experience.

SDL Language Cloud is a true cloud application with a microservices architecture. There are very few tools on the market that are scalable and can operate in a distributed environment. The continuous delivery approach SDL has taken, though not new in software development, speeds up bug-fixing time.

A new focus on user experience

SDL has raised the bar with the clarity of the interface.

The heatmap helps project managers quickly identify projects at risk, and the Kanban boards give a simple view of what tasks are in what state. While SDL retained workflow management, of course, it has simplified Worldserver’s over-complicated workflow designer, to the benefit of localization managers.

Project overview in SDL Worldserver.

The task-based overview in SDL Language Cloud.

The translator/reviewer interface is not new—products like Groupshare have been using a similar online editor for the past two years. It is a feature-rich online editor, aiming to recreate the Trados Studio experience in a web browser. The feature set inevitably brings complexity, and translators new to this interface need some time to become accustomed to it.

The online translation and review editor in SDL Language Cloud.

One area for future improvement will be the preview. Right now the only preview users can get is for Microsoft Word files.

The concept of reviewer groups is particularly interesting. It allows a user to assign a project to not only just one single person but also a group, and reviewers can claim and unclaim the tasks. This solves situations where one person is not able to review everything correctly.

SDL Language Cloud also brings a new innovation: it analyses the document’s content and classifies the subject of the text automatically. Text classification is part of several natural language processing (NLP) APIs, including Google’s AutoML, but was not yet included in a commercial tool.

Text classification in SDL Language Cloud.

What this tool means for SDL's market position

SDL has not released a new generation of enterprise tools in a while. The first time the company announced a new tool—they titled it Project Affinity—was in 2009, and in 2015 they were also talking about merging SDL Worldserver and SDL TMS. However, it looks like SDL Language Cloud will become a solid contender and gain back some market share that companies like Memsource or XTM have taken from SDL. The quickest route will be to convert Worldserver customers, simply by offering a more modern tool—yes, more modern than tools that have been around for ten years.

We have seen how SDL Trados Studio, released in 2009, became a solid tool only after a couple of years on the market. While we expect that SDL now has a better approach towards understanding the market, it will take time until the many functionalities are implemented. So far, query management is fully missing from the tool—SDL relies on Kaleidoscope’s solutions—and when asking about InDesign preview functionality, they mentioned they were currently looking for a partner to implement it with.

SDL Language Cloud is not replacing Worldserver, however. It is a fully cloud-based solution, so users not willing to migrate from an installed copy to the cloud still have to remain with Worldserver, which will remain a supported solution.

A solution for the entire supply chain

Compared to competitors, SDL remains strongly committed to supporting both translators and language service providers (LSPs), and so SDL Language Cloud is not purely an enterprise tool. A modified version targets LSPs. We have not seen the LSP offering, but looking at the design of the system it was evident that it reflects the enterprise mindset. SDL is still very keen on promoting Trados Studio to LSPs and translators, which definitely makes sense for translators themselves—and thus the new Studio version that is able to directly open packages from Language Cloud is a welcome change. Still, having project managers move packages back and forth is working against the trend of automation.

Summary

In summary, SDL Language Cloud is a welcome (albeit one might say overdue) addition to SDL’s increasingly complex technology offering. There is an apparent commitment from SDL leadership to use Language Cloud to unify existing offerings, rather than adding yet another tool into an already bloated suite of offerings. 

SDL Language Cloud tackles the difficult challenge for the company to offer a flexible, user-friendly, and scalable solution that industry users have come to expect, while still leveraging their long history and reputation for comprehensive feature sets. The “classic” features are still well represented, allowing for minimal user shock upon switching, while a flexible development and release strategy will allow SDL to adapt to the needs of the end-users as the tool is continuously improved. 

At this point, there are still features that are missing from the current iteration, although this is not out of the norm for newly released software solutions. Although incomplete, SDL Cloud is a solid first step towards a flexible and modernized localization management solution. Time will tell how well SDL’s Language Cloud offering will fit within the translation supply chain, and we plan to closely monitor and report ongoing developments. 

Selecting the right TMS

There are many translation management systems to choose from in the industry. There is no single “best TMS.” Each company has to define and evaluate their own specific criteria for selecting the technology best suited to their needs. Because of high implementation/switching costs, this can be a risky decision without having access to all the needed information.

The TMS marketplace is crowded. If you are currently investigating deploying a new TMS or migrating from an older one, we are interested in hearing about your experience.

We encourage you to reach out to set up a discussion with one of our qualified TMS change-management consultants, who leverage their experience and the extensive research published in our TMS Feature Explorer and TMS Comparison Tools to help clients deploy, maintain, and continuously improve their tech-enabled localization programs.
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