Suzanne Mescan
Vasont Systems

There is a famous scene from the classic American TV sitcom I Love Lucy, when Lucy and Ethel (the two leading ladies) try to work at a conveyer belt in a candy factory. When the conveyer belt was moving at a slow and steady pace, the job was challenging but they succeeded in packaging all the candy. But when the belt sped up, that’s when things got out of control. With no additional people to help them, the two ladies couldn’t keep up with the extra volume rolling toward them at a furious pace, and lots of candy was wasted as it landed on the floor!

Imagine that your editorial department—the people that manage your organization’s technical documentation, user’s manuals, web site, training materials, and other business information—are like Lucy and Ethel. They do a fine job when the demand for content comes at them at a steady pace. Thanks to modern technology, they can even continue to perform their jobs well when the demand for content speeds up. But when upper management decides that the content needs to be published in two or more languages, the amount of work involved can double, triple, or even quadruple! Luckily for today’s editors, they have content management systems to help them manage the additional workload. A robust multilingual content management system can provide an immense amount of value by helping your editorial department to streamline the editorial process, prevent mistakes, manage the translation process, and enable the creation of new materials on demand.

What is a multilingual content management system?
The main task of a content management system is to centralize content in one repository so it can be consolidated and better organized, shared, and tracked throughout an organization and across multiple locations. Content is stored in the system once and reused many times, making the editorial process more efficient. Content management systems save an organization thousands of dollars in duplicated writing efforts, research time, production, and translation costs.

For maximum efficiency, content is best stored in a content management system as “chunks” of information that make up documents, web sites, instructional manuals, technical documentation, etc., rather than storing the entire documents themselves. By storing each piece of content separately and only one time (eliminating duplicates), the system helps users to maximize content reuse and minimize duplicate writing and editing efforts.

A multilingual content management system can do all these things, plus it can manage content in more than just one language. The system tracks each piece of content, so if it changes in the base language (English, for example), it can be automatically identified and submitted for translation in all the other languages it appears in as well (i.e., French, German, Chinese, Greek).

Do I need one?
Here are a few points to consider when deciding if your organization might benefit from a multilingual content management system.
Do you regularly publish the same content in several different languages—i.e., you publish the same instructional manual in English, Spanish, German, Japanese, and Arabic?
Do you endure a lengthy and unmanageable editorial process due to the amount of content, the decentralization and duplication of content, and the workflow challenges?
Have you ever published inaccurate multilingual content—i.e., you published content in a foreign language and then found out that it didn’t match your latest English version of that same content?
Do you delay product releases because the corresponding documentation isn’t ready?

If these questions apply to your organization, then you will benefit in terms of money, productivity, and even sanity from a robust content management system.

What features are important?
When examining the features of a potential multilingual content management solution, here are some features to look for:
Includes Unicode (UTF-8 and UTF-16)—First and foremost, make sure the system is Unicode-enabled. Unicode is what allows the system to handle languages with unique character sets, such as Japanese, Korean, or Arabic. If the system is not Unicode-enabled, then it is not able to handle multilingual content and should be immediately crossed off your list.
Provides single sourcing—Make sure that the system will single source your content. This is industry jargon for “storing only one time” no matter how many times a particular piece of content is reused. Single sourcing is critical for ensuring maximum translation efficiency. If a piece of content is stored in multiple places, it is difficult to track whether or not it is up-to-date and/or correctly translated. Additionally, single sourcing will ensure the content is accurate since no instance will ever be missed when updating or translating it.
Integrates with translation tools—A content management system can manage the process of what gets translated when, but it doesn’t actually perform the translations. If you are using a translation management or machine translation tool, make sure the content management system you choose integrates with these translation tools. This integration will provide an automated process for translation versus manual tracking and sending of files back and forth.
Provides the right output models—Does the system provide output for all the media channels you want to publish to—i.e., print, web, CD, wireless? Some systems are geared toward web content management only, which works well if you are managing content for a multilingual web site. However, if you repurpose that same content to other channels, you will need a more robust system.
Fits your business model—Although this sounds obvious, make sure the content management system fits your business model. Do you need it to allow for remote users? Maybe your editorial group is small and therefore needs a smaller system? Or maybe just the opposite is true. Do you plan to grow it into multiple divisions? Plan your process first, and choose a system that meets those needs now and in the future.
Has robust workflow capabilities—For example, when an author finishes writing a piece of content, the system can automatically send an email notification to the correct editor to let him/her know that the content is ready for review. The editor’s comments can be automatically sent back to the author for revision, and once the revisions are made, the content can be automatically flagged as approved and sent off for translation. The system administrators should be able to easily set up the workflow, ideally with a graphical layout, and all system users should have access to it to check the project’s status. Managing multilingual content is a complex process with many steps involved. Strong workflow capabilities can go a long way to minimize mistakes and errors.
Backed up by friendly, competent people—Choosing a content management system is not just about selecting a technology, but also about choosing a group of people who are friendly, easy to work with, and will be there to support you. Make sure the vendor will provide support both during and, more importantly, after the sale. It is also crucial that the vendor has previous experience working with multilingual editorial processes. Many organizations involve their authors and editors in this part of the decision process because they are the ones who will ultimately be using the system and working with the vendor’s implementation and support staff.


Tame your content
If your organization regularly publishes the same content in several different languages, works with a translation management system to administer the translation process, and has a lengthy and unmanageable editorial process, then your organization can benefit from a multilingual content management system. A robust multilingual content management system can help your editorial department streamline the international editorial process, prevent mistakes, manage the translation process, and enable the creation of new materials on the fly. And it can also keep your editorial department from looking like the candy factory episode of I Love Lucy!


Suzanne Mescan is the VP of Marketing for Vasont Systems ( and can be reached