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Jan 14, 2011

Price and project templates!

One of the things I look forward to the most in the version 4.0 release of the Online Translation Manager from LSP.net is a new feature for price and project templates. It has been discussed for quite a while, and the lack of a price list feature up to now has put off some of those who tested this project management environment, but in the end the implementation is better than I had hoped for. I saw a live demo of the feature for the first time last Tuesday while I was visiting the company's offices to discuss localization and training issues.

It has been possible to keep price information for customers in OTM in the past, though not quite in the way to which one is accustomed to seeing in similar software solutions. Notes features in the customer master data as well as the ability to store documents and contracts for particular customers does provide a useful way of keeping track of rate agreements and terms. But what has been "missing" up to now is the ability to plug in volume information for a service and have quotation amounts calculated automatically. Such features are probably found in most language service project management software, from TO3000 and TOM to Worx, Plunet, Project ]open[ translation et alia.

There are, however, some problems with data maintenance in the other applications that I have used. I have worked most extensively with LTC Organiser (the predecessor to Worx) and AIT's Translation Office 3000 and used them to run my business since 2003. (Before that I used Excel templates. Yuck. Don't ask and I promise not to tell.) In both environments I maintained customer-specific price lists, reflecting individual terms, subject areas, rush job policies and more. After a while I found that the data were not very easy to keep current (my TO3000 master price list was rarely useful for anything, as it was always hopelessly outdated or irrelevant to the individual terms), and so many types of projects required special quoting that the price lists were often useless anyway. When my partner tried to use the software for quotation, she could rarely remember the various surcharge policies negotiated with customers, which occasionally led to confusion. I think that is pretty typical of current solutions. You have to work hard to stay on top of things, and that's not always easy when things are hopping or your day is filled with interruptions.

The OTM 4.0 solution I saw appears to solve that problem nicely from several directions. There are no price lists as one usually sees them, no Excel-like grid of rates and services to be maintained. There is something which I believe is much better: general templates for project structures including prices as well as the ability to use any project from the customer's history as a template for a new project. In fact, several templates can be applied to a new project if it uses the combination of services from those individual templates or past projects. A simple interface for sorting project histories also makes it easy to find the right similar project to use as a template.

All this saves a lot of time and is closer to the reality of our workflows! And if I increase rates, then I can simply use the date-sorted project history to choose "templates" reflecting the new rates. Any completed project can also be used as a template. Template access can also be governed by rights in the system, so project managers at an LSP can have their own personal templates and choose to share these or not.

There are some rather interesting discussions about building on this feature for CAT analysis integration, but in its first released form I think this is a powerful, unique tool that will save me a lot of time personally. I appreciate the fact that the system architects didn't just pull a "me too" and implement pricing tools the same way most others do it; they were aware of the problems of data maintenance and had left the feature out for that reason. Only after careful consideration of possible solutions and testing was a decision made to introduce something that is more powerful and sustainable than anything I had available before. Thumbs up!

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