Jun 5, 2010

A customer's view of the Online Translation Manager from lsp.net

Last September I posted a small note about an online management system and translation provider network that colleague Ralf Lemster told me about at a ProZ powwow. As development plans often go, the plans for this system's release and beta testing were implemented on a schedule that was a little different from the one described. Although the system had been productive for something like 6 years with a small group of companies, the upgrades implemented to accommodate a wider circle required and received a great deal of careful consideration. The beta test phase of the commercial release actually began in January and was completed at the end of April. In that time the system's interface for project managers experienced some important changes that are relevant to the way that many organizations work. You can read about the current state of the system and terms of use on the web pages of lsp.net.

However, those pages in their current state don't really tell me what I would want to know about the system. There's a lot of talk about features, a little about benefits and a bunch of high quality screenshots. What's missing for me are good process descriptions. Workflows.

I tested this system occasionally over a period of four months and was involved with two others (my former partner and her assistant) who tried to wrap their heads around it. It is a very good system for businesses ranging from busy freelancers who do a lot of billing to SME LSPs. But unless the processes are clearly understood it's hard for most people to deal with anything more complex than the back of an envelope or a chalkboard backed up by an Excel spreadsheet.

As part of my recent shift in activities, I now have access to this system in two incarnations: a fully configured company setup for one of the companies that has been using the system for years and the demonstration system for the SaaS provider lsp.net. This enables me to test a wide range of functions and observe carefully how the system is put to daily use. It's very interesting to talk to the individuals making use of it and hear how their practical needs have shaped the system over the years.

I am familiar with several other systems with a similar purpose, and as a translator I am the victim of a number of web-based project management systems from various clients and former clients. Generally I don't think much of these, and their cost can range from substantial to astronomical. I think it's fair to say that this system offers the best balance and value for cost that I've seen yet. It's not perfect, and there are things I hope to see added, many of which are in fact on the development roadmap already. The company, like Kilgray, pursues a steady, well-thought out course for its innovation and tends not to shoot from the hip just because some geek thinks a feature would be "cool". I don't agree with every approach, but I appreciate the thought behind the structure, and after a bit of familiarization, the reasons for particular design decisions often become much more apparent and more desirable than alternatives.

Enough introduction. I intend to show how this system works by presenting a few basic perspectives and workflows. In this post I will show a typical customer experience for submitting a text and receiving a finished translation job. Future posts will deal with the system from the perspective of translators, project managers and others using it.

Each licensee of the Online Translation Management (OTM) system has a dedicated subdomain, such as myls.qtn.net, the demonstration site for the system. This trilingual (DE, EN, ES) demo site doesn't have all the typical text for terms & conditions that one would find on a production site such as Ralf Lemster's rlft.qtn.net or ESmedo in Spain. (But that's the site I'll use, because I can test it from all sides for purposes of explaining how things work. Nonetheless, have a look at these three other sites to see the variations in how the environment is implemented.)

The initial screen layout is simple but functional, with standard navigation elements. Customization is limited to color and content. If you want a fancy front-end, do as you please with your regular web site or blog and link to your workflow subdomain.

Let's get straight down to business and request a quotation by clicking the third element in the navigation bar above.

The following form appears:

I filled out the form and submitted my request with one file upload. The automated response I got after submitting the request was as follows (yes, I made typos):

My online submission was followed by an e-mail:

After the project manager (yours truly) received the request, reviewed it and put together an offer, an e-mail with the following quotation was received:

 After the terms were accepted and the order was placed, the following e-mail was received in acknowledgment:

Of course, this text and others can be customized to suit the preferences of the licensee. The little quirks in the localization here are not from me. The project manager also activated customer service pages, which provide a secure area for HTTPS download of finished jobs or secure uploading of additional files. Deliveries can also take place via e-mail links. This eliminates many problems of attachment size or file security, an issue for many legal projects, for example.

The notification mail I received regarding the customer service pages was as follows:

That link works at the moment, by the way. Go ahead and try it out. I or someone else may delete it eventually.

When the job was completed, I received another e-mail notice:

Clicking the link took me to the login web page:

Since I had never been in the system before with this customer account, I was asked to choose a preferred language for the interface. This can be changed later.

Just for laughs I chose German. Bear with me if you don't read that language. Here is the main customer page telling me that there is a job waiting to be delivered:

The page from which the finished job can be downloaded looks like this in German:

And like this in English:

Afterward I received an e-mail with a PDF attachment for the invoice. This is an option; invoices can also be printed out and mailed, of course.

The invoice looks like this:

All pretty straightforward I think. Any part of this communication can be switched off to suit your preferences and those of your clients. I'm not particularly bothered by the little quirks in the interface localization here (such as "MwSt" instead of "VAT" in the invoice shown), because I can fix that when I customize (or gripe at the system developers to make the change).

For a bit under 30 euros per month I can offer my clients semi-automated professional communication, secure submission of files for work or quotation and secure deliveries. The last point is very, very important to me, because often I have delivered a job, hopped in the car and driven off to an urgent appointment only to learn to my dismay that the e-mail got lost or delayed. With a system like this the client can just log into his secure area and see if the file is ready.

For clients who don't want to deal with logging into a secure file area with a password to view their project archives, etc. (the majority according to one OTM user), simple deliveries via a secure HTTPS e-mail link are possible. This happens, for example, if the customer does not have service pages activated. A mail is received which looks like this:

The link leads to a secure web page with a link for downloading the file directly. This also avoids the problem of dealing with large file attachments for e-mail, which can cause problems for some e-mail software or accounts.

The vulnerability here is, of course, the e-mail. If the customer doesn't get it, then s/he'll not know that the project is finished. I prefer the customer service pages, because they offer better fail-safe security, which hard experience has taught me is very necessary.

Related posts:

Re-sending e-mail to OTM


  1. Hi Kevin,

    Although I registered for the pilot phase, I was not allowed to take part. However, since one of my client makes use of OTM, I know how it functions through the communication with the client.

    The project administration with OTM is very good. For LSPs, it is not bad an idea to use this system. I will spend 30 Euros per month for the service, when some security issues are clarified.

    - Wenjer

  2. What security issues are those, Wenjer? What I've seen of the rights system & other matter so far looks a sight better than some alternatives such as the infamously insecure PrAdZ.

    I've heard from a few others that there was some confusion with the pilot phase sign-ups. I asked about this and was told that they selected the group based on particular language and activity profiles, but how that affected you I have no idea. As a participant in the pilot phase, I can say that missing the first few months might not have been a bad thing; one of the administrative features I depend on most for efficient work the way I like to work was added around the first month. The system continues to evolve; it has a good history with a limited group, but a wider circle is exposing the company to a wider range of challenges and preferences to be considered. And the response is carefully considered and good on the whole. I pointed out a few English localization issues to the lead developer the other day (not critical stuff, very minor), and I was pleased to hear that they were scheduled for change in an upgrade in July. In the end, planning like that usually wins the race. I see some parallels with Kilgray and that company's roadmaps for development.

  3. Oops! Make that "one of the administrative features I depend on most for efficient work the way I like to work was added around the THIRD month". I'm awake for sure....

  4. Thanks for posting this, Kevin!
    I took part in the pilot phase from mid-January, and have been using nothing else (apart from a handful of non-translation invoices) since then.

    I agree with your assessment regarding development of the OTM platform and application - I prefer a sound approach over quick shots.

    What I would recommend to anyone getting started is to spend a day (make that a weekend, perhaps) familiarising yourself with the application, and customising your own platform. I estimate that it'll take you a month at most to 'amortise' the time invested.

    Best, Ralf

  5. Kevin,

    Thank you for this informative post. My main concern with a service of this sort is downtime. Do you know anything about their record?

  6. @Leah: I don't have the availability statistics, but I will ask for them. I think there is a fairly sophisticated clustered server system behind this, but frankly I'm so software-focused most of the time that I get around to asking such questions later than I should. I never experienced downtime in the test phase, but it's better for me to ask the people who have been using the system since its was created, since they'll know the history.

  7. @Leah: The CEO at lsp.net GmbH tried to post an answer, but I think there was some kind of issue with the comment interface, so I received it as e-mail and am posting it for him:

    @Leah:As stated in the OTM License Table (http://www.lsp.net/otm-license.html) availability is at least 99.5%. Over the last years it has been de facto >99.9%. Service interruptions for updates take place 5 times a year for about 45 minutes. Updates will be announced in a timely manner to all OTM users.

    Best regards,

    Ulrich Scheffler
    lsp.net GmbH

  8. OTM sounds interesting, and more importantly viable. We're a small translation agency based in Singapore and we've considered the likes of Open Project to find that the customisation would cost us thousands. Also, it's too general for our liking. Other SaaS seem to be under-tested and we haven't seen enough feedback to be convinced. Our only concern is the lack of company info - nowhere is the founder or team to be found on either website. Strange? Big thanks Kevin for the information. We'll be checking back.

  9. AT: OTM is certainly viable, though depending on one's needs, I suppose that could be said of most alternatives. It has been used for daily operations of several agencies for years and has worked well in that role. The major functional "weakness" I perceive is that it was very closely attuned to the needs of those agencies in the beginning - at the expense of options for organizations that work differently in some cases. However, that has changed quite a lot since the public pilot test was launched in January. Every release adds more customization features, and if there is sufficient demand and good reasoning behind a change request, it is take seriously and developed on a reasonable schedule. I've seen that with a few of my own requests in the past 6 months.

    When he gets past the technical trials of the latest release I hope to do a brief interview with the head developer to get a full overview of the changes implemented in the current release and what is expected in the next one. Due to my work on the English interface string changes and documentation I've seen some pretty neat stuff, but most of it is geeky, back-end tools for better localization workflows in the future (useful if you want to roll your own Hindi version or whatever); this overview does not cover the many changes to the regular user interfaces, however.

  10. >> Our only concern is the lack of company
    >> info - nowhere is the founder or team
    >> to be found on either website.


    AT, I think the information you're looking for will be found at those URLs.


  11. Thanks Kevin for following up on our queries. At the moment it's between Projetex and OTM. We're slightly leaning toward OTM for several reasons - one of them being maintenance, SaaS is more hands-off.

    KSL, thanks for the links!

  12. Dear Kevin,

    I signed up for the system several times, but I receive no email with the details. Is there anything special I have to do?

    y the way, how do you compare OTM with RLFT?


  13. Hi Mohammad, I'm not quite sure what you mean by the question about RLFT. RLFT uses OTM; in fact, Ralf was the guy who first told me about the system. If you are having problems with your registration, you might want to contact lsp.net support. Try this e-mail address: service@lsp.net


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