You often hear people talking about “end-to-end” solutions. In the information development business it might be end-to-end translation management or end-to-end content management and localization “all-in-one”. But just how end-to-end are these solutions? Are the ends really there?
It seems to me that the assumption behind this claim is that there is a set of information in a company which can be regarded as independent of all the other information produced. An “end-to-end” solution for technical publications (including perhaps its translation) is actually a myth. The information created in technical publication departments is inextricably linked with, in fact partly based on, information which is created elsewhere – namely in the marketing and engineering departments. These departments start thinking about the product usually some time before it gets to tech pubs. Even in a really slick agile information development environment marketing should be ahead of the game.
So the front “end” of a typical content management system is not really an end at all, but actually a pretty porous interface in terms of the knowledge it needs to share with other applications – engineering applications or web content management systems, ERP systems, parts databases, and so on…
And then there is all the information which comes at the other “end”: after the customer has bought the product information continues to get created to meet after-sales, support and maintenance needs. Of course this isn’t really an end either, but should probably look more like a structured hand-over of responsibility for customer communication. In terms of the infrastructure, this most likely means that information needs to flow from a content management system (or even several of them) to a support database or issue-tracking system, or both. By the way, translation isn’t really an “end” either. Studies have shown that typically less than half of all content ever gets translated at all, and an even smaller proportion will be translated into more than a handful of languages.
The fact that there is no such thing as an “end-to-end solution” for product content has certain implications. For instance it should remind us of the importance of content standards in coordinating customer communication, and the importance of making those standards available across different technical platforms. The only way to ensure that is to demand open standards and interfaces everywhere, allowing information to flow wherever it is needed. There’s a great discussion of the role of standards in localization of on Kirti Vashee’s blog, but in fact information needs to flow between all the content repositories in the organization as well as in and out of localization. The beauty of web services is that the integration between system doesn’t have to complicated, as long as customers demand it upfront and don’t try to bolt it on as an afterthought.