Trailblazers: How German-Language Manufacturers Innovate in TecDoc

The European Association for Technical Communication (aka Tekom Europe) just finished its roadshow, stopping in five different cities across the continent. Among the participants were many representatives from language service providers (LSPs), who were keen to learn more about the latest trends shaping technical documentation, a process typically upstream from technical translation in the documentation supply chain.

In technical documentation, repetitive and highly recurring content is the norm. Different product types have overlapping features and the accompanying documentation therefore comes with similar and recurring content. No language services providers (LSPs) active in the space can afford not to use state-of-the art computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools and project management software. However, this is not the case for technical documentation units at end-client companies, where MS Word often remains the desktop publishing software of choice.

But in at least one corner of the world, MS Word has fallen out of favor: companies in the mechanical and plant engineering industry located in German-speaking areas have been blazing the trail over the past 15 years by developing a more sophisticated approach. The biggest global cluster of such companies is located in a 150-mile radius around Lake Constance in the Swiss-Austrian-German border region and employs over 800,000 people. The technology engineered in this part of the world is complex and deployed across a vast and diverse range of products, which are exported across the globe. This puts pressure on the manufacturers to reduce costs for technical documentation while continuing to ensure highly reliable output.

A number of solution providers teamed up in 2013 to form the Association of German Manufacturers of Authoring and Content Management System (DERCOM). DERCOM refers to the solutions developed by its members as Component Content Management Systems (CCMS). The basic idea behind a CCMS is relatively simple. The systems are based on components that feature text and graphic elements but are independent of layouting. The actual layout is generated automatically upon use of the components in a CMS.

Depending on the system or methodology, these components are referred to as, well, components, but also modules, fragments, and topics, among others. Similar to Lego bricks, the components can be reassembled into complete documents. Recurring text segments can be reused instead of having to be copied. This dramatically reduces the workload required to implement changes and also reduces the need for translation, as the components have to be translated only once. In order to make this work linguistically, components are typically cut off where it makes sense given the purpose of a specific piece of information. For example, a component can be a simple warning notice or a more elaborate description on how to change an oil filter.

The components are typically stripped of layout information and saved in XML format. This, in turn, dramatically improves the efficiency of the translation workflow. Instead of the text having to be extracted for translation first, XML imports very well into any Translation Memory system. In addition, there is no need for layouting, since the layout is generated automatically by the CMS. Mechanical engineering firms deploying this process typically report savings of over 50%, as calculated by Klaus Fleischmann, Managing Director of Eurocom, an Austrian-based LSP.

LSPs often emphasize to their end clients that they do not have time to waste to upgrade the way they manage their technical documentation. A translation process based on MS Word is simply no longer sufficient and causes all kinds of issues during data exchange. Deploying advanced systems therefore benefits both the LSP and the technical documentation end client.


Featured image: Oleg Golovnev /