How Do You Say

By John W. Verity  |  Posted 2005-08-04 Print this article Print

Who cares about owner's manuals? The German automaker does. It sees that book in the glove compartment as a means of improving its relationships with customers.

Clutch' in Turkish?">

For Volkswagen, the initial results are quite encouraging: Since implementing the system three years ago, the company has not added any people to its editorial and production staff, which numbers 120 internal employees and about twice that count hired as outside contractors. Although the company declines to discuss costs associated with the project, it has broadened its publications from appearing in just eight languages to 29, including Turkish and Polish. It has been able to generate an additional 1.5 million pages in print or online a year for new geographic markets, a productivity increase of 114%, according to Rüger. It has lowered its document production costs across the board, by as much as 90% on some projects. And with new systems in place, Rüger says, "We are ready for even more languages. The automobile business continues to get more global, and this gives us a basis for doing business in the native languages of many more countries.

"Volkswagen is in the process of getting more models on the world market," he adds. "For example, we'll have a new convertible in Europe this year. We need thicker manuals, too. Cars are getting more technology, such as [GPS] navigation systems."

The system that Volkswagen had been using to produce manuals was a homegrown setup called LIVAS 2, of early 1990s vintage. Its main shortcoming was that it created manuals solely on paper. In the modern market, with millions of potential customers browsing the Web and with dealers and repair shops receiving robust service manuals on CD-ROM, there was a growing need to facilitate production in electronic media as well. The LIVAS system also handled text and graphics in separate workflows, which forced the company's editorial team to cope with unneeded complexity—and to pay for hefty storage requirements. The dual workflows made it difficult for Volkswagen to create a centralized database of shared content, and LIVAS 2's servers were minicomputers, for which new parts and software were increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain.

"That thing was just old," Rüger states.

This time, as before, Volkswagen decided to design its own replacement system instead of buying a turnkey setup; it called the new system LIVAS 3. Its choices to supply technology were Trados, a startup in Sunnyvale, Calif., and Documentum, which subsequently became a unit of data-storage vendor EMC. (In late June, Trados agreed to be acquired by SDL, a U.K.-based language-translation software company.) Trados' software helps VW collect, organize, retrieve and reuse myriad chunks of text that have been translated into different languages. Documentum's products manage the movement of electronic documents, tracking different versions and routing work to editors and translators in just the right sequence.

About 95% of the time, the production of manuals and other technical publications at Volkswagen begins with text composed in the company's home language, German. To produce a light-truck manual in, say, Turkish, the text must be translated section by section, paragraph by paragraph. The new system oversees and aids this process with an automated workflow, while a related system called MOVE facilitates the production of graphical elements.

Story Guide:
Volkswagen: Paper Manuals Equal Good Customer Service

  • How Do You Say 'Clutch' in Turkish?
  • Shifting Translation Into High Gear
  • Low-Tech Medium, High-Octane Oomph
  • Volkswagen Manual Strategy at a Glance
  • Base Case: Volkswagen At a Glance

    Next page: Shifting Translation Into High Gear

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