What to Expect from Automatic Distribution

One of the tools in the toolbox that is SAP’s transaction SE63 is a feature called automatic distribution. It is often touted as an automatic translation feature, which it is to some extent, but some manual work is still required to use it. Here’s a short summary of what you can and cannot expect.


The basics

The automatic distribution feature was developed by SAP to avoid having to translate duplicate texts manually each time. A text such as “Back (F3)” (and we are talking about complete text strings, not the word “Back”) occurs thousands of times in an SAP system, and it makes very little sense to enter the same translation again each time.
Some texts are used over and over again in an SAP system.
Some texts are used over and over again in an SAP system.

As a first step, this feature collects all duplicate texts in the part of the system that you specify (SE63’s object list and worklist concepts are used here). You can also define what is considered a duplicate text by entering the minimum number of times the text has to occur. These texts are bundled in waht are known as “virtual translation objects” that a translator can process in transaction SE63.
In a second step, the duplicate texts are pretranslated by a translator, and finally, the translation for each text is distributed automatically (hence the name) into all the places it occurs in the relevant part of the SAP system, which means that thousands of texts do not have to be translated manually.


The ambiguous texts problem

So far, this sounds fairly straightforward, but there is still a piece missing. The thing is, the translator who pretranslates the duplicate texts will not actually translate all the texts. This goes back to the fact that many texts have more than one possible translation, such as in this example from German to English translation:
The German text Anlage can mean two completely different things in English.
The German text “Anlage” can mean two completely different things in English.

This is what linguists call an ambiguous text, and each time this text comes up during translation, the translator has to make a decision about which meaning is the correct one in this case. Making a blanket decision by translating this text once and then distributing it means that the translation filled into the different screens will be incorrect half of the time. This is why, during pretranslation, the translator will skip any text that he or she considers ambiguous.
If some of these texts should not be automatically distributed, the translator will skip them.
If some of these texts should not be distributed automatically, the translator will skip them.

This makes the automatic distribution fairly safe, since only the texts that should be translated the same way every time will be distributed. And as an added bonus, it also ensures that the same terminology is used in all distributed lines. But note that, since the decision about what to distribute and what to leave out is so critical, the translator performing the pretranslation should have considerable experience with SAP translation. This is no task for beginners.


How much do you save?

In real world usage, automatic distribution will usually save between 10 and 35 percent of work (and costs) if it is used conservatively, as it should be. Across a large-scale SAP translation project, this will mean many days or even weeks of work.
In this project, about 18 % of the texts were translated by automatic distribution.
In this example, just under 20% of the texts were translated by automatic distribution.

In summary, I recommend using automatic distribution for any but the tiniest projects. It is a real time-saver.