the future of localization holds
Donald A. DePalma
veteran analyses perspectives and offers some viable paths
I write this, two piles of paper overflow the left corner
of my desk. One stack contains notes, articles and case
studies about the best practices for buying services
online. The other mound — much bigger —
is an eclectic assortment of consumer, business, cultural,
automotive, sports and other news items about globalization
and its positive, humorous and surprising consequences.
This second pile will feed my idea factory for a future
report, will become the subtext of the next edition
of Business Without Borders and will inspire
many cocktail-party conversations. Together, these two
collections of paper represent two possible futures
for the localization practice.
first future is a bleak one for everyone with the notable
exception of Ariba. Translation will continue down the
slippery slope to commoditization, where the end result
is an Ariba-enabled online auction with bidding increments
of 1/100 of a US cent. That auction actually happened
recently in the United States.
empathize. We reluctantly participated in our first
reverse auction last month. Our prospective consulting
client wanted to buy some advice on global content management,
help in defining their business case for globalization,
assistance in isolating the requisite processes, and
work to identify and formalize best practices within
the company. Our contacts told us that they would make
their choice based on an array of criteria, not just
price. Not surprisingly, when we logged in with our
bid, the only information we could see about our rivals
was their prices. The only operative point of comparison
for the bidders was how much their competitors were
willing to settle for to do the job. Needless to say,
the contract went to the company with the lowest price.
That wasn’t us, so it looks like I won’t
be driving that new Porsche any time soon. But I can
still smoke most minivans with my ten-year-old T5 Volvo.
research shows slow but steady growth of online auctions.
We hear more and more tales of language service providers
(LSPs) getting squeezed on price in the name of scientific
purchasing and efficiency. These enlightened buyers
learned some valuable lessons in economics in the supermarket,
where reducing the price of a can by a few cents can
shift the behavior of the buyer. Given how many LSPs
position themselves on the triad of best price, highest
quality and best service, it’s easy for buyers
to assume equal levels of quality and service from any
vendor — and test them on the promise of best
price. The economic buyer in the procurement department
will benefit from reduced cost, but we know that the
actual localization buyer will wonder about the loss
of rhetorically compelling translation and elegant product
localization that will come from this focus on price.
The second future promises to be much more interesting
but stressful nonetheless. In this scenario, companies
recognize that their buyers live in dozens of countries
around the world. These nations and the consumers
in them are interconnected by cross-border industry,
investment, individuals, information and the internet.
Following the lead of software and hardware companies,
manufacturers the world over are thinking about
simultaneous shipment (simship), deployment, publication
and web marketing. This new model of simship puts
a premium on practitioner vision and innovation.
At the same time it raises the bar substantially
for supplier responsiveness, ability to deliver
within aggressive timeframes, buyer-supplier collaboration
and automation. Different vendors have named it.
SDL calls it global information management. Lionbridge
labels it Localization 2.0. Others have called it
the age of the simultaneous enterprise.
is different about this new wave of localization? Two
years ago we labeled this phenomenon the real world enterprise,
with the emphasis on “world enterprise.” Aspirants
to becoming a world enterprise deal with a flood of code,
content and data that does not respect national, organizational
or even corporate borders. They have to create language-
and locale-independent processes to transform this content
into a form, language and style appropriate to the needs
of consumers in disparate markets and roles.
realities will drive forward-thinking companies to become
truly world enterprises and change the practice of localization
Many manufacturing companies already operate like software
development houses. Java, microprocessors and Linux
continue to creep inside an ever-widening array of devices.
Manufacturers of cars, medical devices, phones and MP3
players regularly create software-enabled, multilingual
applications for markets around the world. Nokia ships
55 mobile phones localized into 80 languages. Microsoft
will support nine Indian languages in a version of Windows
customized for the subcontinent. Worldwide rollouts
of complex offerings such as BMW’s iDrive depend
on localized variants being available in all markets
at the same time. Even small companies will find the
need to compete on a global basis.
groups at these companies have come to resemble independent
software vendors in composition, metrics and schedules.
They deal with streaming content and code for rolling
product releases. While cost will never disappear as
a factor, availability and support are paramount in
these new-age software applications.
Global marketing pivots on websites. Consumers in São
Paulo can see products and prices on your domestic website
as soon as you post them. At best, this cross-border
transparency creates demand. At worst, it embarrasses
you by showcasing products that you can’t deliver
because you don’t have a Portuguese interface
or a Brazilian distributor. To avoid embarrassing inconsistency
and confusion, world enterprises increasingly harmonize
branding and messaging across their global sites.
In this scenario, companies become accidental publishers,
distributing massive amounts of information directly
to consumers through their websites. Travel and leisure
companies, consumer electronics, and automotive manufacturers
lead the charge to providing more pre-purchase help
and post-sales support through their websites. Rhetorically
compelling, targeted information provided in a dozen
major languages and dozens of “smaller”
languages will be the norm.
The world enterprise flows across borders.
Most companies will consider “foreign” operations
to be outside the scope of the real-time enterprise
— until the next unwelcome surprise originates
in a business unit that operates in a language, currency
and practice unknown at headquarters. In the last few
months we have seen companies such as Google, Disney
and Yahoo and countries such as Denmark surprised by
local and global response to their actions in what they
thought were standalone markets. These factors demand
the monitoring, analysis and transfer of huge volumes
of information wherever your company operates, putting
a new burden on database, knowledge and enterprise resource
does this mean in practice? To deliver on the promise
of the world enterprise, companies will have to think
less about being an American or German company and more
about structures, products, organizations and applications
that work globally first, nationally second. To execute
on this vision, they will need to adopt and adapt the
techniques of simultaneously shipping digital deliverables,
products that embed multilingual content, internal data
flows and inter-company communications across international
boundaries. This won’t be news to larger software
and computer hardware suppliers that simship products
to many international locations. However, this effort
will put a strain on development, marketing and support
organizations long accustomed to simple product rollouts
within a single national market.
world enterprise model opens an opportunity for today’s
localization professionals to share their expertise
in simship with the rest of the industry and for suppliers
to distinguish themselves on their performance in rapid
product, application, and content development in many
languages for many markets. I think both practitioners
and suppliers would bid more for this second future
than the supermarket madness of auctions and the inevitable
cents-off coupon of that model.
from MultiLingual magazine (2006, #79 Volume 17 Issue
3) with permission from Multilingual Computing, Inc.,
A. DePalma, founder and president of Common Sense
Advisory, is the author of Business Without
Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing.