The mission of Going Global is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.
CHICAGO Ė Brian Briggs has been in the localization industry since 1995 when he founded Language Partners International (LPI). He is now the head of business development in Deerfield, Ill. for Acclaro, which is a mid-sized provider of localization services based on a new open localization model.
In part two of a three-part series, Briggs sat down with ePrairie international expert Michael Muth to discuss in detail the issues surrounding localization.
Michael Muth: Does localization differ for different platforms (i.e. Windows, Mac, Unix or Linux)?
Brian Briggs: Yes. While the process at a high level is generally the same, the engineering tasks and tool sets used will be different. Most service providers perform localization with all these platforms, but as a buyer, you want to make sure the actual people working on your project have the proper level of experience.
MM commentary: XML is enabling the databases in which a lot of the language data is stored.
MM: Are there any localization issues specific to any languages or cultures?
BB: Yes, there are a few. Of course, bad translations can affect impressions in any language or culture, but units of measure, representations of numbers and currencies are obviously specific to language and locale.
There is also a rule of thumb to avoid various hand gestures and other references that may be offensive to some cultures (though we rarely run into issues with that).
MM commentary: A couple specific examples would be double-byte character sets for Asian languages as well as bidirectionality for Arabic languages.
MM: How did the advent of the Internet change localization?
BB: The Internet brought big changes to the localization industry. Prior to the Internet, the operating model was to bring over translators from native countries on H1-B visas to create multi-disciplinary teams of linguists and engineers. The translators would participate on the team for a couple years before they became too Americanized and you needed to bring in fresh staff.
In those days, successful companies were good at recruiting translators to come abroad for these two-year stints. This is why you found a lot of translation companies in the foothills of the Rockies, the cosmopolitan areas of Boston or near the Golden Gate Bridge.
That changed with the Internet and most providers shifted to using virtual teams with translators in their native countries. While account and project managers still try to stay close to their clients, the translators can be anywhere in the world. This has helped reduce the cost of the translation part of localization.
MM commentary: As a marketing-oriented kind of guy, my feeling has been that the biggest change in localization brought about by the Internet was the creation of an entirely new medium to be localized. Web sites offer information to the world in an instant. While I can certainly see his operational supply-side perspective, Iím not sure how you can evaluate which change is greater.
MM: How can localization keep up with ever-changing Web sites?
BB: I think companies have gotten a lot smarter about Web site localization. They no longer look at it as an initial, one-time expense and realize that the cost is typically two to three times that just for maintaining it. The industry has also responded with things like globalization management systems.
MM: Is localization today more project- or process-oriented?
BB: Historically, localization has always been project-oriented. For the most part, that is still the way it is today (including the first-time localization of a Web site). The part that has changed is maintaining that localized Web site content. Itís that part that is best handled as a localization ďstreamĒ using a workflow process.
MM commentary: My personal impression is there are still some companies that are stuck in project mode and look at the more continuous-process Internet Web site business as a pain.
MM: Why hire an outside firm rather than keep these activities in house?
BB: Thereís actually a spectrum of solutions you can use for localization. At one end of that spectrum is a completely in-house localization operation while at the other you have a completely outsourced, turnkey operation. An in-house solution provides maximum control while outsourced provides maximum flexibility.
For the right conditions, both solutions can provide high value and high quality. Which works best is a function of volume and workload stability. In other words, if you have enough volume and predictably stable demand, an in-house model might produce the best results. However, if your volume is low, fluctuates or is unpredictable, the outsourced model is probably best.
Itís worth noting that companies with the greatest demand (such as GE, Microsoft and IBM) still outsource most of their localization. At Acclaro, we see a new opportunity between these two extremes where we create flexible solutions based on what the client may already have in place.
MM: Whatís the best way to work with a localization firm?
BB: Establishing how you want to communicate and work with your service provider is one of the most important things a client should establish at the beginning of a project.
Discuss and document your objectives, who will be involved in the project, who your decision makers are, what resources are available and what your escalation processes will be. The closer you bring that service provider into your company (both physically and mentally), the more that provider will act like an employee.
MM: How closely do clients usually work with their localization providers?
BB: This will vary greatly depending on the actual client and the service provider involved. While most clients want to be involved and have control, they often have to balance that against the other 36 things they need to do.
Some vendors believe their clients want a completely turnkey solution or feel they need to protect their resources by shielding them from the client. We use an open localization model where we embed our staff within the client and provide complete transparency into the process and resources being used.
MM: How can a firm maintain consistency for all of their localization needs?
BB: There are two primary factors helping a company maintain consistency across its localized products. The first factor is the use of tools and technology that allow you to leverage translations from product to product and version to version.
The second factor is the consistency of the people involved in the project (or using the same translators across products or from release to release rather than just the same company with the same translators).
MM commentary: This becomes a big issue if you depend on your own internal local people or outsource to many different local providers without any or little central coordination (as many companies do).
MM: How long does a typical localization project last?
BB: A project might range anywhere from one to nine months. It really depends on the size and complexity of the project. While a translator can normally translate about 2,000 words per day, that is often the most straightforward part of the task.
A desktop software application has about 20 process stages to it beginning with engineering and glossary development tasks and ending with linguistic and functional-regression testing. Like anything else, there are always unexpected issues that crop up along the way.
MM: How labor intensive is localization?
BB: If you think about it, localization is pretty much nothing but labor. Yes, tools and process automation help, but it still comes down to the people actually executing the tasks. The translation itself is usually about a third to a half of the cost with engineering, desktop publishing and testing making up the rest.
MM commentary: Though technology is easing the cost pressure, localization in many ways should be thought of as a service (like a lawyer or a accountant as opposed to a product). The difference is that this service provider has a stronger correlation to revenues.
MM: How expensive is it to hire a localization provider?
BB: When measured on an ROI basis in terms of lost revenue from global markets, itís usually far less expensive than not hiring a localization provider. Still, itís clearly not inexpensive and the cost involved can vary dramatically based on the size and complexity of the project (which is then factored by the number of languages you are going into).
A small, single language desktop application might cost $10,000 while a large, multilingual Web site might run up to $1 million or more. Fortunately, there are usually ways to trim these costs and approach it in a step-wise fashion for first-time localizers.
MM commentary: This is part of the reason localization has been perceived as an expensive additional cost, which could be a wrong way to look at it. Alternatively, it could be considered as a revenue enabler that provides access to revenues that otherwise wouldnít be available.
MM: Who has greater localization advantages: Americans or foreigners?
BB: Assuming youíre asking about the advantages or disadvantages of American companies using American versus foreign localization providers, there are several aspects to consider.
First of all, any buyer with a large, multilingual localization requirement will need a central team of project leads and distributed language resources. Most U.S.-based companies provide that as multi-language vendors (MLVs), which means they will handle all the languages being translated. Most localization providers in Europe, for example, tend to be single-language vendors (SLVs).
If a company has its own in-house project management team, they may find that the cost of translation can be reduced by using SLVs (though that is not always the case since they may not have enough volume for bargaining leverage).
Another primary consideration is the needs of the clientís internal team that is creating the product or content. Those teams usually appreciate having their key vendor contacts available within the same time zone and able to come on site.
MM commentary: Michael Anobile, executive director of LISA, mentioned to me that European firms up until the U.S. technology boom held the advantage in localization. However, he says that given American technological advances, weíve taken the lead from the Europeans.
Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Click here for Muthís full biography.
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