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September 11, 2007 

 Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Intercultural Translation Issues 8/7/2007
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, 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 – Ralph Strozza began his career by working as a translator and lexicographer for WCC (Weidner Communications Corporation, which later changed to Worldwide Communications Corporation). The firm develops computer-assisted translation software and services.

He moved to Toulouse, France to assist in setting up WCC’s European distribution channel. He returned to the U.S. and assumed the position of vice president of marketing and sales.

Strozza was hired by Intergraph Corporation in Huntsville, Ala. to manage its localization and translation department. He moved back to Chicago after being hired by System Software Associates (SSA) to establish and manage its in-house localization and translation department.

System Software Associates (now Infor Global Solutions) was a developer of enterprise resource planning (ERP) application and tool software. Strozza was responsible for the release of its flagship product line in 20 languages. He left SSA to start operations at InterPro Translation Solutions.

Strozza received bachelor of science degrees in international marketing and French along with a minor in Spanish from Northern Illinois University. He received his master’s degree in French and Italian from Northwestern University. He is a native speaker of English and is fluent in French, Italian and Spanish.

In part one of a three-part Q&A, Strozza sat down with Michael Muth to discuss intercultural translation issues.

Michael Muth: InterPro is the largest locally based globalization, internationalization, localization and translation (GILT) company in and around Chicago. Why?
Ralph Strozza: There is literally a ton of work to be done. Size depends on your client base. From the very beginning, our clients were large developers of application software with hundreds of thousands of words to be translated (specifically on the IBM AS/400 platform, which was my background from the SSA days).

Sometimes we work on very large projects containing more than 1 million words to be translated into multiple languages. You can’t handle that with a typical mom-and-pop shop. You have to have good overseas partners. Our Spanish translation work is done out of Argentina. Everything else is done by our single-language, in-country partners.

MM commentary: InterPro is a Chicago localization success story. The company benefits when the coastal behemoths don’t pay attention to the “fly-over zone”.

MM: How and why has the specialization in the IBM System i5 mid-range computer (formerly the AS/400 and iSeries) come about?
RS: That came about as a result of my position with SSA when I started its localization department in 1989. I got my AS/400 education in trial by fire. When I was hired, SSA’s former CEO and founder (Roger Covey) told me: “You’ve got to get BPCS version 2.0 launched in eight languages within the next five months. By the way, you first have to build the team to do it.”

From my experience at SSA, I realized there was a market need for someone out there to provide AS/400-based application software localization services. At SSA, we only translated into what we referred to as “primary languages,” which were market-driven based on where SSA’s customers were.

We would translate every release of the product as soon as the English was frozen and get it to market almost immediately after the English was released. We eventually were able to launch simultaneously with the English product releases. At that time, IBM maintained a translation center in Copenhagen, but it was incredibly expensive and backlogged.

My only option was to work with SSA distributors who knew BPCS, had AS/400s on their premises and had a need to get the localized product launched in order to sell. They didn’t actually do the work because they were too busy marketing and selling BPCS. They worked with local professional linguists and basically managed the process with my assistance.

Otherwise, there really was nobody to turn to and prompt me to launch my business. Within a week of opening, we had our first AS/400 localization project.

MM commentary: The AS/400 and System i5 continue to power on. Those who support it continue to prosper.

MM: How does InterPro deal with intercultural issues beyond translation?
RS: We deal with products and localize them with in-country resources who are native speakers of Japanese, French, etc. Ensuring that date formats are correct is not something we have to instruct them on how to do. It is second nature to them.

The primary tasks are specified in our work order documents to them. It all comes down to the quality of your people. For example, we had a client for whom we were localizing a GUI application. Our team leader in Japan informed us that one of the graphics was very insulting. It was a symbol of a person with his hands out – palm up – which indicates bribery. We informed our contact and explained the problem.

They changed that graphic for the entire worldwide product (not just for Japan). Clients sometimes come to us at Christmas looking for advice on season’s greetings translations. We tell them to pay attention to the accented characters as well as the words. One client sent out “happy new anus” rather than “happy new year” greetings just because they were missing an accent on a particular letter in a word.

MM commentary: Localization is more than just translation. It’s also about intercultural communications.

MM: Where do foreign companies that do business here get their GILT services?
RS: About 99.9 percent of InterPro’s business is done for U.S. companies selling overseas. Translating from English into other languages is our core business.

I’m speculating that they are probably translating with companies local to their geographies that they trust as well as the local offices of some of the larger companies. Infor is one of our largest clients. Their affiliates will sometimes develop add-on products in the local language that will need to be translated into English.

MM commentary: There are hundreds of foreign companies based here. I’m surprised more of them don’t look to local resources for this type of work.

MM: Why is your Spanish translation and localization facility located in Rosario, Argentina?
RS: Spanish is our largest-volume language in terms of volume of words.

I first went to Rosario in 1998 when we were interested in buying a company there. I knew somebody in Rio de Janeiro. He told me the university in Rosario had an excellent, three-year translation program with degrees in English to Spanish for literary or technical translations. We were interested in the technology degree.

Rosario is a 45-minute flight northwest from Buenos Aires or a boring three-hour drive right along the Paraná River. It’s the third-largest city in Argentina with a population in excess of 1 million people. There is a school with a large pool of qualified and educated talent who work at affordable rates. They have university degrees and some acquire more advanced translation degrees.

The Instituto Superior de Educación continues to grow and Rosario – not Buenos Aires – is becoming the localization center of Argentina. While Berlitz was there for a while, they closed up shop and we hooked up with their team back in 2001.

At that time, there was no reliable, high-speed Internet available in Rosario. Our managing director would go from translator to translator exchanging information via CD because files and translation memories can get to be quite large. While the infrastructure is now up to speed, we still get instant messages from him saying: “Storms coming. Anticipate electricity going out. Call if you need me.”

We had to wait nine months for phone service to be installed because the fiber-optics were being stolen as it was laid. Rosario has become a hotbed of localization and translation in Latin America.

As a consequence, rent has gone up and what was dirt cheap is now just cheap. Rates being paid for translation are also going up. I try to practice my Spanish with them when I travel there. Their English is so good, though, that I get discouraged and end up speaking English for the most part.

MM commentary: This seems to be a great success for economic development in Rosario.

Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at muth@midwestbusiness.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.

Previous Columns in 2007:
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies on Specific Country Issues (7/10/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies Jr. on Cultural Differences (6/26/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry Gies on International Private Equity (6/11/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Foreign Deal Making (5/15/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market M&A (5/8/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market Firms (4/24/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Data Localization, Reach (3/27/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Partners, Personal Privacy (3/20/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Digital Mapping (3/7/2007)
Click for 2006 column archive.
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.

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