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Globalizing and localizing your portal site

This article appears in the issue May 2003 [Volume 12, Issue 5]

By Alex Motsenigos and Brian McDonough

IDC defines globalization as the process of positioning an organization’s people, processes, technologies and resources to communicate, operate and interact in the world marketplace. Only a few U.S. companies today pay significant attention to localization or language-specific issues when it comes to their Web sites. That is troublesome when considering the cultural, ethnic and language diversity within U.S companies.

IDC's eWorld 2001 Survey found that roughly one out of 10 U.S. Web sites provided multilingual Web site support in 2001. That low adoption rate can be partly explained by the fact that many organizations acknowledge that adding multilingual support to their Web site is difficult. Yet, the survey found that supporting multiple languages ranks highest among the challenges that U.S. companies face when pursuing Web site-related initiatives. The results also indicated that the hurdle was greater among companies that were already in the planning or implementation stage of adding multiple language support to their Web sites.

This dilemma creates a measurable market opportunity for both localization services and technology providers to structure and deliver solutions. As firms consider implementing technologies to manage corporate content, enterprise portal software will increasingly be a priority. With such software integrating with existing and new applications as well as internal and external sources of content, companies will rapidly find that globalizing and localizing content is difficult and costly. The costs are even more significant if encountered after a portal has been implemented.

The global nature of the Internet and e-business is driving more and more organizations to plan and build Web site infrastructures that address the diverse needs and language requirements of their clients, partners, employees and suppliers in order to capitalize on international revenue and knowledge sharing opportunities. The enterprise portal will interface with that diverse group of stakeholders, each with its own roles and language capabilities. Providing truly personalized information will be challenging for many enterprises.

Providing multilingual support was the highest ranked challenge across most industry segments. The segments that reported it as the predominant issue were the retail/wholesale and healthcare sectors. Companies positioned in regulated segments such as healthcare require high translation accuracy and access to translators with specific language pairs and topic domain expertise. For example, access to an English-to-German translator with a medical background is a requirement for addressing the German market.

Considering the wide range of business and IT considerations that go into supporting multiple languages, it is not surprising that from an operational perspective, multilingual support would be regarded as one of the greatest hurdles. Localizing portal sites into multiple languages requires not only an adequate front-end and back-end IT infrastructure to process, maintain and store multilingual content, but also requires the establishment of processes that ensure efficient support and coordination of that content ... specifically as it relates to enabling simultaneous and seamless updates among all language sites.

That is certainly not an easy task. Many companies that lack the sophistication and operational expertise needed to pursue such initiatives often hit major roadblocks that lead eventually to failure. Consequently, many companies seek the help of globalization independent software vendors (ISVs) and third-party localization service providers.

The table on page 17, KMWorld May 2003 (Vol 12, Issue 5) shows the responses segmented by how respondents perceive the challenge of supporting multiple languages. The decision makers who rated multilingual Web site support as most challenging (level of difficulty 4 or 5) were predominately at the level of CIO and president/owner/managing director.

Those respondents who perceive multilingual Web site support to be the most challenging were predominately from large companies, followed by small companies. Respondents from the retail/wholesale, healthcare and government sectors appeared to be facing the greatest challenge. For example, certain civilian U.S. government agencies by law are required to provide multilingual support to citizens with limited English proficiency (LEP) based on guidelines provided by Executive Order 13166, Title VI and the Title VII regulations regarding language access. Lack of compliance has often led to lawsuits, which is a big reason why the state of Washington pursued more extensive provisioning of multilingual support to its citizens.

The low adoption rate of multilingual Web sites in the United States appears to be somewhat influenced by the challenge early adopters face in maintaining and supporting multiple languages. Maintaining multiple languages involves a wide range of strategic and tactical business and IT considerations, all of which may involve rethinking the way companies organize and do business. At the strategic level, globalization initiatives must be highly aligned with the company's mission and vision, whereas at the tactical level, the challenge involves providing the necessary resources, processes and technological infrastructure to ensure ongoing support.

Complexities Becoming a truly global enterprise is difficult because it requires much more than simply maintaining a physical presence in a particular country. Globalization is more about operating as a single, consistent entity and brand while correspondingly adapting to the cultures, characteristics and requirements of the localities in which an organization does business.

From an operational basis, globalization requires seamless and efficient financial, operational, marketing and sales processes, procedures and systems. Moreover, from a virtual or Web-based standpoint, it requires creating, operating and maintaining a unified and consistent brand while simultaneously communicating with different people and cultures in ways that they can understand, accept and even embrace.

Experience and professionalism required

With respect to Web site globalization, achieving the various levels of operating competency on an independent basis is an elusive if not unachievable goal. One of the most important aspects of achieving the communication competencies required for an effective virtual presence involves the area of Web-based content management.

With the rapid, real-time and exceedingly complex nature of dynamic communication in the e-business world—and especially on the global stage—very few companies are equipped to independently tailor and optimize the various processes, touch points and nuances required to effectively manage their ever-changing content.

In truth, some of the largest Fortune 1000 organizations maintain independent translation, localization and internationalization departments within their corporate domain to manage Web-based content and direct that content to the various markets in which the company operates. In reality, however, few of those departments possess the technology, operational processes, translation and localization skills and resources to manage their enterprise Web-site content on a truly independent basis. Instead, those organizations increasing focus on delivering to their core competency--and look outward for cutting-edge multilingual content management technology, enterprise content management of translation and localization, and operational best practices, among other resources.

Multilingual CM: top priority

Effective global communication precedes business growth. In the world marketplace, as in real estate, growth is dependent on location, location, location. Communication must be locale-specific and tailored to the requirements and tastes of the local market. Therefore, one of the top priorities of industries and organizations of all sizes should be in the area of enabling multilingual content management and linguistic technologies.

The following technologies help automate localization processes and improve human translator productivity, thereby driving down expenses and time-to-market:

  • Multilingual content management systems. Popularly referred to as globalization management systems, they represent a breed of content management systems designed to manage multilingual, localized content, especially for Web sites. They are designed to work with multilingual content, regardless of the type or source of original data.;

  • Localization workflow and project management systems. Newer to the market, they include workflow management for the outsourcing of translation and localization tasks and rule-based content delivery servers to provide centrally controlled local content to international locations. These systems often allow companies to manage translation resources throughout the world, including the status of projects, billing and payment. They can integrate many of the tools and technologies briefly described below. ;

  • Translation memory (TM). First developed during the 1980s, TM is a database of all translations that an organization’s internal or external translators have made, which can be leveraged to make subsequent translation jobs easier and more consistent with existing content. ;

  • Terminology management. This technology is a multilingual dictionary that provides a certain level of assurance that company-proprietary or industry-specific words, phrases or sentences are used consistently within any translated context. Terminology management engines can be integrated with TM applications and multilingual content management systems. ;

  • Machine translation (MT). MT refers to applications designed to provide automatic translation of text from one language to another. Although the quality of the translated text currently cannot be compared with that of a translation produced by a human translator (HT), in many respects MT technology can be leveraged to increase HT efficiencies, especially when using a terminology database in a structured environment. MT technologies are deployed in a variety of delivery mechanisms, including licensing, on a hosted or application service provider (ASP) basis or via the Internet. Some scaled-down versions are provided to users free of charge. ;

Whether those technological capabilities are purchased and deployed internally, organizations must access the most advanced, scalable solutions and processes to successfully address global markets. With respect to investment, a recent IDC survey of leading globalization industry participants suggests that multilingual content management solutions not only improve communication to an enterprise’s global target market but may also improve the bottom line.

A range of players provide multilingual content management and language solutions and are growing robustly in response to the demand for their products and services. CEOs, COOs and corresponding globalization and localization executives must actively understand and participate in decisions that impact their organization’s multilingual content management capability and effectiveness. To not do so in today’s environment is to cede market share and mind share to competitors that are willing to “invest” in the satisfaction of global customers, employees and partners.

Globalization and the enterprise portal

The difficulty surrounding the creation and ongoing support of multilingual Web sites certainly impacts the portal initiatives of companies that need to effectively communicate domestically or internationally with a diverse set of constituents (e.g., employees, customers, suppliers, buyers).

Multinational enterprises deploying enterprise portals will increasingly require access by a diverse (in terms of language facility, cultural origin) and globally distributed work force. The global enterprise portal must provide access to content and applications that are globally distributed, and be aware of the profile of the user. That creates an additional layer of complex consideration that would be linked with the creation of a role-based portal. The number of companies that have accomplished such objectives is truly limited.

From an enterprise portal services (EPS) perspective, globalization involves a wide variety of IT and business considerations that range from being highly strategic to highly tactical in nature. They may involve considerations such as culture, regulation, language (unicode support, translation), currency, writing, numbering, weighing, measuring, timing, geography and dating, among other issues. For instance, a U.S.-based knowledge worker's decision-making would be inhibited if he or she needed to act on reports in local metrics and standards (Japanese yen vs. U.S. dollars, meters vs. feet), reported from an ERP system from a Japanese subsidiary. Such data would need to be translated in the local language and converted into local units.

Global and local considerations should occur during the planning and design stages of a portal engagement--whether companies decide to pursue such capabilities then or in the future. Companies that fail to do so face considerable downstream costs. Finding, retrieving and understanding corporate content is an important benefit of enterprise portal software. Without preparing the content for later retrieval through a mix of services and technology, it will be extremely difficult to locate. Users will require not only pre-processing of corporate content to improve search results, but also access to cross-lingual search capabilities to retrieve content in other languages. That content could then be translated by available technologies to provide the reader with the core meaning of the content. As content is determined to be useful, access to services for improved translation results may be appropriate to share the content with a broader audience.

Companies must carefully plan their globalization efforts from an enterprisewide perspective, and they must consider the range of IT and business-related complexities involved in Web site globalization. Also, they must clearly examine their core competencies in relation to their internal capacity to manage a global Web site. As more companies perform that global “self-examination,” they are realizing the benefits of relying on multilingual content management companies to help meet the challenges and opportunities involved in serving the global marketplace.

Alex Motsenigos is a senior analyst, Globalization and Enterprise Portal Services Markets, IDC, and Brian McDonough is research manager, Enterprise Portal Solutions, IDC, e-mail amotsenigos@idc.com and bmcdonough@idc.com.


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