Shrinking the Triangle

This article was originally featured in the Oct./Nov. 2010 issue of MultiLingual Computing Magazine, in Adam Asnes’ Business Side column. Read article “Shrinking the Triangle” on MultiLingual’s Website.

Good, Quick, and Cheap?

Good, quick, cheap – pick any two. Project managers will tell you this project triangle is the way it has to be. Fair enough in the short run, but there is a dynamic perspective to this particular triangle that static view will ignore.

Fulfilling New Market Vistas and Adaptation

A truism of technology is that it serves as a great flattener, ultimately destroying pricing and economies in one area, only to give rise to new and hopefully broadening opportunities. The rise and effect of communication technologies that join markets, customers and workers are a remarkable example accelerating change in the speed of fulfilling new market vistas and adaptation. Our industry thrives in this, connecting products, messages, vendors, clients and communities in far flung cultures. Yet, the barrier to entering the localization industry is really not so tough. You need a bit of expertise, contacts, some sales savvy and you’re in business. No expensive machinery, or large capitalization needed. But at some point, you’re going to need something to help you shrink the distances separating good, quick and cheap.

Fast, Cheap, and Good

So how’s business? And if you’re on the client side, how’s budgets?  It seems our industry hasn’t seen the brunt of revenue devastation that many others have in the current economic slowdown. And as some measure of that, recent vendor and buyer surveys from Common Sense Advisory have provided more than anecdotal support for relative industry strength and confidence – even if vendors seem to be more optimistic than clients. On a personal level, this in turn feeds my confidence as a business owner to expand offerings, spend more on R&D, marketing, and (gasp), even hire a new employees.

On Internationalization

Internationalization, which is what my firm concentrates on, is actually a pretty good harbinger of the mood of the tech industry. That’s because internationalization requires a fresh and significant investment in future revenues, rather than maintaining localization on an existing product distribution release schedule. In fact, internationalization can stick out as a pretty large budget item at a time when tech companies have done well to minimize expenses and maximize profits on less to flat revenues. And while you never want to believe too deeply in generalized economic trajectories when getting specific about company forecasts, the investors’ expression “the trend is your friend” comes to mind. This means the onus has never been stronger on emphasizing the business case for internationalization and ultimately succeeding in new markets, while also finding new ways to bring together best of breed technology and people to make the work cost less with more predictability. It’s a great story, but the pressure remains on to tighten that triangle. Internationalization and Localization must compete with any number of other potential revenue opportunities, strategic initiatives and cost pressures.

I don’t want to imply that there isn’t a great deal of truth behind the good, quick or cheap triangle, but we are especially pressed to tighten the space between those choices. Whenever I hear someone use that saying, and it’s usually when someone is trying to sell me something, I’m always looking for a way out. How do we continuously find ways to produce better things, faster and for a lower cost? That’s what the promise of technology, combined with improved people processes and greater access to knowledge all have to offer. But particularly in the localization industry, at some point, it’s challenging to get around human processes that don’t scale so well, so we are back to good, quick, cheap – pick any two. Yet we all chip away at this, finding ways to move code or words along faster, better, cheaper. This is basic principle of technical advancement, but often in the throw of daily work, do we give ourselves the time to map out and affect these three competing attributes at once? When we talk with our managers and clients, are we given the latitude, time and budget to change processes and technologies even in the face of competing budget demands?

Tightening the Triangle

In many cases, the methods of tightening the triangle may not even reside within your firm, or your vendor’s firm. In fact, it may be healthier to look beyond any all-in-one offering. For instance, my firm has been partnering with many vendors right from its inception. We focus on providing internationalization tools and development services, a software development endeavor. Software development is a highly different skill set than managing words for localization, so a natural partnership opportunity arises. We also just began a partnership with a company with a product that supports internationalized documentation writing. That’s a natural fit that only benefits customers. So it makes sense to partner companies, and then go one step further, integrating processes and services together for an outcome that reduces the size of the triangle. Note that I’m not just referring about trading logo’s on websites, which is partnering in name only.

Exports to from Germany to China are up by almost 60% this year. No other segment of German foreign trade is growing as quickly. It follows that this kind of economic relationship ties nations, politics, workforces, just as much as goods and services. We are seeing the triangle getting smaller in action.

Though China rightfully gets lots of press, there are other places having very exciting growing trends. In fact, the fastest forecasted economic GDP growth rate for 2010 is actually from Qatar (16.4% –  2010 to 2020 has been predicted to be the African decade, with rapid growth forecast for many nations on that continent. How will this affect our triangle and our industry? Probably quite nicely!

There Will Be Winners and Losers

But there’s more to this equation. With these trends for global markets gaining purchasing power, there is also ample opportunity for the flow of technology to go the other way. All that market diversity, along with developing labor shakes things up. One would hope that the opportunities make up for the commercial pricing stress that could accompany expansion, but there will be winners and losers.  Additionally, we can expect new opportunities from untraditional channels. For example, we currently have a new client which is essentially a financial group that purchased Chinese technology and is remarketing it elsewhere. In this case, they are not considering entering the US market just yet, but starting in places like India where competition is not so dense. So they are buying good technology for less money, to sell to new markets with lower barriers to entry. I’d call that a creative way to tighten the triangle.

About the Author

Adam Asnes is President and CEO at Lingoport and enjoys investigating how globalization technology affects businesses expanding their worldwide reach. Adam is a sought after speaker at industry events and a columnist on globalization technology as it affects businesses expanding their worldwide reach. He often writes articles for localization, internationalization and globalization industry publications and enjoys cycling and Colorado’s Rocky Mountains; he can be reached by clicking here.

Lingoport’s Internationalization (I18n) and Localization (L10n) Tools and Consulting Solutions

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