by Adam Asnes, President, Lingoport
As appeared in Multilingual Magazine
In pretty much all of our client engagement opportunities at Lingoport, we quickly arrive at a common discrepancy in how people within organizations view the decision process for internationalization and localization. On the one hand you have a VP or CEO saying, “We must have this product ready for such and such market by year end!” and on the other extreme, you might have an engineer plotting out her decision process based on technical task oriented details – like locale frameworks, database changes and the like. One mindset is event or strategic driven. The other is focusing on the minutia of the process. Neither approach is wrong, but I always feel the client is best served when both mindsets come together.
When companies internationalize their software, it is fundamentally changing its world view from their status quo of selling what they have for their home market, to adapting software to work gracefully in any language or locale. It’s a strategic vision or customer request that brings this about. Or in many cases, a company may have even been localizing product support information, yet selling software as English version only for many years, and recognizes it needs to correct that weakness. Fortunately for us, internationalization is becoming less of a surprise process as executive understanding of software globalization has been maturing.
Globalization is a hot strategic subject for just about every business conference these days. Competition worldwide is tougher, and overall world demand for software is up, so the globalization impetus is hardly visionary any longer. I like to broadly summarize internationalization drivers as:
- • The boss went to a conference/board meeting/gathering and sees that he/she must move forward more aggressively with supporting global software sales
- • Or, the company has a big new client/partner/joint venture opportunity, but it requires that the software work in another or several languages.
- • A competitor is successfully entering new markets with an internationalized product and the company must catch up to compete
- • Or, the company is already quite global but is purchasing another company which is not, and needs to get the software adapted as quickly as possible.
- • The company has a global view, but developed software quickly and as such, let internationalization go in favor of getting to market quickly. The product has proven successful and it’s time to roll it out.
The same company, just depending upon the business unit or product team, may fit into some level of all these business drivers.
The executive team will be concerned about the balance of issues regarding delivery time, marketing, sales and personnel expenses, setting up offices/distributors/partners, legal and tax issues, and more countered against revenue projections. Internationalization for them is getting the product ready so that is supports revenues, global logistics and strategies. It’s a key part of the deliverable though clearly a means to a carefully projected outcome.
I have yet to meet the VP of Engineering, or any engineer for that matter, which wakes up one morning and thinks, “Gee, I think I’ll internationalize our software because it would be cool!” Engineering is in general over tasked, shorthanded, time critical and primarily responsive to documented marketing requirements. New feature functionality on the other hand, is occasionally trail blazed by engineering even before marketing clearly understands a need. For most engineers, internationalization is revisiting development they’ve already done, and breaking it, only to be rebuilt again. That’s seen differently than a new feature.
Engineering will view internationalization as a technical objective and use case, deconstructing it into tactical steps. As a rule, Engineers are really smart people, so they go about figuring out how to internationalize their code, but often with no or limited previous internationalization experience. So they intensively hit the books and Google. Here at Lingoport, after internationalizing so many applications over so many programming languages, we are still learning with every implementation, but the bank of knowledge has become quite deep. Internationalizing a complex software system for the first time, the engineers will almost certainly miss-scope part of the effort, make some mistakes, endure some poor assumptions and run late. That has the potential to sabotage the plans that the executive team is counting on. This is where at a minimum, getting some educated advice, tools and assistance can be highly effective in meeting broader market release goals and obligations.
On top of that, engineering time is never free or infinitely available though sometimes both these conditions are initially assumed. The development team requires salaries and other support. Engineering production also has an important opportunity cost. Does the team work on new features for their current clientele in markets where they are already strong, or do they take a “time out” on new feature development to engage in a full on internationalization effort? You can rarely have both going on at the same time unless you bring in outside help, with well coordinated project management and a good source control strategy.
I consider it part of our job, when working with clients, to bring together the executive and engineering criteria, so the strengths of both are considered and all stakeholders are educated and can have a predictable outcome. This makes a foundation for stronger individuals, teams, products and companies.