It is a mythic story. The company of humble local beginnings that grows to national dominance before then flourishing on the international stage. The celebrated growth is nevertheless troubled by infuriating challenges, hurdles that have to be leapt one after the other in the rush to a winning finish.
The realities for many companies are far different from the stories we tell ourselves.
Missing from the gold-medal narratives are the real-life experiences of many companies: daily operational headaches, the unforgiving demands of diverse consumer groups, and the call for an ever-increasing ROI from stakeholders.
And then there are the realities of working with teams that are spread between one corner of the earth and another — teams that are expected to bridge time zones, language barriers, and incompatible technology tools to nevertheless work with each other to bring the company’s goals to fruition.
If our own experience in translation and localization services is any example, the results of all of this fragmentation are not pretty. Why is it, then, that even the best corporate brands — international companies capable of distributing products and services to customers around the world — struggle so desperately with the cost and time inefficiencies of decentralized localization programs?
More importantly, how do we resolve our realities to achieve our dreams for high-performing localization?
The Old Way
In the Localization Maturity Model put forth by industry think tank Common Sense Advisory, decentralization is among those characteristics that define the immature localization program. Why is that? What is it about decentralized localization that means otherwise competent companies don’t have a successful globalization strategy?
Fundamental to decentralization is the duplication of effort. Not only is each department going through their own (and often costly) vendor acquisition initiatives, they are then each working with their vendors separately. That means one brand has several multiples of translation memories, content and translation management systems, language assets, quality assurance processes, and more.
There was a time when this made sense. In some quarters, decentralization was heralded as a solution to top-heavy management — an opportunity to enable country-based teams to work with the providers of their choosing to get results that closely met their needs in a timely fashion.
And there was some truth to their picture of what we’ll call the old-and-established headquarters-only model. It was sluggish. And unresponsive. Penny wise and pound foolish. The centralization initiatives that fell into those traps tended to disempower teams and were prone to delay.
It is true that the kind of centralization described above had its faults. And it’s clear that the old way cannot handle the speeds required for today’s Agile Localization paradigm — incorporating processes that are scalable, flexible, and capable in diverse language locales.
What We Win
And why do we want centralization anyway? That is, what do strategically minded brands expect to gain from centralized localization programs?
We can agree that the promises of centralization are attractive:
Volume-based purchasing of language services triggers discounted pricing.
Shared language assets increase language data consistency and reduce language-related errors.
Tighter collaboration contributes to better time-to-market planning and predictability, which can be critical for market share in aggressive marketplaces.
Using the same tools throughout the company strengthens interoperability and knowledge networks across geographically dispersed teams.
- Localization work has its peaks and valleys when it comes to resource usage. With one team handling all localization work, they will benefit from a more consistent workflow.
The New Way
In a survey of 157 global companies in 2011, Common Sense Advisory found that most (52.8 percent) of the survey participants believed that centralized localization management was key to the success of their company’s localization program. While this is a thin margin of victory for centralization’s proponents, the data of CSA’s follow up study of 226 languages services buyers supports their position: “Centralization of language services can lead to lower costs and faster times to market for higher volumes of translated content.” (Read more at Centralizing Language Services Saves Money, Improves Productivity, and Means Faster Time to Market).
But what differentiates the new model of centralization from the old?
Formerly Waterfall, Now Agile
Note the use of the phrase “higher volumes” in the CSA quote above. Key to the change in the centralization model is the change in localization itself. The shift from waterfall localization systems to iterative and Agile-driven localization has come with a greater technological shift that sees data flowing faster, stronger, and easier around the globe through translation management tools more robust than ever before.
In addition to the content-processing shift there has been a shift in the language services provider model from a project-focused, price-per-word perspective to comprehensive language services. Not only has the strategy entailed a retraining of tools, personnel, and processes to meet Agile demands, providers have taken on greater responsibility for strategy. As a partner rather than a mere vendor, the modern language services company is as invested in smoothing out the bumps along the road to your global strategy’s success as you are.
Significant to this vendor-to-partner transformation has been procurement’s role in creating, defining, and maintaining the partner relationship. They are no longer limited to squeezing more pennies from each project. Instead, they turn to the bigger picture: how stable and mutually beneficial partnerships with language services providers can return value and efficiencies to the company’s long-term globalization agenda. (Read more at We Have to Talk About Translation Procurement).
Localization Centralization for Mature Systems
So what must you do to harness the power and advantage of a centralized localization program?
Embrace strategic versus operational thinking in goal setting for your localization teams, and let your executives lead the way.
Identify the right language services partners, those that are well-equipped and competent in your target language markets and capable of aligning their systems to achieve your goals.
Audit your language resources — people, processes, and tools — across the entire organization.
Work to quickly harmonize these assets and align systems to reduce the cost of duplicative data and processes.
Encourage automation wherever possible, recognizing that flexible, modular systems that are well-calibrated may be a smarter investment than an entirely custom-built solution. (See How (Not) to Build a Localization Platform, Part I and Part 2.)
For all of the above, define metrics, standards, and benchmarks with your language services partner that ultimately allow you to tap into their expertise and leadership in helping your company reach high-performance localization goals.
The investment in a sound and centralized localization model is not without its risks. With pressure to simply Get Things Done, the kind of introspection and deliberation that moving to this model calls for may seem high. Moreover, teams that are long-entrenched in their own departments — comfortable with the people and processes of their own silos — may not be so keen on the necessary disruption that such an undertaking will mean. (Of course, that is why executive buy-in and leadership in the localization strategy is so critical.)
Whatever the seeming disadvantages of the short-term impact, the long-term financial and process gains of centralization will prove advantageous to teams, stakeholders, and language partners alike.
The gold medal is within your grasp. Are you ready to now make it yours?