How (Not) to Use Ariba in Localization Procurement
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How (Not) to Use Ariba in Localization Procurement

How (Not) to Use Ariba in Localization Procurement


Online auction tools like Ariba take the hairiest sourcing decisions and reduce them to a tidy comparison of checkboxes, numbers, and 200-word content chunks. But when it comes to localization sourcing, hidden behind those tidy rows is a black hole of missing context that obscures any true apples-to-apples comparison.

Let’s take a look at why people gravitate to Ariba, where it fails when it comes to sourcing localization services, and how globalization program owners and procurement reps can collaborate to use Ariba effectively anyhow.

Everybody Loves Ariba

It’s no wonder procurement departments gravitate to Ariba to manage every purchase decision. These tools are convenient, familiar, and vastly improve the sourcing process with features like:

  • Centralized management of the whole process — instructions, Q&As, and submissions are all housed in the same place
  • Ease of comparison all respondents reply to the same questions, which allows purchasers to compare apples to apples
  • Data aggregation with easy reporting
  • Ease of budget-building using simple multiplication against a price point
  • Systematic, clean price point collection
  • An efficient way of connecting buyers and sellers in one marketplace

Ariba makes it tempting to presume that every product or service can be broken down into a collection of discrete, quantifiable widgets. Widgets are commodities that are produced repeatedly, identically, and can easily be priced per unit, and buying is a straightforward financial transaction. If your widget wears out over time, you simply swap out the old one with a new one, and voila!

But Most Localization Is Not a Typical Commodity

Localization is often the exact opposite of the type of solution Ariba was designed to source. Yes, you can develop a list of checkbox questions; yes, you can request prices; but if you try to source localization the way you source widgets, you will not get the insight you need to make the best long-term decisions. Let’s explore a few reasons why.

  • Localization is more than a discrete collection of widgets

    A forest is not merely a discrete collection of trees: it’s a living ecosystem. Localization is the same thing. Any given localization project requires some mix of translation, engineering, testing, desktop publishing and project management and the exact mix depends on many client variables and the vendor’s creative problem-solving. A broader localization program may outsource an entire cost center. If you try to source these services without a holistic view of the entire program, you may wind up with a collection of logs in place of the forest you were expecting.

  • Per-unit pricing is meaningless without context

    Word count is not the only variable in pricing localization services: complexity of subject matter, specialized content (e.g. technical, legal, marketing, etc.), deliverable type, frequency of updates, varying tools and process requirements, what is included in the unit rate, demanding turnaround times, and high or variable quality requirements. Some types of projects require an hourly rate, not a word rate. Yet RFPs almost never provide any context or sample text for vendors to analyze in order to tailor their prices to the client’s scenario. How is a buyer going to estimate an entire project with any accuracy by multiplying price point times the number of words?

  • Localization is not a finite process

    On its surface, translation appears straightforward. Here’s a string in one language, presto-change-o, a string in another language. But the quality of the translation depends entirely on context: is it a marketing string that must be transcreated, or does the string contain specialized content that only an expert can translate effectively? Is there a linguistic review? Will feedback be incorporated as asset updates and/or defect fixes? Will translation memories be stored and leveraged on future strings? Will quality data be stored, tracked and analyzed? There are usually too many variables to make localization services fit into a process like manufacturing widgets.

  • Localization services are not produced identically over time

    A widget wears out, breaks, and stops working, but a holistic localization program that resolves a business need doesn’t have an expiration date. Processes, toolsets and business needs evolve, and so should the service. Over time, the service changes in order to improve the service, bring down costs, and increase quality.

  • Purchasing localization services is a partnership

    A commodity does not require collaboration, communication, deep knowledge and joint innovation: just a buyer and a seller. Effective localization is mutually rewarding for clients and localization service providers. Instead of seeking a localization vendor, look for a partner who will co-invest on strategic program initiatives that secure a market advantage that benefits both parties. Word rates have no real bearing on how effective a partnership will be with any given vendor.

What’s the Compromise?

Tools like Ariba are so engrained in the procurement process that there’s no way to get around using them to source localization. So how can you use Ariba strategically?

If you follow these tips, Ariba can kick off the procurement process and narrow down a list of potential vendors from, say, 15 to 4, and then you can discuss holistic programs with the remaining vendors.

  • Streamline basic research

    Ask vendors information that will show you whether you want to engage further. You may not be ready to have a strategic conversation or give deep information about scope and business needs — so don’t ask strategic, process or solution-oriented questions.

  • Be realistic about text field Q&As

    A question like “Please describe your process for all deliverable types” is so open-ended that it practically begs for a dissertation. Honestly, who is going to read 15 of those? Wouldn’t you rather have 4 dissertations on your specific business situation and the prospective partner’s approach? Text fields are better for questions like “What are the key steps in your software localization process” with a 100-word limit on the answers.

  • By all means, skip the auction

    Once vendors put their pricing into the interface, many systems kick off an auction where a vendor can watch competitors’ prices drop, as a prompt to cut their own prices. This approach may indeed yield the cheapest vendor, but the lowest price does not guarantee value or quality. Worse yet, vendors who are looking for strategic partnerships are likely to walk away. In no way does an auction help you achieve the best value.

Collaborating with Procurement to Make the Most of Ariba

Tools like Ariba are powerful procurement management systems that help save time and streamline comparisons of competing vendors, but not all features apply to complex solutions like localization. Procurement reps specialize in sourcing processes, so you can’t expect them to be specialists in localization among the many other types of products and services they source across an organization.

Without direction from the globalization program owner, procurement personnel will apply the same processes they use every day to source your localization vendors. Just consider what happens if their processes yield unreliable results — or worse, scare away your best prospective partners: it’s not just a waste of your time, it’s a threat to your entire program’s success.

If you agree, take a moment to forward this blog post to your procurement rep – or better yet, schedule a face-to-face visit and bring coffee. Before you source a localization partner, it’s worth getting to know your procurement team’s directives, expectations, and standard processes so that you can figure out how best to collaborate.


Have you ever worked with tools like Ariba to source localization? Of course you have! What are your thoughts on the systems strengths and limitations? What tips can you share to improve collaboration with procurement?