With low overhead and relatively small startup costs, software companies continue to mushroom in the U.S. to provide thousands of applications to niche markets. Once successful at home, efforts are made to quickly expand globally to gain market share and increase revenues. This is when the need for localization first arises. The challenge at hand is to be able to localize products, while maintaining a stronghold on continuing to improve and evolve the product. The separation and the fusion of product development and product localization become the paradox to solve. It requires the implementation of a workable localization strategy.
Quality control, time-to-market and the availability of funds are all important. But depending on the importance of the localization task, different strategies may better fit the requirements. Following are the different available options.
The “Over-the-wall” strategy, is when a company does not want to deal with the localization efforts or incur its direct costs. It delegates to its international value added resellers (VARs) or distributors to take care of the localization of its products.
In turn, the VAR will either do the localization effort internally, or out-source to a local company. In most cases, the VAR assumes part or the entire cost of localization as part of the added value that it brings to its local clientele.
The main advantages for using this strategy are that it:
- Shields development from the localization effort,
- Eliminates any direct costs for localization, and
- Enables the availability of a localized version of the product.
The disadvantages are however numerous:
- Quality will suffer due to the lack of direct control. Also VARs often lack optimal localization skills.
- Time-to-market will suffer. VARs are incentivized to sell, not to develop products.
- Lack of strategic coordination of multi-language releases, and
- Lack of control over the region since the company will not own the localized material. Adding or changing VARs or going direct in a specific geography becomes a problem. You don’t want your VARs to own the localized product, do you?
Yet even with the numerous disadvantages, many smaller companies with limited funds find this option attractive. This is mainly because it enables them to compete with other vendors on the international arena. It also helps them meet international regulations and customer demand.
As their international business matures in key geographies and becomes strategically important, companies opt to hold tighter controls over quality, schedules and ownership of their localized products.
At this point, a loosely coupled integration between the software company development group and the localization staff will become required. In which case, the company either hires localization staff or works directly with a localization vendor, or both.
The localization staff coordinates with the development team and localization efforts are planned in conjunction with product release schedules. The localization effort will usually begin shortly after the product is stable enough and its documentation is taking shape. This could be at the beta or pre-release stages of the product.
The disadvantages of this strategy are the following:
- The software company will have to budget and incur the costs of localization, and
- The localized products may require to undergo their own beta or pre-release testing. This often happens after the completion of the English version beta or pre-release testing.
The key advantages of the Coupled strategy are however many:
- Control over the quality of the localized product. The company’s image, reputation and standards are maintained.
- Control over the time schedules, avoiding losing market opportunities and keeping international users in sync with the latest product releases
- Ownership of the localized material giving full control over who markets, sells and distributes the product internationally.
If you are a marketing executive, these advantages will enable you to plan worldwide rollouts of your product. You can do that while maintaining the quality image that you seek for both your company and product. It also buys you leverage over VARs or distributors worldwide. Often you have to rely on more than one distributor in key geographies. By owning the localized product you will remain in full control.
Simultaneous releases of English and localized products are becoming a requirement for many companies. Worldwide users want to buy a localized version of the software as soon, or shortly after, the English version is available. Also marketing executives want to gain the world’s attention and effectively promote products worldwide. While doing worldwide rollouts of their products, they can easily discover the necessity of simultaneously localized releases.
Simultaneous releases require companies to localize their graphical user interfaces (GUI) in parallel to software development. Non-standard, complex or numerous applications will require the adoption of the Integrated localization strategy.
This strategy enables the release of beta or pre-release software in multiple languages at once. Beta testing can therefore take place simultaneously in all the necessary geographies. This permits to provide feedback on all localized products, in a timely fashion. Ultimately, making any necessary modifications to the source code before the English version is fully released.
Finalizing manuals, online help files, release notes and other documents will take place after the English source is stable. These files do not have an impact on the source code and therefore can wait for their turn.
Integrated Strategy Challenges Quickly Mount
The fully integrated strategy will require the localization staff to have continuous access to GUI files. Often localization staff working on the GUI files in an integrated environment work onsite. This gives them access to RCS or the repository file vault used by the software developers.
Also, frequent updates to the GUI files will be necessary to keep up with the development effort. This will permit frequent builds of the localized software so that localized products are ready for beta or pre-release with the English version.
The main disadvantage of the Integrated strategy is that it will add to the costs of localization. This sometimes make it unjustifiably high for smaller companies.
Process Is King
Luckily, with advances in computer aided translation tools and software standards, the Integrated localization strategy is an overkill for most companies. With the advent of software standards, you can separate many localization tasks from the development effort. Also, GUI binary localization tools, translation reuse, translation databases and terminology banks are now common. They have directly contributed to considerably shrink localization costs and schedules. This makes the Coupled localization strategy approach the most efficient one to adopt.
If your company has a global vision, the localization process it needs to enable an efficient and effective Coupled localization strategy remains to be of paramount importance.
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