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Discovering the Joys of Internationalization in Australia


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Understanding the Difference Between “Unicode” and “Unilateral”

“The true salesman, it is said, can offer ice to the Inuit and make it sell. An attractive challenge, but one hampered in my case by the absence of web-enabled ice transfer technologies, and the rather robust spring weather in which I find myself,” writes Dr James Hogan of Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Hogan offers another perspective on localization and internationalization to those who’ve heard it all before. This time, however, the story concerns an Australian industry waking up to the challenge of the world markets, and a growing partnership between key industry players and universities that is helping to make it happen.


James Hogan Australia – Discovering the Joys of Internationalization

Anglo-centric insularity is profitable if the product is able to crack the U.S. and U.K. markets.

My perspective is that of the academic computer scientist, a member of a department that produces remarkably good software developers who, up until recently, wouldn’t have known “Unicode” from “Unilateral.” Their complacency has been shared for many years by a software industry that has drawn adequate sustenance from local development work. Even some of the more ambitious players have been slow to internationalize their applications, although the reasons seem forgivable: anglo-centric insularity is profitable if the product is able to crack the U.S. and U.K. markets.

It would be wrong to suggest that the Australian software industry is entering some sort of localization renaissance, but the joy of internationalization is becoming better known, with companies showing greater interest in hiring localization-aware developers, and in seeking out tools and technologies to manage the process. A number of factors have influenced this embrace of the internationalized product, through a curious mix of global success and local failure.

Success has been a principal driver – with sales in English-speaking markets leading over time to a presence in Europe, and nascent explorations into Asia. As market penetration in the U.S. reaches a plateau, these expeditions become more significant, leading to growth in demand for specialist services, and some re-engineering of existing products. Just as critical has been the emergence of Australia as a specialist development base for key international vendors. My own city of Brisbane, for example, is the center of Asian language development for Red Hat, and there is a strong development presence from both Oracle and Boeing, along with the headquarters of Mincom, Australia’s largest software vendor.

…the failures of the dot com bust have had a positive impact, with many of the survivors focused sensibly upon niche products which can sell across national and cultural boundaries.

Yet the giants of the landscape are rare, and most of our industry consists of SMEs (small- to medium-sized enterprises) employing between ten and fifty people. It is here that the failures of the dot com bust have had a positive impact, with many of the survivors focused sensibly upon niche products which can sell across national and cultural boundaries. Given the limited size of the Australasian market, and dominant vendors in many of the most important sectors, this decision to jump out of the garage is critical to the future of the industry – a lesson now widely acknowledged.

Such optimism has at times proven misplaced, in spite of the best efforts of many. The Government-fostered industry body, Software Engineering Australia, supported a major awareness campaign some years ago, even facilitating internationalization services from their regional offices. Ultimately, the initiative proved unsustainable, although the awareness campaign planted an important seed, which we continue to nurture.

The University – Industry Partnership in Preaching Localization Mantra

The numbers are starting to grow, and the challenge is to sustain them.

QUT works in partnership with several organizations to continue this awareness-raising in the industry and among graduate software developers. Professional issues aside, we felt that we could not continue to educate large numbers of international students – from South East Asia through to Scandinavia - without getting serious about localization. Yet, if our international students provided some motivation, one should not underestimate the value of the returning expatriate – especially one with key experience in software localization and a passion to develop the industry.

Brett Hooker is a QUT alumnus who leads Oracle’s Brisbane office, and like his compatriot John Richardson, he worked extensively on the localization of Oracle products during his career in California. Our connection with Brett and John, and with Paul Gampe of Red Hat, enabled an immediate and practical industry focus to our industry presentations and academic coursework. Subsequently, we have been able to act as an educational supporter of the industry – and critically, the SMEs of the industry – by providing regular briefings on developments such as the new XML standards and on localization tools affordable by even small software firms. Hopefully, Yves Savourel will have sold a few books as a result of our efforts!

The healthy sign for our industry is the number of people who comment on the perfect timing of my presentation: “We are just undertaking our first project selling into France.” Or more imploringly, on the altogether dreadful timing of my presentation: “I wish I had seen your seminar six weeks ago when we started on our first localization project.” The numbers are starting to grow, and the challenge is to sustain them.

Seeking Localization Training Down Under

Training in software localization remains limited in Australia, although two Brisbane universities – QUT and Griffith – provide electives, and others seem likely to follow suit. Our own graduate level course is focused on practicalities, and is centered around the facilities provided in Visual Studio, with students having to develop internationalized applications and localize them to particular targets. Students appreciate the difference when they are able to develop the same product in both its local and internationalized forms. Moreover, they begin to see the context of localization issues: the difficulties for translators, the cost of poor architecture and the reasons that machine translation won’t save us just yet. Translation in our courses is left up to the students, many of whom are more than adequate linguists. Others work with a bogus test character set, embodying all of the string length issues without the need for fluency in another tongue.

“…the challenge for Australia and its partners in New Zealand and South East Asia is to exploit our established excellence in software and ICT research, together with a broad base of language skills, to make a major contribution to this area.”

Training in other facets of localization is also becoming better developed, again in part through a healthy interaction between the industry and the universities. The Melbourne localization firm, Metalang, is a good supporter of this process, linking with language departments to foster an appreciation of the requirements of industry practice. Yet professional software translation work is limited in Australia, with much of it outsourced to the global centers or offered to students on an ad hoc basis. Once again, the skills are available, but the industry needs careful nurturing.

More strategically, the challenge for Australia and its partners in New Zealand and South East Asia is to exploit our established excellence in software and ICT research, together with a broad base of language skills, to make a major contribution to this area. One small step is being taken in January with the Australasian Workshop on Software Internationalization (AWSI2004) in Dunedin, New Zealand. This workshop, part of the Australasian Computer Science Week, is intended to provide a bridge between industry practitioners facing software internationalization challenges, and those with expertise which may be brought to bear in solving them. In particular, we are delighted to have the involvement of members of Macquarie University’s Language Technology Group, industry representatives from Metalang, Oracle, SAP and Red Hat, along with strong support from LISA. LISA members who fancy a trip to the South Island of New Zealand should visit our web pages at: www.fit.qut.edu.au/~hogan/si/ and submit a paper as soon as you can. (Given the number of times that I have asked conference organizers for an extension I suspect that there is some flexibility in the submission dates.)


James M. Hogan is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Software Engineering and Data Communications at the Queensland University of Technology. He plays a key role in software internationalization initiatives at QUT, and has presented regularly to the local industry and students on localization issues, and their importance for a sustainable industry in Australia. Other interests include computational semantics and machine learning for text processing and bioinformatics.

 


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
7 October 2003, Volume XII, Issue 4.1.

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider: www.localization.org, LISA:
www.lisa.org)
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2004









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