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What Multilinguality Has to Do With Falling House Prices

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Tobias Rinsche photoNothing, obviously. But it does have to do with how companies can cope better when national recessions hit because of situations like the recent credit crunch and the subsequent drop in house prices. By trading internationally and introducing an effective globalization strategy, companies large and small can stave off the effects of local economic slow-down, as figures from IBM, HP and other global players have shown since the beginning of the credit crunch.

An effective method of avoiding the worst effects of national economic slowdown or recession is obviously to trade globally. Trading globally means more than selling products to other markets and shipping them there. From localization of the products, manuals and marketing collateral, to communication with the new customers in their language, there are many things to be considered at a linguistic and cultural level.

ClientSide News Magazine pictureIt is surprising to see how many corporations that already have a global presence have inefficient processes in place. The optimization potential is considerable, reducing costs and shortening time to market. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) struggle the most at times of national economic slowdown. There are many SMEs in certain sectors who - using the internet and support from some partners - can act globally at relatively little expense, and so soften the blow.

So what can you do to put a coherent, effective globalization strategy in place to support your global trading and international presence? We will explore factors in relation to both large corporations and SMEs.

The corporate angle: It's a big house - and I need to manage the estate...

Your organization is already considered 'global'. You sell your products and/or services to many countries with many languages, and it looks to you like they always arrive there in a state in which local people can use them. Everything is working fine - right? Maybe - but the chances are that you too have many possibilities to improve your processes.

The SME angle: My house may be small but the welcome is big

If you are an SME and you are not trading internationally yet - you should be! It is relatively easy now and there are so many opportunities if you peer over your garden fence and open your doors - avoiding local recessions is only one reason among many to expand operations internationally. Some SMEs are (theoretically at least) already trading globally using the internet. However, there are a number of topics you should be aware of, no matter which category you fall into.

Who are you building for?

The web seems the perfect and easiest place for any organization to sell its products and services to a global audience. This was certainly true while 'global' coverage and the reach of the Internet concerned a largely English speaking user base. Things have been changing on that front for some time though. At this time the percentage of English speaking users is thought to be only around 30% and falling, as access to the Internet improves worldwide with content available in many more languages. This development has been very exciting at a social and academic level but what does it mean for industry and business? How can SMEs benefit from a growing multilingual web user base and what do multinational corporations need to consider? Studies show that a multilingual website by itself is not enough to trade globally and effectively. Customers shy away from engaging in e-commerce because many websites do not offer the possibility of communicating directly with sales agents or offer support in their own language, for example.

There are ways though. Language Service Providers can help SMEs "go global" at a fraction of the cost and risk that opening offices around the world entails. Many LSPs are becoming "full language service partners", offering much more than just translation services to organizations large and small. Working with such full language service partners and embracing the available technologies can make trading globally into a far less colossal undertaking.

Larger organizations on the other hand that are present in their most important foreign markets can cut costs in their ongoing multilingual endeavors and expand into more exotic ones with the help of technologies and services that LSPs offer. SMEs need to be aware that as soon as they start localizing a website they have - like it or not - become an organization that needs to think about dealing with linguistic assets and resources just like the larger organization.

BuiIld a sturdy multilingual foundation

When you buy a house the first step is always the inspection. It is no good painting a house that has fragile foundations, and even if you need to tear the structure down and start afresh, there will probably be a lot of material that you will want to salvage. If you are planning a new build, as it were, you will want to consider your needs, wants and goals.

Following that analogy, it is not in your best interests to implement some tools here and there and try to make fragmented processes more efficient. Rather, for large organizations it may be a large but worthwhile task to do that "inspection", to consider who in your organization needs translation and localization and how they get it now. There are obvious departments such as technical authoring, or software or product development and production, etc. that buy translation on a large scale. The chances are, however, that if you trade internationally every department will encounter some need for language services at some point. The second question then is how you manage these translation and localization needs effectively.

SMEs have a great opportunity here. You can actually lay the foundations when you choose to go global and have everything in place before you start. If you are already selling internationally, you have an easier task of evaluating current processes and putting new ones in place that will work for you no matter how much you grow.

Location, location, location

A key to successful globalization strategy is the centralization of linguistic assets and resources at whatever level is desirable and possible in your organization. For SMEs this may simply mean outsourcing assets to an LSP who will manage them until you start wanting to work with multiple LSPs and need more control. Our experience with multinational organizations has shown that their problem does not lie so much in the fact that are not aware of, or not using, technology to support their localization needs, but rather that their approach is rather chaotic. We therefore take the opportunity here to explore further scenarios from the corporate world.

Fragmented processes and approaches usually mean duplication of effort and unsatisfactory sharing of resources, and hence a lack of efficiency. When everyone shares the same terminology databases, leverages the same translation memories and has access to approved LSPs, be it through a central language service department or through central repositories of such information and technology you instantly experience more consistency in all communications from your company, as well as reduced expenditure for the translations you outsource.

Resource management

There are many approaches to managing the multilingual needs of a large organization. These range from people who buy translation on an ad-hoc basis from companies found on the Internet, to those who run full language service departments, employ in-house translators and have framework contracts with LSPs. The larger the organization the greater the likelihood that a mixture of all of these scenarios will be found. Due to the lack of a central strategy this can lead to a situation where many departments within one organization may buy translation and localization services from different or even the same LSPs at very different rates.

The solution is potentially easy, of course. Depending on your needs you can set up a contact and price list on your intranet to ensure that everyone has access to the same LSPs at the rates you have negotiated. If the volume and need for multilingual services is higher you might consider implementing software tools that help employees find the right LSP easily. They could send translation and localization requests through portals, for example, which are integrated within an intranet. If you require a high volume of multilingual services you may want to designate language service managers or even a department that is responsible for outsourcing to the right supplier. No matter which option is best for you, you may want to look at software tools that support these efforts and allow you to use whichever variant works for you.

Managing linguistic technology and assets

Depending on the size of your organization you may have some sort of terminology management and translation memory (TM) tool(s) in place already. However, these are probably only accessible to certain people in certain departments, right? Have you ever considered creating and maintaining a centralized, multilingual terminology database, which you make available to your entire staff? What about a central master translation memory? The benefits can be great: by implementing one tool you are making it possible for every employee whether technical writer or marketing manager to use approved terminology in all communications that your company produces. You are tightening up your corporate language and ensuring that everybody is using the right terms - no matter which language they are working in. By making your terminology databases available to your translators - be they internal or outsourced - and maintaining central TMs you have the benefit of more consistent translations and you are saving money as you are leveraging translations that have already been made in your whole organization rather than by one department or group. Implementing this high level of centralization is becoming ever easier. Technology is available now that makes it possible to take linguistic tools from a variety of developers of your choice such as TMs, terminology and even machine translation systems and leveraging these centrally.

The good news is that you do not have to be huge and have big budgets available to benefit from these technologies. Specialized LSPs can run these systems for you at a fraction of the cost of owning them.

Centralization means more control

Centralizing your linguistic assets, your TM, terminology and MT is one thing - even more efficiency can be achieved by centralizing the business process and information management around multilingual needs. Implementing tools that act as central portals for all your company's translation and localization requests, which also store information about your LSPs, including pricelists and languages makes managing a centralized multilingual strategy easy. These tools can also help leverage your linguistic assets effectively by automatically sharing relevant data with internal and external resources. Finally, and very importantly you will be able to access proper metrics for your multilingual endeavors, making it possible to quantify your spend on multilnguality and to plan ahead.

Moving up the multilingual housing ladder

For smaller companies the key is to have a global strategy in place right from the beginning. Creating a website in as many languages as you can afford and hoping for the best is not enough. It is like starting on the housing ladder. Your home market is your first apartment and now you can work your way up the ladder until you are living in the mansion you dream of - trading around the globe and upgrading your facilities en route. Think first of all which are your most desirable target markets and in which countries -and thus which languages you must cover. It might make sense, for example, to begin with countries that are culturally similar to yours so product localization is easier to get right. Depending on what you are selling you might also have to localize your marketing collateral and legal documents. Start with one or two new languages and spend the extra money on marketing campaigns. It makes a lot more sense to enter markets properly one at a time than to "theoretically" address many and hope your new target market will find you. There is an additional bonus: get it right for one language first and you will know all the pitfalls for the new ones when you add them.

The door is open but how to communicate the people inside?

A colleague recently told me of a company who had their website translated into Chinese, reasoning that this was a huge emerging market they wanted to tap into early. The localization of the site was successful, and sure enough questions began to trickle in regarding the products and sales process. Unfortunately the company hadn't considered that only around 20% of Chinese people "use" English, and even fewer speak it. So most of the questions, unsurprisingly, arrived in Chinese.

The biggest challenge when going into a new market is managing communication with your new global audience. Of course you have your LSP for ad-hoc translation and interpreting. As a larger enterprise you might have an office there and as a SME you might be able to employ someone who is bilingual and can take on some of the work as well.

In the long run, however, this will not be cost effective. Paying fully for the translation of emails that request information about your products or ask for support may be too expensive and taking employees away from their tasks to help translation is not effective. Furthermore, there are markets that are too small to warrant a sales office but big enough to be worth selling to.

So what to do if your Chinese customer has a question? How can you bridge the language barrier most effectively?

Luckily technologies are emerging that make instant multilingual communication possible. At LTC we have been pioneering technologies for instant multilingual communication across the web with our LTC Communicator system, for example. New controlled language technology can also help to leverage the power of machine translation more effectively to allow communication across the language barrier.

Real estate aside, what have we learnt?

The bottom line is that global trade is undoubtedly a great opportunity for SMEs. Tapping into international markets means that you are spreading your risk and creating potential. It does not have to be as difficult and as expensive as it may seem at first. On the other hand it is not as simple as putting your products and services on the web.

For multinational corporations it is worth examining processes closely on a regular basis. There are probably things you can do right now to save a lot of money and the tools and services that you need to operate even more effectively on the multilingual side are developing rapidly. Revising a whole organization's approach may be time consuming and politically challenging, but it is easy to justify when you look at the total cost involved.

Multilinguality may have nothing to do with house prices, but it can certainly help you create a customer base which is not wholly affected by the next credit crunch, bursting bubble or wave of foreclosures. Even though a lot of people are struggling right now, there are those who are doing well thanks to smart planning. With the right global strategy you can do so too.

Published - January 2009

ClientSide News Magazine - www.clientsidenews.com

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