How to Overcome 3 Common Localization Challenges

The Need for Localization

The localization of information for regional markets and audiences is increasingly important for companies of all sizes. It’s required to more effectively engage customers, maximize revenue, and maintain global brand recognition. In this issue we focus on three common challenges found in early-stage localization projects and how to overcome them. We introduce approaches to address these challenges cost-efficiently.

Localization is the process of adapting information to a specific language or culture so that it seems natural to that particular region. It usually includes translation into another language plus changes for culture, customs, or other local characteristics. Localization poses significant challenges to organizations of all sizes. Companies often struggle with establishing efficient localization workflows and managing the content that is to be localized.

Challenge: Last-minute Localization

Although most companies recognize that localization is essential for a more engaging customer experience and competitive advantage, it is often relegated to the final stages of product delivery or marketing messaging. Waiting until this stage introduces stress and deadline pressures into the content-delivery process and results in higher localization and go-to-market costs.

Challenge: Using E-mail for Communication and Project Tracking

Participants in localization processes are typically distributed around the globe, in different time zones, with different skill sets, often with different tools or technologies at their disposal, and commonly employing different, non-standardized processes to perform the localization. Because it is simple and readily available, e-mail is usually the primary tool for communicating, which includes handing off projects and files that contain versions of documents, graphics, and images, as well as tracking status. However, the use of e-mail frequently results in confusion over which version of which document is current, the status of each document, and who is currently doing what, all of which lead to lost time and inefficiency.

Challenge: Manual Version Tracking

Most of localization work involves editing and reviewing and might or might not include language translation. Each set of revisions typically results in a new version of the document. Manual version tracking or version management is often a significant challenge and cause of inefficiency. The challenge is magnified if the same changed text or graphic also then needs to be updated in related documents (for example, in a data sheet and in a brochure) or across media (for example, in a PDF version of the data sheet and on a Web page). Thus, managing and maintaining relationships among versions of documents and across different types of documents is critical to complete an accurate localization. If translation is required, tracking revisions in each of the languages and reconciling changes across languages further expands the difficulties. Last, tracking and managing translation changes across different types of related documents becomes a nightmare, and it is nearly impossible without a system to assist the process. One of the outcomes of this inefficient process is the same content getting translated multiple times at significant additional cost to the organization. Simply adopting file-naming conventions for file version management is typically not enough, as often these approaches become unwieldy.

Making Your Localization Workflow More Efficient

Localization requires agreed-upon and well-defined conventions, processes, and infrastructure. An efficient localization process must include tried and true approaches for communication and status tracking to manage file versions. In addition, companies must be able to facilitate parallel and serial review processes and support geographically distributed workflows.

Planning for localization by building in time and allocating resources for localization is something that sounds obvious and yet is so frequently ignored. Don’t underestimate the difference between good and poor translation and then the difference between translation and localization. Excellent translation will in most cases require in-country translators, and good localization is likely to require in-country reviews of content after translation. In-country is important because languages and markets continually evolve. Therefore, you want where possible to make sure your localization reflects this evolution.

Most successful approaches include the use of infrastructure software such as content management systems (CMS) or workflow systems. These tools provide facilities for managing document versions, controlling document access (through some form of check in/check out and file locking), and enabling remote or distributed access. Most also support mechanisms for relating documents (such as the print and Web versions of a document or the French and English versions of a document) and tracking revisions to related documents. Workflow software can greatly streamline the localization process by managing the sequence of review/edit tasks, providing the status of tasks and processes, and notifying participants of changes in state, new work, or other information. In addition to managing the review process, some workflow systems integrate with design tools, enabling a seamless experience for the designers and facilitating the coordination and management of multiple components of a project directly from the design tool.

Adopting a workflow system integrated with a CMS can provide the greatest flexibility and power. The CMS provides a common repository and potentially a single source for all the components of the localized work. It can be used to manage both work in progress as well as completed or archived documents. The workflow system manages the individual workflow processes, introducing planning, repeatability, and efficiency while providing a consistent tool for project communication and status tracking. When workflow is unified with the CMS, you can query the CMS without having to leave your workflow tool or your design software, further increasing process efficiency. You will find that the cost of implementing such a system will pay itself off quickly when you compare its cost to the benefits and value of decreased time to market, reduced localization costs, and improved content consistency for product launches and other time-critical localization projects.

Although there are many dimensions to localization, we chose to focus here on three challenges commonly found in organizations. When you consider or review your localization process, be sure to examine how you are communicating, managing your files and versions, and planning your localization processes; if you do not address these issues, you will experience significant inefficiencies and increased costs. Dynamic-publishing solutions will go a long way toward helping you address these challenges.