Techscape

Ready To Go Global?

by Rory J, Cowan, president Lionbridge Technologies, a Waltham, MA-based product globalization services company

With more start-ups “going global” earlier than ever before, all companies are rethinking management of their international operations. Specifically, they are giving special consideration to localization-the process of translating text and re-engineering software components of a product to operate in other languages. This is what essentially keeps a product sold in one country looking and behaving the same as the same product sold on another shore.

Put simply, the days are gone when heavy manufactured exports needed only their “on-off” switches translated into different languages. With software and semiconductors permeating everything from PCs to refrigerators to cars, pervasive localization programs are more important than ever.

A 1998 sports utility vehicle, for example, has more computing power than the original PC. As a result, dashboard displays, controls, brochures, and the traditional glovebox material all constitute part of the “user interface.” The challenge for automotive manufacturers is to break the localization activities for each of these parts away from their production or functional operating groups, and centralize localization in order to achieve consistent terminology and an even “look and feel” for the product.

By “internationalizing” products at the design phase, companies can communicate the need for consistent standardization to their R&D organization, development partners, and subcontractors. Engineers can design product screens, help files, and systems diagnostics to be “double byte enabled” in order to accommodate the extra space needs of Asian characters, for example. This will ensure speedy product deployment for that big Asian order without expensive and episodic internationalization campaigns. When you have to go back and re-engineer to bring your product into other markets, its time to re-examine your design process. A repeatable localization methodology is a detailed, documented process that global sites adhere to strictly; each site needs to follow the same procedures and processes.

The product globalization process includes every step in the sales channel. This means that both hard copy and on-line versions of sales, dealer, and service/support materials will contribute to the “feel” of your corporation and reinforce the “ethic” of your product. This attention also ensures consistent terminology, which reinforces

the verbal “identity” of the company, throughout the book-to-deliver process. Since the purchase and delivery process constitutes an increasingly large percentage of a product’s perceived value, a consistent channel experience will directly affect product pricing leverage and after-sale customer satisfaction.

If Ford were to take its Taurus into both France and Germany without a repeatable localization methodology, the result would be cars, supposedly the same, but with two completely different user interfaces. This disparity would damage corporate image and give a sloppy reputation to a car that has a solid recipe for success in the U.S. Worse still, without a repeatable methodology, the release date for the cars in the two countries might not coincide, hampering advertising and marketing efforts. For an auto manufacturer, identity is paramount with the consumer.

A successful globalization strategy should include a repeatable globalization methodology, independent of target language, that becomes part-and-parcel of the product release cycle.

The main benefit to this approach is cost control. Since globalization “overhead functions,” such as process and revision control, cost far more than the language component, repeatable processes leverage project management over multiple languages, without creating duplicative overheads in each country. The Internet has further transformed the outsourcing process by enabling access to the highest quality translators and engineers at the most competitive price anywhere in the world.

When Sun’s JavaSoft division was planning the European release of its Java Developer’s Kit in five languages, the company used a rapid globalization methodology. As a result, the job was finished in six weeks, test and rollout costs were reduced, and Sun maintained a polished image overseas.

With all the advantages of global communications, lower taxes are no longer a great enough incentive to move staff and production facilities overseas. The optimal globalization model is to sit tight, keep fixed expenses to a minimum, and work with an outsourcing partner to keep as much expense as variable as possible for as long as possible. This flexible overhead model guards against increasingly volatile demand curves, and the subsequent facility closure costs which almost always occur. Going global is complex and costly enough-with individual cultures, customs, and regulations. Standardizing product development across continents is a good way to make the job easier.


FRONT LINESTake care not to be so focused on the Year 2000 problem that you miss the significance of 1999. While up to now, the personal computer industry has largely thrown its effort toward-in the words of a familiar mantra-putting a PC on every desktop and in every home, 1999 seems poised to be the year in which that starts to change. From now on, expect to hear more and more about “information appliances.” In fact, expect to hear that term so much, you’ll be as sick of it as you were of the “information superhighway.”

Get ready to hear all those PC-mongers-who’ve spent years extolling the virtues of today’s computers-now putting forth exactly the opposite points: that the PC is just too complex and difficult to use; that it’s too much work to surf the Web; that it doesn’t make sense for everybody to have a computer.

The solution, they’ll tell you, is an information appliance-a user-friendly device designed for just one purpose (such as surfing the Web), with the ability to network and share information with other such appliances. According to International Data Corp., the global market for these gizmos is “on the verge of explosive growth”- from 3 million units in 1997 to 55.7 million units in 2002.

Cheap and portable, these tech tools will eventually blend into our homes and lives. Your new camera might well communicate with your new doorknob, your new address book, or your new shoes, in ways that actually make sense and save you time. Think Inspector Gadget without the bumbling and malfunctions.

That doesn’t mean that the familiar monitor-hard drive-keyboard-mouse-modem configuration will disappear, But it does mean the emphasis will shift from souped-up systems that do everything to a variety of objects stripped down to their essence. The good news? Computers will be more closely aligned with how we live; we won’t have to sit in front of them for hours at a time. The bad news? Apparently we’ll never actually have that cool era of robots that act like people.

The new book, The Invisible Computer, by Hewlett-Packard executive Donald A, Norman, suggests several possible information appliances, Among them

  • Photo Appliance. Small and inexpensive, so carry it anywhere. Print photos instantly; transmit them to a storage device; send to a television set; fax directly to a friend; send to a colleague’s camera.
  •  Home Medical Advisor, Diagnose yourself with devices that have sensors that are inexpensive, rugged, and reliable enough for home use.
  • Address Book and Pocket Calendar. Aim the book at the phone and hit “send” to call someone; automatically contacts home or office address book to update new information.

-Seth Oltman


WEB WATCH

CEOs don’t need Bill Gates to tell them that legal issues can plague every aspect of a business. Fortunately, the Web offers a plethora of sites that help executives, who may not have law degrees, understand the constantly changing legal landscape and keep apprised of trends in everything from antitrust to the brave new world of cyberlaw.

www.ipmag.com

Intellectual Property-a mirror image of the print publication of the same name-is “an on-line magazine about the real estate of the 1990s,” according to its publishers. The site provides in-depth articles on laws governing ideas, information, and technology. Recent offerings look at high-tech patent-sharing deals, trademark protection in the EU, and “antitrust harmonic convergence,” which describes why “the stars are lining up against Microsoft.” Most pieces are written by lawyers, and the subject matter can get a bit esoteric, but for the most part, the site delivers relatively straightforward material anchored in the business world.

www.ljx.com

Well-designed and comprehensive, Law Journal Extra provides wide-ranging coverage of the legal world. You’ll find the latest in Legal Headlines and Web News Roundup. Much of the site is aimed at attorneys working in private firms, but there’s plenty for the corporate lawyer. For example, recent articles look at IRS reform, the rules covering communication between company lawyers and employees, and how antitrust law might affect supplier relationships. The Practice Areas section divides stories into categories, including insurance, banking, and securities. An Intellectual Property Center offers resources forthe world of trademarks and patents. If you’re in a hurry, a biweekly LJX Express e-mail newsletter covers corporate law, intellectual property, international law, technology and law-practice management, and litigation.

 www.lawmaney.com

Created by the Euromoney Legal Publications Group, Lawmoney.com draws on the resources of four print magazines: Financial Law Review, Managing Intellectual Property, International Tax Review, and International Commercial Litigation. Articles provide a broad perspective of legal issues around the world, with an emphasis on financial and business matters. For current coverage, there’s Hot News; for deeper insights you can browse a collection of articles by such topics as Company & Corporate, EU Law, and Commercial Property. You can also click on a world map to call up stories about a particular region. Before you leave, stop by the Deal Data section, where you’ll find tables showing who in the world does what in fields such as bond markets and M&As.

www.antitrust org

Maintained by Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, the site is neatly divided into sections on Mergers, Price Fixing, and Vertical Restraints. Each section is divided into subcategories such as Economic Research, Case Studies, Law and Policy, and In the News, which provides a bridge between academic viewpoints and current events. Looking at a case study in Mergers, you’ll find links to DoJ complaints, expert witness testimony, court decisions, and appeals documents. For more interactivity, take part in ongoing discussions of topics such as noncompete clauses and mergers. You can even take advantage of merger simulation tools used as teaching aids at the university.

-Peter Haapaniemi

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