Globalization – The importance of thinking globally
Posted by Patrick Wheeler on May 21, 2009
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon…
In essence, Globalization (Internationalization in MS speak) is your Kung Fu. Bear with me, I have a point here, either that or this is a thinly veiled attempt on my part to get you to read further.
Globalization represents more than just an all-embracing term used simply to describe the sub-processes of Internationalization and Localization, it is in fact both an ethos and strategy that describes how your organization needs to position and prepare every facet part of its being.
Those familiar with Chinese martial arts or who have spent too much time watching Kung Fu movies will understand the fundamental difference between the Tiger fighting style and the Dragon fighting style. The Tiger style relies on sheer strength and the memorization of moves, whereas the dragon style is based on the principal of a deeper understanding of movement. It’s about anticipating more than simply acting upon and reacting to events.
Staying on the fortune cookie philosophy theme, if you adopt the Tiger approach to Globalization you may make all the right moves, correctly identify your target global markets, prepare and push forward with Internationalization of your product with vigour and determination, and skilfully and swiftly execute product localization, but even this is not sufficient if you want to ensure your business is ready to go global and prepared for the effects of going global.
You need to adopt the dragon Style. In addition to the above actions, you should seek a deeper understanding of the impact that these actions will have on your business and anticipate this reaction. After all, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Once you have decided to go global with your software offerings, you will have to consider how this decision will subsequently impact all areas of your business such as Programme/Project Management, Development & QA, Sales & Marketing, Legal, Accounting, Distribution, Support, etc.
Thinking out loud – So who does what?
Product Management: will need to coordinate with all groups to ensure that localized releases are part of any global product roadmap and are approved by and communicated to all stakeholders.
All global product release schedules need to recognize that the Development and QA teams will have to work in “harmony” with Localization Engineering and QA, and therefore core Development and QA time and resources will have to be allocated to addressing I18n, Customizability and Localizability issues.
Failure to factor these tasks into any global project scope will mean that a simship will be impossible, Developers and QA alike will be frustrated by having to potentially allocate additional time to deal with unplanned for I18N defects, Localization will be stalled until defects effecting Localizability and Customizability are addressed, and regional sales channels will suffer from late availability of localized product.
Development & QA: As mentioned above, these core groups, usually charged with domestic software releases, will now need to work in-synch with their Localization counterparts; the frequency and format of handoffs to the Localization team need to be agreed, I18N exit criteria will need to be established for design and development phases, pseudo-localized software builds will need to be created for I18n testing, code freeze dates will need to be agreed to allow for the extra volume of i18n defects that will be logged during I18n/L10n testing, the workflow and management of i18N defects through the core defect tracking system will need to be established, and core Development and QA resources will need to be allocated to resolving and regressing i18N, Localizability, and Customizability defects.
The Localization team will mainly be focussed on addressing L10n issues, so the majority of I18n and Localizability issues will need to be resolved by the core Development team.
Even prior to Internationalization, it is essential that those at senior levels within an organisation understand the impact of going global on their core Development and QA teams.
As highlighted in my first post, assuming that the creation of localized software releases is the sole responsibility of a single Localization team is imprudent and unrealistic. Globalization means a significant investment in core Development and QA time and resources and cannot happen in isolation of these groups or without their involvement.
Sales and Marketing: Sales and Marketing teams responsible for the target regions need to be made aware of strategic plans regarding localized releases. Often these groups will be the ones who identified the business case/requirement for a localized software release.
Regional Sales and Marketing teams will have an insight into the features that are important to their markets and any customer issues with in-market localized product that need addressing as a matter of priority for subsequent releases. They will also be able to advise on any region specific customization of software features that will be required. These customizations will need to be considered during design and development under the heading of “Customizability”. Furthermore, it is important for Programme Management to work closely with these teams when formulating the localised product roadmap, ensuring they are involved in any beta program review of the software and they have sign-off as part of the localized product review process. This may all seem fairly obvious and simply requires clear lines of communication, but I have often witnessed a certain disconnect between regional offices and global Programme Management.
The following excerpt from Beyond Borders – Web Globalization Strategies by John Yunker (2003) is a good example of how poor communication and planning within an organization can ensure a rather embarrassing false start on the journey to global domination;
“The marketing director of a professional society wanted to expand the subscriber base in other countries. The society already had many international members, but because none of the publications had been translated, members needed as least a moderate grasp of English to reap the benefits of joining. So the marketing director decided to translate the society’s membership form into Chinese, in the hopes that it would make joining the society much easier for Chinese speakers and increase membership.
Within a few weeks, the society received its first completed Chinese form by fax, the membership directory, unaware of what the marketing director had been up to, looked at this form, filled out in Chinese, and said, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” The membership director didn’t understand Chinese. No one of her staff understood Chinese. Even if someone on her staff did understand Chinese, their membership database didn’t accept Chinese characters.
So this person in China completed the membership form and subscribed to a couple of publications and the organization could do nothing about it. The professional society didn’t even know what publications were selected because the publication names were translated to Chinese – and they had no English template to compare it against. It may seem obvious that you shouldn’t create marketing materials in a language your company can’t support, yet companies that jump into global markets too fast frequently repeat this scenario.” (Yunker, 2003, p.82).
Branding and cultural customization are also important considerations that also require input from regional Sales and Marketing groups. Some may favour regional branding and cultural customization over global branding with a universally consistent user-experience. This allows regional Sales and Marketing the flexibility to better connect with their target audience. It is all too easy to alienate your customers if they get the impression that your organization’s software products, website, support etc were not developed with their region in mind. However, others would argue that allowing such distinct and unique branding combined with a high level of customization on a region-by-region basis, simply serves to dilute global brand power, resulting in a confusing and inconsistent user-experience. Additionally, by allowing diverse and inconsistent localized content per region, the global management of this content can be troublesome and costly.
The whole area of cultural customization is vast and there is a lot of information as well as misinformation offered on this topic, and it can be hard to discern urban legend from truth. On the theme of colour and cultural significance of colour in the global marketplace, one publication I read recently would lead you to believe that red cars are illegal in Brazil and Ecuador because of the perception that they cause more accidents. This is in fact absolute bunkum. So approach cultural customization with caution and seek the guidance of local contacts.
Legal: There are a variety of laws governing software being sold in different regions of the world, many of these laws pertain to language and support for the official languages in these regions; such as the Toubon law in France, GB18030 certification for China, and the charter of the French Language in Quebec (Bill 101).
For translation of End-User License Agreements (EULAs) and software warranties, your organization will require the services of legal translators and a review of the EULAs by your in-country operations centres/partners to ensure compliance with local legislation.
Legal regulation on the sale of software worldwide is unlikely to become any more lenient. To the contrary, with proposals such as the EU’s two year guarantee for software (games), which would allow users who are unhappy with “buggy” software to return their purchase, the situation will only become more complex. This is another reason why a well thought-out Globalization strategy combined with a strong focus on I18n is of paramount importance.
With poor I18n, your localized software will inevitably contain more functional and cosmetic defects than the source release, and that could be a real headache when faced with a future where customers are within their rights to simply ask for their money back on the basis of these defects and are not compelled to wait for a hotfix as may currently be the case under the terms of existing EULAs.
Accounting: Your accounting team must be ready to provide pricing in the local currencies of the regions your software is to be sold into. Accordingly, they will also need to be ready to accept payment in these currencies. Ensure you have a clear understanding of how royalties and revenues from localized software sales are distributed throughout your organization.
Distribution: You will of course need to consider your distribution channels, competition, and how you will physically deploy your localized software to your customers. For hosted solutions, automatic updates etc; existing data centres serving your domestic customers may not offer sufficient connectivity/speed to customers in other regions.
Support: Before you have localized software in-market, your organization will need to be ready to support these target markets. It is an all too common mistake to simply expect that this will somehow take care of itself and that existing support channels for domestic product will be sufficient. This is yet another way to disaffect the customers in new markets you’ve worked so hard beguile with your digital wares.
You need to consider the mechanisms for localized support; knowledge base, email, phone etc. What level of support will your in-country operations centres/partners can offer, if any? How are support issues with localized software escalated? Do your call centre representatives have the necessary language skills and knowledge of the localized software to handle calls/emails from all the regions you sell your software in? Do you have a Content Management System (CMS) behind your existing website/knowledge-base? Does the functionality of this CMS lend itself to the management of global content in multiple languages?
Once the knowledge-base route has been exhausted, there is a common preconception that it is a good idea to heard customers to email support, like cows being shoved into a cattle crush, as opposed to presenting them with the option of phone support. This is based on the logic that email support is far more cost-effective than phone support. Whilst it makes sense to encourage customers to avail of email support over phone support, I do not believe it is a good idea to completely eliminate phone support as an option.
Many organizations prefer to remove any reference to phone support from their site. For me, this represents a false economy, whilst you may be saving on call centre costs, you will probably be losing customers, and any chance of repeat business. This is particularly flawed strategy in new markets where you are fighting for market-share.
I have yet to experience an email support system where I have received a (useful) answer “within 24 hours” as promised. Besides, 24 hours may be a long wait depending on the nature of the issue. Even if there is a customer cost associated with phone support, it is better to offer this as an option as opposed to lose customers who may prefer to simply return your software (see “Legal” above) and align themselves with your competitors rather than wait for a delayed response from support.
What happened to Localization??
You may have noticed that I have made no mention of the Localization team/departments specific responsibilities in terms of Globalization. This is a deliberate omission. I will address aspects of Localization in various future posts (after all, the URL for this blog puts me under some pressure to do so!). For now, however, it is more beneficial to recognize that in the grand scheme of Globalization, Localization is actually one of the simplest components. Granted, as “Localization” experts, we are in fact required to be “Globalization” experts and provide guidance in relation to Globalization strategies, but if all other areas of your business are ready to go global, then Localization should be the least of your worries.
Once again, failure to take a holistic approach to Globalization will result in Localization being a tedious, costly, and protracted affair. Localized product quality will suffer and inevitably your organization’s performance in the target region will be poor. Additionally you will have filled the lives of your Localization team with a degree of despair! So for the sake of good Karma, get the fundamentals right and Localization will be a walk in the park.
The above are just some of the areas for consideration when formulating your Globalization strategy. One could certainly write a book on the topic and a number have been written on the topic. Globalization is the broadest and most subjective area when it comes to looking at G11n, I18N, and L10n and is therefore open to the most debate.
What color/colour is the sky in your world?
The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis (roughly) states that through the medium of language, different cultures attempt to define their reality and enforce a structure on the world as they view it. This results in certain perspectives that are unique to particular cultures; this is why Localization and Globalization extend beyond simple translation.
This probably also goes some way to explaining why a Chinese friend and work colleague of mine finds a particular Rice Krispies Squares TV commercial so amusing, whilst I simple perceive it to be mind numbingly boring. Or maybe I just don’t get it! Whatever the case may be, to be truly successful in a particular regional market, your organization will not alone have to speak the language of that region, but also understand the predominant cultural perspectives distinct to that region.
The important thing is to have a carefully considered Globalization strategy that would make Lex Luthor seem nonchalant in his scheming, and to execute the plan in a decisive and coherent manner throughout the organization and without procrastination. Understanding that Globalization is the responsibility of your entire organization and must permeate through every level is a good first step.
This is particularly important in the current economic climate. Whilst many organizations are running home for shelter and scaling back on their global operations, this presents opportunities for other organizations to get traction in emerging markets if their Globalization strategy is sound. It may be a long term investment, but if your competition is busy running for cover, these recessionary times could represent an opportunity to gain market share in valuable new markets. As Warren Buffett said, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” In other words, advance when your competition is retreating from global markets.
In conclusion, you could of course try the Tiger approach and see what happens, but as another icon of our times (Homer Simpson) once said, “Trying Is the First Step towards Failure”. So instead I urge you to think like the Dragon and have a deeper appreciation of how Globalization will impact your own organization and how your organization as a whole will need to evolve to meet these challenges.