Localization Technology: How to Assemble Your Toolkit for Global Growth
If you’ve ever wondered whether neural machine translation, natural language processing, or quality assurance automation could simplify managing multiple languages across your digital products, you’re not alone. The array of available technology solutions for localization can be equally jaw-dropping and confusing for the uninitiated.
No need to despair, though. The world of localization technology isn’t as daunting as it might first appear, and the benefits of investing in the right tools are nothing short of transformative for companies expanding their reach internationally.
This comprehensive guide will help you build a localization technology strategy that fits your company’s business objectives and needs. We’ll also explore the different types of localization technology and how to evaluate them step by step.
By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of how to integrate localization technology into your overall localization strategy, what the market has to offer, and how to select the right localization solution for your business.
What is localization technology?
Localization technology refers to the various tools and platforms used to manage the translation and localization of digital products, like web or mobile apps, as well as content. The term encompasses everything from machine translation and terminology management to translation memory and term bases, as well as quality assurance automation tools.
When it comes software localization, localization technologies are essential for managing the ever-growing number of strings and assets, as well as for maintaining consistent quality across all translations.
Why is localization technology important?
There are a number of reasons why localization tools are so important for businesses that want to go global. Firstly, they can help automate and streamline many repetitive and time-consuming tasks associated with traditional localization workflows, such as extracting strings and sending them to translators.
This can free up valuable resources that can be better used on more complex projects that require a human touch, like those involving the transcreation of marketing collateral.
Localization technology can also help improve the quality and consistency of your translations by providing you with a central repository for all your company’s terminology. They are also useful for running automated quality assurance checks that can flag any errors or inconsistencies that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Integrating localization into your workflows
Localization automation is all about streamlining your workflows to make them more efficient and less resource-intensive. The biggest development in technology workflows in the last ten years is the widespread use of application programming interfaces (APIs). They are the plugs we use to connect all the pieces in those workflows: One platform or tool connects with another and they exchange information.
Just as APIs connect data in ways different systems can understand it, localization platforms manage data that requires accurate and useful translation into multiple languages. It could be a software interface, a website, technical documentation, or a knowledge base. The platform organizes and saves that information in a structured way that streamlines the human aspect of the process.
On your end, you select your desired content and languages. On the translator’s end they receive a job, complete it and the platform delivers it back into your development and publishing workflows.
Language is the human version of APIs
This is, fortunately, not science fiction. Still, let’s take a look at what it means to your business right now. Leaving tech aside for a moment, consider what a global marketplace looks like. It’s loud, busy, confusing, and dynamic. Vendors and products vie for attention. Huge sums of money exchange hands in milliseconds, constantly. There are lots of opportunities if you can cut through the chaos of information.
Language is to humans what an API is to software. Like the data those interfaces process, localization helps your business cut through the confusion created in a marketplace where literally hundreds of language variants may coexist. It turns your product information into something a buyer can understand, on their own terms. It all sounds fantastic—until you are a product manager tasked with making that information accessible in 2 or even 10 languages—and not just translating it, but localizing it. Localizing it well, that is.
When you consider that a project involving 10 languages, for example, may include 10 translators who are native speakers and subject matter experts (SMEs)—and 12 of their peers to review their work for accuracy—the process can get quite complex. It can be a project management nightmare, and in the not-too-distant past, it was exactly that.
For software and product developers, problems represent challenges and business opportunities. The challenge of managing translation and localization in an increasingly global marketplace has driven innovation in localization technology. Platforms integrate evolving technologies like neural machine translation and fit them into your workflows seamlessly. You can manage projects, track progress, assign costs, and report progress daily.
The benefits of localization technology vs manual processes
Before localization technology was a thing, manual processes and spreadsheets were the norm when it came to localization workflows. This was often a recipe for disaster, with the negative business impact of errors and mistranslations often outweighing the benefits of going global in the first place. A delayed time to market, lower output quality, increased costs, and reputational damage are just some of the risks associated with a poor localization technology strategy or the complete lack thereof.
In contrast, investing in the right localization technology can help your business:
- Ensure quality by automating spelling and grammar checks
- Reduce time to market by streamlining processes and workflows that enable the production of more high-quality content in less time
- Increase efficiency and decrease costs with an effective translation process that reuses translated content
- Facilitate collaboration between teams by storing all your data in one central location
- Scale your localization efforts as you expand into new markets
- Achieve consistency by storing all your terminology in one central repository
- Save money by combining AI and human expertise by leveraging machine translation
What goes into creating a localization technology strategy?
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what localization technology is and why it’s so important for businesses on track for global growth, let’s take a more in-depth look at how you can put together a localization technology strategy that will support your company’s specific needs.
Localization technology, as part of your localization strategy, will only be effective if it’s integrated into the organization’s overall global expansion strategy and able to fulfill business objectives in terms of time to market, quality, cost, efficiency, user experience, and international growth.
Every department—from product and legal to marketing and sales—already uses technology to do their jobs every day. A successful localization technology strategy is one that weaves the various tools already in use into a cohesive solution that everyone can access and use, regardless of their location or native language.
Also, your company’s specific needs will evolve over time as you enter new markets and expand your global reach. A localization technology strategy, if solid, will plan for and accommodate these changes. It will use the company’s principles, objectives, and tactics as a foundation, and propose how to use technology to achieve strategic business goals—including localization goals—in a manner that is efficient and effective.
Developing your localization technology strategy involves:
- Identifying specific technologies and the people who’ll be responsible for managing them
- Ensuring that the chosen solutions align with business objectives
- Detailing future scalability
- Providing a clear return-on-investment (ROI) analysis
- Considering time and money investments and costs in terms of vendors, infrastructure, legacy systems, and integrations
- Including a plan for managing change
- Designing an implementation timeline
- Creating a system for tracking progress and success
Technology can be a great enabler of localization, but only if managed properly. The first step in doing so is to assess your company’s current situation and needs. A holistic view of the business is essential in order to make sure that the localization technology strategy you put in place will achieve the overall objectives of the business.
It’s also important to consider how various departments within the company currently use technology and how they could benefit from localization technology. Getting it right the first time is crucial—changing technologies later on down the line can be costly and disruptive, especially when you consider the lack of a standard in parsing and integrating data from multiple localization systems.
Factors that can impact the success of your localization technology strategy
In addition to the above, there are a number of other factors that can impact the success of your localization technology strategy. Here are some key considerations:
- Executive-level support for the overall strategy: A successful localization technology strategy requires the support of senior management in order to be implemented effectively. Without this, it’s likely that the strategy will lose steam and fail to achieve its objectives.
- The organizational setup of your company: If there’s no centralized body responsible for localization, it’s likely that different departments will each use their own tools and processes. This can lead to a lack of consistency and inefficiencies in the overall localization process.
- The company’s culture: A company’s culture plays a big role in how successful a localization technology strategy will be. If the company is resistant to change, it’s likely that the adoption of new technologies will be slow.
- The level of cross-departmental collaboration: A successful localization technology strategy requires collaboration between different departments and teams within the company—procurement, finance, IT, suppliers, etc.—in order to be effective. Interacting with all relevant parties from the start is essential.
- The maturity level of the globalization function: If the company is new to international expansion and globalization efforts are still in their early stages of development, it’s likely that the localization technology strategy will be less complex. As the company’s globalization efforts mature, the localization technology strategy can expand and become more sophisticated.
- Availability of funding and resources: The implementation of a successful localization technology strategy requires both time and money. If the company doesn’t have the necessary resources available, it’s likely that the strategy will either fail or need some time to get off the ground. In this case, a gradual and phased approach may be necessary.
- The company’s growth trajectory: The company’s growth trajectory can have a big impact on the localization technology strategy. If the company is expanding rapidly, it’s likely that the strategy will need to be more flexible and adaptable in order to keep up with the pace of change.
Implementing your localization technology strategy
The steps you take to implement your localization technology strategy will depend on the specific needs of your company. However, there are some key steps that are relevant to all companies, and they need to happen in a cyclical way:
1. Match business objectives with technology solutions
Once you have the support of senior management, you need to map out the company’s business objectives and match them with the most appropriate localization technology solutions. This will help ensure that the technology you choose is fit-for-purpose and will meet the needs of the business.
For example, if the goals are cost savings and providing a better user experience, a terminology management tool would be a good choice. However, if you also want faster time to market and global growth, a translation management system (TMS) that includes AI-powered machine translation features would be the best choice for a comprehensive localization solution.
Other questions you need to answer at this stage include:
- What integrations will you need?
- What file formats do you need to support?
- What kind of content will you be translating and how much of it?
- Is localization centralized at your company?
- What parts of the workflow will you outsource and to whom?
- Will you work with more than one translation vendor?
- How might any of the above change in the next five to ten years and what would your localization technology need to do to support that change?
2. Assess existing tools and your technology maturity
Once you’ve identified the company’s business objectives and how localization technology can help to achieve them, you need to take a step back and assess what tools you already have in place—and how well they’re working for you.
This is also the time to assess your company’s "technology maturity" when it comes to localization. Owning a great number of tools alone isn’t an indicator of high maturity. Instead, it’s how you use the tools in combination and the level of integration between them that really counts. Tighter integration enables better data capture, tracking, and efficiency because there’s less need for manual processes and duplicate data entry.
For example, if your company is using a translation management system but not taking advantage of its features for terminology management, then you’re not getting the most out of the tool.
The 5 stages in the technology maturity model are:
- Ad hoc processes and tools (emails, spreadsheets, no integration)
- Iterative processes and basic tools (computer-assisted translation tools, TMS systems, some integrations)
- Optimized and managed processes with tools moving to enterprise-scale (TMS, MT, QA tools, terminology management, query management, a higher level of integration)
- Enterprise-scale systems with real-time data and predictive analytics (platforms with big data and machine learning capabilities, almost total integration)
- Advanced processes (mature localization platforms with extensive integration, data analysis, predictive analytics, and a focus on continuous improvement)
Understanding where you are on the technology maturity curve will help you to prioritize the company’s needs, set realistic expectations for what you can achieve with your localization technology strategy, and use the knowledge as a talking point to negotiate for the next piece of technology with decision-makers.
3. Evaluate options and choose your tools
Once you’ve identified your company’s needs, it’s time to start evaluating the localization technology options available to you and create a localization technology request for proposal (RFP). This is where you need to do your research and ask lots of questions in order to find the best solution for your specific circumstances.
When building your stack, begin with the most critical components first. What’s critical and what isn’t will depend on your company’s unique circumstances, but at this point of the process, you should have a good understanding of your top priorities. Is machine translation a requirement? Have you identified the potential for huge cost savings by reusing existing content? Is terminological consistency a must-have for your brand?
As you identify potential tools, make sure they can work together in an integrated way. Integrations are key to efficiency and will save you time and money in the long run.
Some questions you might want to ask during the localization technology evaluation stage include:
- Should you build an in-house tool of your own or buy a cloud-based SaaS solution?
- Would developing a tool in-house be a more cost-effective solution in the long run?
- Can the tool fit into your current tech stack or will it require a complete overhaul?
- What level of customization and support is required?
- What’s the total cost of ownership (TCO), including implementation, training, and maintenance?
- What security requirements does your company have?
- Will you want your language service provider (LSP) to manage the technology or will you handle it in-house?
- Will the company expand to other markets in the future, with a need for multiple language support that the tool can accommodate?
4. Build a business case for your chosen technology
Now that you’ve selected the tool or tools that will form part of your localization solution, it’s time to build a business case to get localization buy-in from decision-makers.
This is where you need to articulate the company’s needs in a way that decision-makers will understand and be able to relate to. Demonstrating value is essential, so make sure you choose metrics that decision-makers will care about. For example, if your company is focused on time to market, then proving that your output will be faster with the new tool without the need for extra headcount should be a key part of your business case.
As with any business case, your localization technology business case will need to consider the costs, benefits, and risks associated with your chosen solution. Try to identify the gaps in your current solution and put a price tag on the gains that your proposed solution will bring. Once you know the financial wins, you can move on to calculating the costs, which will include not only the purchase price of the technology but also the costs of implementation, training, and maintenance.
5. Implement and roll out your solution
You’ve got the green light to proceed. Fantastic. Then it’s time to implement your localization solution and roll it out to the relevant teams within your company. Depending on the complexity of your solution, this could be a quick and easy process or it might take some time.
Implementation will vary from company to company, but there are some key steps you can take to ensure a smooth process:
- Ensure that all relevant stakeholders are on board with the plan and understand their roles in the process.
- Train your teams on how to use the new tool or tools—and make sure they have access to support.
- Think about how you’re going to handle data migration from your old system to the new one.
- Develop a process for testing and quality assurance.
6. Evaluate, measure, and adjust
No implementation is ever perfect from the outset, so it’s important to have a plan in place for how you’re going to evaluate the success of your localization solution and make improvements where necessary. To do this, you’ll need to establish some key performance indicators (KPIs) and track them over time.
Depending on the tool or tools you’ve selected, there might already be built-in reporting, so make use of that if you can. If not, then you’ll need to develop your own way of tracking progress.
It’s also important to create a feedback loop so that you can gather input from the teams using the solution and quickly make adjustments where necessary.
7. Rinse and repeat
As your company grows and changes, so too will your localization needs. This means that your localization solution will need to evolve over time to keep up. As new requirements arise, you’ll need to go back to the drawing board and repeat steps 1-7 in order to ensure that your solution continues to meet the needs of your business.
To stay abreast of the latest changes in the world of localization technology, make sure you stay plugged into the localization community. Attend industry events, read trade publications, follow thought leaders and key industry technologies on social media, and so on. Doing this will not only help you to keep up with the latest trends but will also give you a better understanding of how other companies are approaching localization and what challenges they’re facing.
The localization technology journey is all about planning the route
There’s a lot more to selecting the right localization technology than simply comparing features and prices. You need to take a strategic approach, one that begins with an understanding of your company’s specific needs and objectives.
From there, you can start to put together a plan for how you’re going to achieve those goals. And finally, you can begin to assemble the toolkit of technologies that will help you get there. By following these steps, you can be sure that you’re making the best possible decisions for your company’s localization needs—now and in the future.
Last updated on September 26, 2022.