I’ve been thinking a lot about a field that doesn’t exist. The reason is because I spent 7 years of my life as a practitioner in this non-existent field. I’m calling the field Whole Enterprise Localization Design, but as I better formulate the idea, I may need to change the name. The field seems to closely resemble Enterprise Architecture, but I’m leery to use that in the name since the field itself has a lot of detractors. . . Before I focus on this non-existent field, I’d first like to discuss localization more generally.
Stumbling into global expansion
Few companies plan for global products or services at inception. This is understandable because successful businesses aggressively execute on a vision in a particular market. So product and service localization does not happen until some success has already been achieved.
If a company grows fast, or their product becomes a success only then does senior management realize they might have global opportunities. So most companies stumble into localization and globalization as a way to grow market share and drive further success of their products.
Localization as holistic rather than atomistic
Trying to find ROI on localization investment that shows a direct correlation between a localized product or service and its success in a new market is difficult. There are just too many factors that contribute to success in new markets. Thus it is difficult to prove causality between localization and global sales. But marketing and sales teams do gather data that shows that localized versions of the product do help to increase the sales and brand awareness even if direct causality is difficult to show.
When a company finally begins to localize their product, the process and the result is usually haphazard and undertaken with some doubt. As these companies localization processes mature, experts are hired and areas of focus are delineated. The localization gets split into marketing, UI, UX, and knowledgebase localization. The localization experts necessarily focus on optimizing their operational processes. The cost, time, and quality considerations are specific to projects in each area of focus. Unfortunately, localization practitioners are process oriented, and thus rarely do they offer cross-company vision or guidance on global launches. Thus few companies look at globalization efforts as part of a holistic effort to increase global brand awareness and revenue streams.
A holistic view as a new way to see localization
At Amazon I had the great fortune to work on a platform team that was a true cost center. Our goal was not top-line growth but bottom line savings. The team was small and had no business objectives other than optimization. The team owned the tools for localization and we had to figure out a way to make localization accessible across hundreds of business cases while providing an infrastructure for teams that had little to no experience in localization. Localization for these teams was a means to end. They needed to launch internationally and language was a necessary part of that.
I struck on the idea of creating a business infrastructure to support their needs, just as the technical team was tasked with creating a technology infrastructure. As I built that business infrastructure, a whole new view of localization emerged. I began to grapple with how a company should design itself for globalization and localization and the pitfalls of not doing so. Some of the questions I struggled to answer were:
- What are the tax and finance implications of localization?
- Does your company need to worry about which entities books costs and revenue from localized content?
- How do you optimize cost, time, and quality in diverse use cases?
- How do you build reusable technical and business infrastructure to reduce the effort for business teams to launch internationally?
- How do you optimize localization processes for a decentralized and siloed organization?
- How do you create and manage a vendor pool when you don’t own the budget?
- How do you leverage a vendor pool to lower your whole enterprise’s spend for localization work?
- How do you manage localization quality across a vendor pool when there are so many use cases and quality expectations?
- How do you create a quality program that doesn’t incentivize reviewers to find errors?
- What use cases are best for machine translation and how do you manage post-editing across hundreds of teams and use cases?
- Should freelance translators, agencies, or in-house linguists be used for work?
- How do you support all of these use cases?
- How do you avoid issues with worker misclassification if you hire translators?
- What role does terminology play in an overall organization localization strategy?
- How do you have conversations with your management about the vital role localization plays?
- How do you make localization and internationalization part of the product and marketing design?
I’ll dedicate posts to many of these questions going forward but before diving in I wanted to provide a post with an overview of the field. I will follow this with an overview of each section of whole enterprise localization design.