Writing, speaking, and translating the future

The Back Office of Localization

The Back Office of Localization 1

The necessary infrastructure

So if localization production is the tip of the iceberg in Whole Enterprise Localization design what is beneath the surface?  I’d argue that the next most important element is the back office operations. To scale, and to continually meet the needs of an enterprise, the localization team has to have relationships  and clear processes within the mechanisms of the enterprise. Rarely is this seen as the purview of localization teams and it the reason that they are not a C-level concern.

Information security, finance, tax, and legal operations must be fully developed to ensure scale and to unify disparate localization processes.

Back Office

Everything that follows I’d classify as back office operations. These are pieces of the whole enterprise localization design that will continually make you the easiest route to localize content thereby making you the “go to route” in siloed enterprises. If you are already the “central localization group” then these back office components will speed your work, give you a way to test pilot new ideas and services, and help you gather metrics to show the value of your operations to the senior management.


Tax operations will be key to your success in designing for the whole enterprise. Channel your inner economist if you want to succeed.


Entity decisions must be made with the help of the tax teams. Which entity should an enterprise book the costs of localization and the revenue from localized products?  If an enterprise chooses a single entity that is regional (e.g. US or UK operations) there are risks that content created and paid for under that entity can cause tax issues. It is illegal for one company entity to give content that was paid for free of charge to another entity.

Location of work

Another issue that often complicates tax matters is the sheer nature of localization work. One of the standard tax litmus tests is where the work was performed. For localization the answer is the work is performed everywhere. This is complicated with vendors since the work is often performed in one place but managed from another location. There are ways to solve this but you must work with finance, tax, and legal teams.

Managing freelance translators

It is even more complicated when the enterprise chooses to directly manage the work of freelancers.  Though vendors like Upwork do a good job of keeping the ICs at arm’s length for misclassification issues, there is still a very large overhead required to make managing 5, 10, or 100 freelancer translators work for your enterprise needs.  Even hiring translators as 1099 employees is a bit problematic. They are often producing content (product descriptions, copy and strings for your localized products) that are essential to your business in these markets. And if you have them do the content on a timeline and to the specifications you need, you are directing their work. Since there are all tests to identify misclassified workers it becomes difficult to argue they are not employees. Worker misclassification should be one of the many areas you gain expertise in if you want to own and manage the back office elements in whole enterprise localization.

IP or shared service

As localization scales within an enterprise and the costs skyrocket tax is faced with new dilemmas. Should localized content (especially content appearing in multiple entities or countries be considered IP?  It is a stretch to consider localized content as IP since the classification is reserved for creative work (though I’m sure some enterprises will try).  It is an enticing prospect because it allows an enterprise to use a cross-entity licensing model to share the costs of localized content through standard tax mechanisms. But since localized content is rarely original or subject to trademarking it is a bit of a stretch to try and use IP licensing payments to share the costs of localization.

Okay so we’ve established that localization is really a shared service that each entity needs to pay for there is a new conundrum: how does the localization group manage the metrics about localized content to help the tax team?  This is a long way from whether or not a translation is done on time.   It is a whole new area of enterprise metrics that localization teams must own to ensure the proper allocation mechanisms are used to keep the enterprise in compliance of tax laws.

Shared services work similar to janitorial services at an enterprise.  If an enterprise occupies an office building, but each floor is a separate entity of the enterprise then the shared service model mandates that each entity pay for their floor’s cleaning. Similar to this, if an enterprise has multiple business units but each uses the same localization team, who pays the salaries of the team and who pays for the content? It is an area worth examining especially as the costs get too large to bury in general operating budgets.

Reallocation required?

:It stands to reason the cost of the team and the cost of the content needs to be shared. Each entity will take a portion of the centralized localization team’s costs and the content used by each entity must be paid for by the entity. But if the content is reused by another entity within a reasonable timeframe (say a fiscal year) the costs of the localization must be split across the entities that leverage the cotent. This become an intercompany accounting and tax issue that whole enterprise localization design addresses, but most localization teams do not.

Inter-company accounting

The financial operations that large scale localization will create for your enterprise can only be solved by the inter-company accounting team. Find one of them, take her to lunch and come to an understanding of how to work together. Make sure she knows the role localization plays in your company’s global success and how it doesn’t easily fit their other tax models.

Reallocate based on tax guidelines

So the intercompany accounting team will be responsible for moving the money across the corporate entities, but once again the localization teams will play an essential role. At first when work begins a general account of which locales are translated is the easiest way to track costs, but over time, a much more complex accounting and tracking mechanism must be implemented. For example if your company reuses French for French Canadian  website, or if Turkish gets used to increase saturation on your German website, a simple accounting by locale will no longer be sufficient. And once again the localization team will have to work closely with these other teams to create a solution.


Contracts will be your life-blood and they are the easiest way to help show your team’s value and to test pilot ideas for your enterprise. Learn how to do them and be extremely responsive to your legal team because you will need their help.

Cross-entity contracts and global agreements

When addressing whole enterprise localization concerns even the contracts for the work are fraught with issues. You’ll need to work with your legal department to decide how to structure contracts in relation to the tax issues. For example there may me an umbrella entity that can be used for contracts that are leveraged by every enterprise entity or the contracts might need to include each entity for the contract to be valid for the work of each entity. This is especially important if the enterprise as a whole wants to create machine translation engines with their translation memories. If the content in the TMs is owned by separate entities this needs to be worked out before MT work is initiated, and depending on the enterprise’s complexity, it may require that the content is tagged and kept separate.

Global discounts?

Another consideration is to incentivize your vendors and freelancers. There should be a structure that helps them get more work and overall saves you money. A team can structure this across all work for the enterprise (in which case the contracts should be structured to do so) or the discounts and savings can be on a per entity level.

I’d recommend whole enterprise discounts and the loc team should gather entity level data on spends savings, and TM leverage. I’d also recommend teams try to get discounts for the work based on volumes or spend rather than generating discounts that are given back to the enterprise by the vendor. It is difficult enough to manage the spends for localization without also accepting and managing rebates from vendors.

Accounts Payable

Your legal work sets up the conceptual framework, but your AP team will be the lifeblood of your operations. Again, buy lunch for someone, explain the complexities, and find an internal champion or your efforts will be derailed by the process of setting up vendors, paying on time, or addressing internal AP processes.

Payment terms

Payment terms for vendors and freelancers will depend on your standard enterprise processes, but these should be part of the discount and incentive program you create by looking at localization as a key function of the enterprise.

PO processes

The PO process becomes very cumbersome when you do a lot of localization. Some loc teams decide to provide an open PO for the year to a vendor. This can be a problem if your company has tight financial controls or financial regulations. Other companies require initiating teams to approve every payment to the localization vendors. While still other companies pay localization charges on company credit cards to avoid finance issues altogether. As you scale your operation to hundreds of millions of words, payments can become one of the biggest time and money sinks for the work. There is risk of over-payment, non-paymen,t or violating spending and transaction policy due to the increase in payments and a distance between the initiator’s of work and the payer. There are many ways to address the problem but the localization teams need to help solve it or they are relinquishing control of negotiations to procurement teams thus limiting their power to influence the work they are responsible for carrying out.

Information security

Many companies require extensive infosec reviews of internal tools and external vendors. If a loc team takes on this work, they are again making inroads across the company that will be valuable as the work scales. There will usually be questionnaires and perhaps site visits by an internal information security team to a vendor. Whatever the process looks like, become helpful in getting it done, or this will be a major blocker to rollouts of new vendors and services for your enterprise and customer teams.

Customer Base

A central loc team (a platform or the companywide loc team centrally managing localization) has a few distinct customers besides the above stakeholders. It is important to consider them as work progresses to build back office support.  For whole enterprise localization it’s best to partner with these teams and push for evaluation of localization in all of documents and designs. If you do not, then your team will be continually the least informed and the easiest to blame for delayed launches and cost overruns.  But if you actively engage there are a plethora of new services and offerings your team can provide to make your team integral to all global launches, product design, and ongoing localizatio efforts.

Product and UX teams

The product and UX teams will need your services but not necessarily understand that localization is a prism for all of their work. Each locale will affect their product offering and design. And to make their products successful in these new markets the localization or globalization team should be a very close partner to help these teams understand how their offering changes in countries without debit cards, or where address input works differently from their design. Without your help these teams will assume that the localization process is a mechanical function of translation, and not a reinvention process of their whole product and their premises for the product.  Rarely is localization thought out by a product manager when they agree to expand their product scope from US, and UK to the US and the rest of the EU but if your team is there to help them succeed even when they have over-committed you will have champions amongst the product teams.

Content lifecycle owners

These customers may have many names (Knowledge Management, Technical Writers, Localization Team, Marketing, Growth Management, etc.). But their goal is to own the creation, revision, and deprecation of content that will be the main beneficiary of your localization production processes. These teams too will have preconceived notions that prevent from considering if their content is appropriate in new locales. And many of these teams won’t have processes implemented for consistency in the source locale, so your role will be to help them understand how the localization processes affects the content, form, and consistency of their content across markets. More advanced teams may depend on DITA or some other form of structured authoring, so you will need to delve into their CMS tools and help them understand how to reconfigure these tools for multilingual development.

Development teams

Your role in working with development teams will be as the voice of the non-native customer.  This means helping developers understand pseudo-localization, internationalization, code freezes for localization, and UI design for mirroring, text expansion, and even ordering for lists. Most university computer science degree programs do not cover internationalization, character encoding for unicode characters, or Input method editors. Yes this too goes far beyond the localization process, but if you don’t help address the issue you will be asked to find the work around that will become standard operating procedure. There are so many ways to hack solutions to this problem, but all hacks will cause your team and the company extra work. It will also become the single point of failure for your systems at some point in the future as you try and scale for new countries.

Product or Service Sponsor

Your ultimate internal customer in agile parlance is the owner or sponsor. They will be farthest removed from understanding or caring about your arguments. So for this customer you need to expand your discussion to what it means for the success, cost, time, and longevity of the product or service.  Is the product destined to fail because you’re launching a dictionary without umlauts in Germany?  Is it a wishlist for a country that sees publicly requesting gifts as shameful? Is it a video product in a language no one speaks being released into a new market without subtitles?  To win influence and make friends, it is best to help your other customers make the case to the sponsor.  Remember the back office never takes the lap or waves the flag. But the kindness will be repaid when it is time to ask for a favor (and you will have to ask for many to make this work).

End Customer

Your true customer for all your work is the most removed from this process and the feedback loop. Internally you must be the voice of this customer. But you must accept that it is very difficult to get direct feedback from this customer. Customers often vote with their purchases or abandonment rates. If you receive any direct feedback it will be negative and that is feedback you should quickly heed. But the rest of the time you will adopt tools of marketers, product teams, and UX design teams to glean meaning from the customer actions that rarely illustrate causal relationship.

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