Could Going Hybrid Be the Future of Enterprise Localization?

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Most of us in the language and globalization industry are painfully aware that localization isn’t attributed the value it should. When looking at the client side, this becomes even more apparent. Even though many companies want and need to be successful outside of their home markets, they fail to see localization as a key enabler of that success. Unlike marketing or engineering, for example, which are typically handled in-house, many companies rely solely on external support when it comes to localization, placing these activities in the hands of Language Service Providers (LSPs). And in many cases the provider will be chosen based on price alone, so the lower bidder wins the contract.

For most companies, this model may be working about fine, so they don’t question the need to change it. And adding linguists to their internal teams is often considered as too much work, too expensive, or just not worth it, because organizations don’t see the advantage they can bring.

Having been in both situations in my professional life – working as an external linguistic lead for a major product brand through an LSP, as well as being an internal Language Manager on the client side – I have seen the benefits of the in-house model and the potential pitfalls of relying on external resources. If you are facing a similar decision in your position, I hope I can help you jumpstart your thought process by taking a closer look at some of the benefits of adopting a partial or full in-house localization delivery model.

Please note: This article and my observations are not meant to be a bashing of LSPs. Quite on the contrary: There are many outstanding LSPs out there that are great partners to their clients. LSPs play an important role in supporting the localization efforts of organizations around the world. As translation volumes increase, most companies couldn’t achieve their goals without the help of LSPs.

Knowledge makes for quality

Regardless of the business unit, employees know the company, its values, and its mission. They know the products and how they work. They know the brand voice, the message, and the company-specific terminology. They have it all down cold, and they are experts on company matters. This knowledge is power and an inside track to higher quality. With all this company-specific expertise under their belt, in-house linguists produce better and more accurate translations that are consistent with the company’s brand and messaging. Which, in turn, improves the brand experience for customers and audiences.

Of course, that’s not to say that LSPs don’t provide quality work! But for them to achieve the same level of familiarity as internal teams requires lots of training and feedback from the client. And, let’s be honest here, most companies don’t have the time to train their external teams. Ultimately, we all just want turnkey solutions.

What’s more, LSPs don’t always have dedicated localizers working on the same account all the time. They frequently assign projects to freelance resources based on availability, workload, and, very often, price considerations. This means that the job might not necessarily go to the localizer who is most familiar with a brand or subject matter but to the one who just happens to be available and/or who is cheaper than someone else. This practice increases the margin for the LSP, but it can affect the quality of the final translation for the client company.

Flexibility, agility, and quick turnaround

More than ever before, speed is the name of the game for most companies (generative AI, anyone?). Localization needs to be just as agile and flexible as the company itself. That’s exactly what an in-house model delivers: In-house linguistic teams can respond quickly, prioritize urgent tasks, and deliver fast turnaround. And instead of asking the French-speaking engineer or marketing manager to translate a catchy tagline into French because it’s only seven words and you need it urgently, you can rely on the linguistic experts to do the job.

LSPs can’t offer that same level of agility. Even if they are quick to react, delays are inevitable. Let’s look at a typical scenario: Assume an urgent seven-word tagline is needed in nine other languages in addition to French. Without an in-house team, the client will send it out to vendors who will provide quotes, most likely with a rush fee to reflect the urgency. Maybe the quotes need to be approved first before the LSP can send the request to the translators. (Of course, it is possible to automate these activities to a certain extent, but it’s costly to develop and implement such custom solutions. As a result, they’re often not (yet) an option for most companies.)

Depending on the availability of translators, it may take a day or two to get that tagline back into all languages. Mission accomplished. A translation exists but a lot of time was lost along the way. On top of that, the client can’t be 100% sure that the translated line is in line with their brand messaging as we saw when we talked about the quality aspect.

Cost savings

It may seem counterintuitive at first that having more people on the payroll could save you money. Undoubtedly, there’s a higher initial cost to hiring in-house linguists. But that cost is generally not an issue when it comes to software engineers, content managers or marketing specialists, so why should it be for linguists?

When doing the math, an in-house model often turns out more cost-effective than relying solely on external service providers, especially when there’s a significant need for language services within a company. With in-house linguistic teams, companies can avoid paying project management charges and rush fees to LSPs, thus saving the cost of the profit margin that agencies collect.

Knowing the brand and the company to a T, in-house linguists can focus on high-value tasks, working on content where quality matters most. More often than not, this content is critical to reaching and engaging customers in a meaningful and authentic way, helping to build pipeline. And that growing pipeline essentially translates into revenue impact.
Security and compliance

Companies usually follow strict security and compliance policies. They may enforce encryption, secure data sharing, and protocols that internal employees must follow when handling sensitive or confidential content. But how do LSPs and the freelancers they use for translation handle such sensitive data? That’s where it gets tricky. Even if your LSP is as diligent as you are, has read and acknowledged the security procedures, has signed non-disclosure agreements, and doesn’t send out a confidential project on new weapon technology to an open mailing list of all their freelancers (nope, I’m not making this up!), there are still risks at the end of the chain – whether it’s not protecting screens from shoulder-surfing when working in a café, or not having a strict password policy, to name just two examples

And how do you deal with highly sensitive information that must be kept confidential until a new product is officially launched or until that information is released to the public? Companies can hardly fly in all the external translators on site and lock them up in a room to work on this confidential content to ensure that no word gets out beforehand. It seems like in-house linguists are the perfect solution to this conundrum.

Communication and relationships

Communication and relationships matter. Having a direct connection within the company, internal linguists build bridges. In addition to their linguistic work, they can communicate with other departments, making it easier for them to understand language needs, address issues, and resolve problems. Working closely with their target language field teams, they forge alliances and provide linguistic and cultural expertise to support go-to-market initiatives in the regions. As strategic business partners, they not only strengthen in-country operations, but also act as internal advocates for global language operations and the work the localization teams.

A matter of trust and transparency

Trust is the ultimate currency in business, especially when working with external partners.

Not all LSPs are created equal. While there are many trustworthy and reliable partners, there are also some bad apples that abuse the relationship to their advantage. Because they’re not localization experts, companies often can’t tell whether a vendor is delivering on its promises. Enter in-house linguists. With their expertise and background knowledge, they can determine whether an LSP is a good partner, and they can advise on standard practices and procedures.

By using in-house linguists, companies get to choose who works on their translations. This isn’t always the case when working with an LSP. I have already touched on the availability and price wars in translator selection. This practice often means that client companies have little or no say in who performs their translations. In-house linguists might help to solve this problem. And if this internal route is not an option, you can try to establish relationships with freelancers to serve as lead linguists for key languages. This approach works well for us at Coupa, for example.

Mix ‘n’ match is the way to go

The call for in-house linguists is not a call to get rid of LSPs. Instead, think of it as a call to mix and match. Just like finding your favorite candy in the candy store, companies need to take advantage of the benefits of both models and find the combination of internal resources and external vendors that works best for their specific needs.

Do you want to use in-house linguists for highly visible marketing and branded content, while outsourcing software localization to a vendor? Handle the software part in-house and use a specialized transcreation vendor for marketing needs? Or focus on the work for priority 1 languages in-house and work with an LSP for long-tail languages? The choice is yours – find what works for you.

This hybrid approach, which allows both client companies and LSPs to focus on their strengths, combines the best of both worlds to create a sustainable and effective strategy for global language operations.

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Ramona Wuehle

Localization is my middle name. :) I'm a self-professed word nerd, language geek and typo hunter. I have been working in translation and localization for 20 years, both on the LSP and on the client side. Currently I'm the Language Manager DACH at Coupa and in that role in charge of providing better content for the German-speaking markets. I'm based in Stuttgart, Germany, wishing it was Berlin or Brussels. Might move there should I win the lottery. :) But even then I'd still want to work in localization.