Buying Maturity in Localization
By: Bert Esselink (Lionbridge Technologies) - Lionbridge Technologies, Inc.
06 December 2006
Since the early days of localization many buzzwords have come in and out of fashion. For example, "web globalization" and "global content management" have become the pet topics for pretty much every industry conference speaker over the past few years. However, fairly recently a new term and concept has popped up: "maturity. "
The first time I heard about maturity models was when Lionbridge acquired an organization in India that was operating under CMM Level 5 certification. CMM, I learned, stands for Capability Maturity Model and is a framework that describes how organizations define and refine their key process areas. The framework, developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, defines five different levels of process maturity, of which Level 5 (“optimizing") is the highest achievable level. Companies operating at Level 5 continuously strive to improve and optimize existing practices and processes. CMM has been superseded by the even more comprehensive Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) framework.
Several years ago the first link between the concept of "maturity” and the localization industry was made. I remember that the organizers of a ClientSideNews (CSN) event in New Orleans in 2005 distinguished four levels of maturities on the buyer side of localization: Level 1 (New to localization), Level 2 (As a primary responsibility of their jobs), Level 3 (More than one person working on localization within their organizations), and Level 4 (Most sophisticated). The levels defined by CSN were clearly based on the perspective of organizations implementing and requiring localization, not necessarily those supplying localization services.
At the CSN conference in New Orleans in March 2005, I referenced this model and claimed that levels of maturity on the demand side of the localization industry should probably not be measured by number of people focusing on localization or their depth of knowledge about the subject. In a world where localization is largely outsourced, the maturity of a buyer of localization should be measured by the way in which localization and related services are procured and then outsourced. In New Orleans I concluded the presentation with a very basic question: "What is the ultimate goal: to mature in localization, or to mature in buying managed services?” In other words: shouldn’t organizations buying localization services rely more on the knowledge of those providing these services?
This summer, Common Sense Advisory published a report with their thoughts on maturity in localization and branded it the Localization Maturity Model 1.0. I was hoping it would be a model for the suppliers of localization services but instead the report turned out to be a new model to measure the maturity of those buying and implementing localization services, e.g. a software publisher who needs to localize its products for international markets. The report is a very interesting read, packed with examples, best practices and pitfalls that are well known to everyone who has been involved in localization. Common Sense Advisory's maturity model claims that suppliers can learn from the various levels to tailor their offerings, which is a valuable concept. It goes without saying that a company that has localized or outsourced localization for many years requires a different level and type of service than an organization that is only just getting started with international expansion.
There are five distinct levels in the Localization Maturity Model: reactive, repeatable, managed, optimized and transparent... with reactive being the most "immature" and transparent the most mature level. The reactive type of localization customers suddenly find themselves faced with the need to localize and need to start from scratch for their global releases. For the transparent ones there are no secrets to localization; internationalization and localization is fully entrenched in their organization and development processes. According to the report, very few organizations, with the exception of high-tech software and hardware vendors, reach this level of maturity.
The Localization Maturity Model does refer to localization buying practices but doesn’t provide many practical tips for those procuring localization services in an outsourced model. With regards to maturity in buying localization services here are five areas in which mature buyers can differentiate themselves:
- Buy strategically. Especially when moving towards a business process outsourcing model where your localization vendor is on the critical path of your international product releases, it is essential to clearly define service levels, deliverables, performance metrics, and escalation paths. Considering release cycles both for content and software have become continuous rather than periodic it is essential to have a stable and localization solution in place.
- Buy centrally. Consider which other departments in your organization need translation, localization or related services and bring them on-board; higher volumes means increased buying power. Buyers are often struggling to identify all the pockets of localization and translation that are happening in their organization. Once all activities have been identified and mapped out a business case must be made to show how much money and time can be saved by centrally outsourcing localization and translation.
- Buy specifically. The better you identify your requirements, objectives, and performance indicators, the better vendor offerings will be tailored to your business. Make sure to correspond and agree with your vendors how their offerings will be evaluated and how their performance will be measured.
- Buy safely. Make sure that your vendor is financially stable, operationally scalable, and implement a backup plan or select a backup vendor. Rather than just a sample translation, a proof of concept or pilot project will provide you with good insight in what to expect from the supplier.
- Buy maturity. Expect your vendor to work on optimizing processes or technologies to reduce time and costs. Professional vendors will proactively share localization best practices and process improvements with their customers.
The whole issue of maturity in buying localization and translation services continues to intrigue me, especially because I have been on the receiving end of an endless number of RFPs and customer requests. It is amazing how little has been done, both from the supplier and from the buyer side, to establish some kind of standards for procuring translation services. Even very basic questions like, "What is included in a word rate?" and “What are common productivity metrics in engineering tasks?” still differ from client to client and from supplier to supplier.
One can only hope that future releases of the Localization Maturity Model will define some best practices or maybe even standards for localization procurement, so that vendors start speaking the same language and buyers can compare apples to apples.
Bert Esselink has been active in localization since the early 1990s. He has worked as a project manager, engineering manager, and solutions architect for multi-language vendors. His book A Practical Guide to Localization was published in 2000 and is used widely throughout the industry and translation education. Bert currently works in business development for Lionbridge in the Netherlands.