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Localization Maturity Model

By: Don DePalma (Common Sense Advisory) - CSA Research


30 November 2006

Localization is the process of adapting websites, software, documentation, and other products to satisfy the needs and requirements of other markets or cultures. It is a black art to some companies, a well-defined process to others, and a continuing journey for most.

Many organizations will pass the same milestones on their way to localizing their wares or their communication channels. Common Sense Advisory decided that it was high time to document the organizational, process, and technology landmarks of localization so that companies new to the process can benefit from the experiences of those who preceded them.

From our many discussions and interviews over the past few years, we extracted the critical milestones for what we have named the “localization maturity model” (LMM). We took some guidance from the software industry’s capability maturity model (CMM), a reference model of accepted practices in the software engineering discipline. The CMM has been used for years by software development, system integrators, and information technology firms to improve and appraise their ability to perform the functions required in that arena.

The Five Levels of Localization Maturity

As we documented the behaviors, processes, and activities that constitute defined, managed, and repeatable best practices for localization, we found that most organizations pass through four stages of maturity before reaching the ideal process (see Figure 1). Companies will proceed through these LMM levels at different speeds, often finding themselves more advanced in one aspect than in others. Therefore, an organization could be at Level 3 when it comes to technology deployment, but Level 2 in terms of process isolation. We find such disparities all the time.

A summary of the five levels follows, with more detail available at Localization Maturity Model.

Figure 1: Phases of Localization Maturity Model (Source: Common Sense Advisory, Inc.)

  1. Reactive. An ad hoc response to business demands for international or domestic multicultural (also called “ethnic”) support characterizes this first phase of localization. There are few defined processes – and lots of individual heroics. Small companies, websites at any size firm, and self-contained business units of larger organizations typically find themselves at this level as they first begin responding to international market demands.
  2. Repeatable. In this discovery phase, companies establish basic project management processes to track cost, schedule, and functionality. External translation resources and engineering resources support the effort. Firms of any size that have undertaken some international product development, marketing, and website globalization fall into this category as they begin realizing how much work is involved in localization.
  3. Managed. Recognition of common problems drives efforts to document, standardize, integrate, and sometimes centralize localization projects across the firm. Ideally, all projects use an approved version of a corporate-standard process for localization. Larger firms – especially high-tech companies in software and hardware, consumer electronics, and automotive manufacturers – have generally reached this level.
  4. Optimized. At this stage companies take a more scientific approach, collecting detailed process, quality, and efficiency metrics. They begin requiring localization- and language-centric tools, both by their internal development groups and by their sourcing partners. Companies with highly evolved internal processes, a modern software infrastructure, a content management architecture, and experience in distributed authoring and product development will aim for this next level of localization maturity.
  5. Transparent. Companies in the final phase of the LMM have internalized the concept of localization so that it is a natural part of their code and content life cycles, business planning, quality management programs, and general outlook. They undertake a program of continuous process improvement in which they insert the globalization “gene” into every product, customer interaction, and employee. Some high-tech companies – Microsoft, Oracle, and Symantec among them – have evolved to this stage of awareness and practice, but we find few firms at this level of localization maturity. Of course, we regularly speak with language service providers and software vendors that paint a picture of this nirvana to their prospects and clients.

Localization Practice Can Also Be Immature

Localization should be an evolving, forward-moving process in a company, but some organizations are indifferent to or even hostile to the practice.

  • Level 0: negligent. This level includes companies that have not responded to signals for globalization. Not recognizing a need, they skip any systematic efforts to localize product, content, or websites.
  • Level -1: obstructive. Internal groups with already full agendas – website development, information technology (IT), marketing – may let process and budget stand in the way of reaction, thus impeding the long march to Level 5.
  • Level -2: contemptuous or scornful. While only xenophobes will mock the task of globalizing a business, it may be the case that someone tried it before, found the exercise difficult, and failed. They assume that their experience was representative and that newer initiatives will also fail.
  • Level -3: undermining or discouraging. This level of negative response is unusual, but we have seen it, typically in companies with strict budgetary control. The need to make an airtight business case combined with the absence of overwhelming return-on-investment data and little internal expertise eliminates any chance of undertaking globalization efforts.

In our report we describe the five positive levels of localization maturity with enough detail for practitioners to identify themselves in organizational, process, and technology terms. We also advise language service providers and globalization software vendors on how to best help their customers move through the model. In 2007 we will extend our research to include more metrics, costs, benefits, checklists, common errors, and an interactive assessment.

Don DePalma is the founder and chief research officer of the research and consulting firm Common Sense Advisory, and author of the premier book on business globalization Business Without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing.

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