Localization – So Much More Than Translation
I find that whenever someone refers to software localization, the first topic mentioned is always translation. Perhaps this is because language is the most obvious factor when you need to communicate with people in different countries. Translation is now very well understood and there are many tools available to help simplify and automate the process.
The second most common topic is formatting – displaying (and accepting) data in a way that the consumer expects, be that dates, numbers, times, names etc. Again the topic is well understood and indeed many of the capabilities are built into the infrastructure that we use to build software – the operating system, database management system, programming languages, and web browsers for example.
What is far less often talked about, and less universally understood, is what I refer to as the business factor: despite the globalization of business over the past 50 years, every country remains unique with its own sets of legal rules, business practices, and of course culture. To operate successfully in any particular country, your solution must recognize those local requirements and so be adapted accordingly.
“despite the globalization of business over the past 50 years, every country remains unique with its own sets of legal rules, business practices, and of course culture”
In this post I will look at some of the most important topics in this area and how they impact your localization plans.
Security and Privacy
Not a day passes when there is not a news headline about a major cyber attack, data breach, or concerns about data privacy. Governments around the world respond to these threats in different ways and impose different requirements. A good example is that of data residency. Although the SaaS model of computing has one of its key benefits as data storage ‘in the cloud’ accessible from anywhere, many jurisdictions are legislating that personal data must be hosted within the country or region of the subject. This is partly as a result of differing levels of privacy protection around the world. The ongoing discussions surrounding data sharing between the US and the European Union continue to keep Chief Information and Security Officers awake at night. One result of the data residency challenge is that you might be forced to host your application in multiple locations and develop additional capabilities to enable consolidated reporting across multiple instances.
Local Business Norms
An often-touted advantage for a multi-national corporation of implementing a single business solution across multiple countries is to be able to support a common set of business processes across them. However, the reality is that either because of local regulations, or long-standing common practices, some processes can be significantly different from country to country. As an example from the realm of workforce management, in many places overtime worked by an employee is approved after the event by the employee’s manager. But in Germany, and some other countries, the overtime must be formally requested in advance by the manager and approved, again in advance, by both human resources and the Works Council (Union). If your software has been built to support the former process, and you show up in Germany without having added the additional capabilities (or at least have them on your roadmap) you will be in trouble.
Most enterprise applications do not operate in isolation and are usually integrated with complementary applications from other vendors. You may have formal partnerships with some of those vendors in your home country. But if you are now expanding overseas, do those partners conduct business in your target markets or will you have to find new partners and invest in integration to their product? Even if you integrate with a ‘global’ product, that product might not be available in some countries. A good example is provided by the social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all of which are banned from operating in China. So if your application relies on having a social media connection you would have to consider a local solution – but that can bring additional challenges as most security experts warn Western companies to stay away from Chinese social media apps such as WeChat due to concerns with their security.
Certification / Compliance
Depending on the nature of your solution and your target market, you may need to have the product certified by local authorities before you can sell and implement in that market. And of course, the certification process will vary around the world and can involve considerable expense. For example, if you wish to sell your cloud software offering to the US federal government or any of its agencies you must achieve FedRAMP certification which can cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Accessibility is another area of compliance that you should consider. Best practice is to build your software to adhere to the WCAG 2.1 guidelines as most countries are now using that as their standard. But you should check for any additional requirements – for example, UK public sector websites and apps must publish an accessibility statement that explains how accessible the website or mobile app is.
In this post I have looked at some of the factors that must be considered when localizing software applications beyond translation and formatting, but the list is not exhaustive. User adoption is the most significant success factor for a software company and so it is imperative that these topics are considered from the moment that the decision is made to expand overseas.