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Global Website Planner: Taking Global Local [Global Business magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Contributing Editor
Global Business magazine
December 1999

IN 1988, ROBERT SPRUNG GLIMPSED the future. He saw linguists, lots and lots of linguists. Demand was so high, in fact, that corporations were willing to pay top dollar for their services.

Anyone who remembers the translations industry a decade ago knows just how optimistic such a vision seemed. At the time, translation and interpretation services tended to be mom and pop operations, conjuring up images of tweed jackets, electric typewriters and long coffee breaks made even longer by lack of work.

But Sprung represented a new generation of translators, one accustomed to computers and word processing systems. And even though widespread use of the Internet lay years away, he was convinced computers would change the translations business. With that in mind, the Harvard grad, who boasted undergrad degrees in German and the Classics, and a masters in modern languages, founded Harvard Translations Inc. of Cambridge.

When the World Wide Web reached critical mass a few years back, Sprung’s vision reached full fruition seemingly overnight. This year, the 37-year-old employs 45 translators, and his company expects to generate close to $6 million in revenue, mainly from Fortune 1000 companies who pay Harvard Translations between $15,000 and $1 million to take their websites global. One recent customer was e-commerce pioneer FedEx, which hired the company to create its first websites in Spanish, French and Japanese.

“These are heady times for the language industry,” Sprung says. “Riding the wave of globalization, companies are finding that to sell beyond their borders, they must communicate in their customers’ languages.”

And since there are many languages around the world—and many more language combinations—there is little sign that the growth in Sprung’s business will do anything but accelerate in the years to come.

Second Place

In 2000, when the average company takes a glimpse at the future, chances are it will see markets, many markets. In fact, many e-com enabled companies will see so many potential markets that the world will indeed seem but a sale away.

The web, indeed, connects. And there is no shortage of figures that can be used to prod companies to spend vast sums now making their websites function in multiple languages and cultures.

Although English has long been the web’s lingua franca, that reality is changing quickly.
Consider these facts:

• The Localization Standards Industry Association (LISA) reports that in 1998 about 42% of online users 6 spoke a first language other than English. In 1999, that figure rose to 60%.

• Research by International Data Corp. (IDC) estimates that 24% of Internet commerce is conducted outside the United States, a figure expected to rise to 45% by 2002.

• Forrester Research studies show web surfers are three times more likely to buy when the offering is made in their native language.

The trouble arises when companies try to figure out exactly how to serve world markets with online materials—and back-end fulfillment strategies to make sure that products are delivered and all necessary support services are rendered.

Not even the largest part of traditional multinationals can serve all markets with their full array of products. To succeed and grow, most companies have found that resources must be focused on a few key markets.

Any global web strategy must therefore be closely tied to a company’s global growth strategy. The importance of this can hardly be overstated. For many firms, it is already becoming clear that their global Internet presence is becoming their central hub for global online business, and that in time it may well evolve into almost a core nervous system fro the entire company.

Potential pit falls and obstacles lie everywhere. Even some of the largest companies make multi-million dollar mistakes. Levis in November said it plans to get out of most sales direct to consumers, after failing to figure out how to fulfill orders quickly and efficiently.

In part, the costs are so high because each language set is very expensive. Harvard, for instance, charges up to $1 million for each installation. And a top-notch website only leads to expectations that fulfillment operations are equally developed, for all consumers in that language, which of course is a whole other financial issues.

Right Track

Web translation is not as easy to get right as may first appear.

The mail goal must always be accuracy, says Ralph Strozza, managing partner of InterPro Translation Solutions in Chicago. He co-founded the company in 1994, and says that before any company buys a translation service it needs to do plenty of prep work.

“A company is better off leaving its website in English rather than creating a quick and dirty localized version because it hasn’t budgeted correctly,” he says. “It’s difficult to overcome a first bad impression. Sometimes you don’t get a second chance.”

Strozza recommends the following:

• Hire experienced people to do the translating. This can be a staff employee, or a localization service provider to whom the project is being outsourced. But be sure the main person overseeing the job has the right language and marketing skills.

• Be committed to the project and allocate resources accordingly. A first-time localization effort is going to consume lots of time and money. Even if you hire a third party, you still must designate a staff contact who must be technically talented and familiar with the product, its architecture and the programming language in which it is written. Without this type of expertise, localization will take longer, and the risks for error will be infinitely higher.

• Be responsive to the translator’s questions, feedback, and suggestions. He or she has a wealth of knowledge. Take advantage of it.

• Be realistic. Your English language website was not developed in three days, so don’t expect the foreign language version to be. Depending upon which components are to be localized, a quality localization effort may take weeks, if not months.

• Know the costs beforehand, and budget accordingly. At Lernout & Hauspie (L&H), the leper, Belgium, translations firm that has emerged as one of the leaders in website localization, the average cost for translation is about $0.45 per word. Considering there are some 300 words on an average page and most websites contain several pages, the cost of even the most basic job adds up quickly, with $250,000 a commonly cited cost. To constantly update and maintain the site, L&H executives say the yearly fee can add another $25,000 per year to the total. Someone is buying the service, though. Last year L&H earned $211.6 million, devoting more than 1,000 human translators to website development.

Beyond the Sale

Getting the website translated and running is only the beginning, of course, says Bill McNutt, president of International Direct Marketing Consultants in Dallas.

“The piece companies most often overlook is the fulfillment backbone, and this is a mistake, because fulfillment is the critical component to a successful international online venture,” he says. “When people who live abroad go to purchase goods online, they expect U.S.-style service. Too often, consumers in foreign countries get frustrated because they get all the way to the bottom of an online order form and then find a line requesting a state to ship to, not a country. “That’s the first clue the foreign user has that shipping isn’t available to them. Yet they’ve already spent valuable time at the site. That doesn’t make for a happy customer.”

Perhaps the best solution for companies that don’t have strong fulfillment capabilities already, McNutt says, is to outsource the fulfillment portion of the e-commerce venture.
For this reason, third-party fulfillment has become one of the hottest areas in e-commerce in recent months. One of the newer offerings is ilink, a new product by Chicago’s TraffiCop, which combines cross-border shipping software with the services of Danzas, Hellman and USPS.

One company that has years in the business is ASD Systems of Dallas, which has set up the fulfillment process for the Sears.com website as well as the website for Metreon, the new Sony entertainment center in San Francisco, among others.

Norm Charney, president and CEO of ASD Systems, founded the fulfillment company three years ago. He had been in the mail order catalog business for 12 years prior as owner of Athletic Supply of Dallas that licensed sports merchandise catalogs for professional and collegiate sports leagues. After Charney sold that business in 1996, he took aim on creating a back-end and service solution for the e-commerce and catalog industries.

“Back office outsource providers like us offer systems and services that combine traditional order fulfillment techniques with highly specialized e-commerce software and services,” Charney says. “We not only have the systems needed to support and integrate the diverse back office functions, but we also can provide and manage fulfillment, customer support and payment processing.”

When looking for a fulfillment company for a website, Charney suggests choosing one that will:

• Perform and integrate online order routing, fulfillment, payment processing, customer support, inventory management and forecasting.

• Integrate multiple sales channels, including websites, catalogs and retail outlets.

• Distribute orders through a network of strategically located fulfillment centers and drop-ship vendors to reduce the time and cost of transit to the customer.

• Make it easy to grow the operation by integrating third-party vendors.

“Most companies equate e-commerce riches with pretty websites,” says Charney. “However, it’s what’s behind the website that determines the quality of the online shopping experience, and that keeps customers coming back.”


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.