Translation: A critical component of globalization

Executive summary

Translation is one of the critical components of the overall user experience. It should be considered indispensable to the core business of a global company for a variety of reasons:

The transmittal of up-to-date, clear, meaningful, easily understood messages and in the native language is one of the key elements of success. The availability of multi-lingual marketing, technical and legal information is often perceived as a barometer of a company's commitment to the international audience. It is an important factor in purchasing decision making in today's global, dynamic and highly competitive market place.

Multicultural support in software is no longer a luxury but an absolute necessity and a winning differentiator, especially in highly competitive situations. Help screens, online prompts, pull down menus and pervasive device displays mandate availability in the native/local language.

To fully exploit the ubiquitous reach of the web and opportunities offered by it, the multilingual audience must be able to read and review information about a company and its services as well as conduct e-commerce in their native language.

Translation is not a single, discrete step, but a process. The optimization of this process requires a well thought out strategy that takes full advantage of automation based on state of the art tools, technology and related processes as well trained and experienced people. In addition, there are a number of steps that can be taken to increase the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the process. For optimal results, translation should not be treated as a 'bolt on', but an integral part of the overall product development and 'go to market' plan. This is one of the necessary and sufficient conditions for a global company to move its business forward in all the competing markets. The sooner a company recognizes this reality, the better it is.

Language translation

It is not practical to translate everything into all the world languages. At IBM the Globalization Team is responsible for determining the languages to be translated and the parts of a solution or on demand applications to be translated for each language.

You will find a list of languages supported in the ”Language support for IBM products” application.

Translation decisions are driven by market requirements, the audience and the solutions are targeted.

Unless translation is a core business competency in your company or organization, translation services are commonly sub-contracted to external vendors. Choosing translation service providers can be a daunting task as the worldwide market is very fragmented. But the choice will eventually be driven by costs, turn around time, quality, domain expertise and languages supported. As an example, although translation is not a core IBM business competency, the IBM Translation Services Centers are managing the overall process for IBM and provide translation into more than forty languages for software information (User interface, on-line documentation, etc …), product information (FAQ, White papers, technical information, etc…), web and multi-media contents.

A good translation process needs to be tuned, optimized and is continuously being improved upon as business requirements are evolving. It should take full advantage of automation and reuse of previous translations.


When developing a translation strategy, you may have to develop a set of activities and workflows to reach your goals and objectives. The workflow below (Figure 4) represents a typical translation process to translate and localize an e-business application, including web content.

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Of course, there is not a one-fit-all workflow, but rather a set of workflows customers can develop and customize to their needs. Many factors will drive the development of a translation workflow, such as "Is the translation managed internally or externally", "What tools are you going to use to support this activity" or simply what languages are you going to support and how are you going to validate the translation before rolling out an application or publishing content on the web. As an example, IBM developed a set of workflows and activities (see below) catered to the type of translation required by its business units.

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