XTM Insights

Three strategies to increase productivity for localization managers

Three strategies to increase productivity for localization managers
Three strategies to increase productivity for localization managers

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As a localization manager, you have probably asked yourself multiple times “How can I make this process more efficient?”. Realizing the potential for improvements is a great first step, sometimes processes can be so deeply ingrained that they are not evaluated often enough to realize that change can bring a lot of value. Having inefficient processes can impact meeting strategic goals. Here are three different strategies that you can implement to increase your localization program’s productivity and, as a result, turn it into a difference-maker in your organization’s overall business strategy.

What are the risks of an ineffective localization strategy?

The success of a company’s global content strategy depends on the success or failure of its localization program. Making sure that a localization program and its processes are efficient is one of the biggest challenges localization managers face, and its level of efficiency is directly related to the technology stack the program is using. Assessing inefficiency risk requires a deep dive into all the existing processes in which technology is involved and asking the following questions:

  • Is your technology stack enabling your program or holding it back?
  • Which tasks are being done manually and could they be automated?
  • Are you aware of the latest industry trends and approaches and how they could improve your strategy?

Answering these and related questions will give you a starting point to whether the localization program and strategy are inefficient and at what level: Low, Medium or High (see image box). The consequences of inefficiency will vary depending on your level, ranging from minor delays in the best of cases to delayed time-to-market and even damage to your brand image and reputation in the worst of cases.

A decade ago, the Localization Manager of a manufacturing company in the United States came to the realization that her localization program was not producing its expected results when she continuously started receiving negative feedback from customers, with comments such as “It doesn’t feel like it’s my product” or “You can tell it’s a US-based product.” The reason for this was because the content was not being properly localized for each market, and this was a direct result of the inefficiency of the program and its tools, resources and processes. She explained how “user experience is very important to us, but you can only deliver a good user experience if you have a good localization ecosystem.”

Customer dissatisfaction was the first obvious sign that there were issues within the program. From an internal point of view, duplication of work was another, since their whole localization process was decentralized and siloed teams were not communicating with each other. This didn’t just impact consistency in their brand message but also incurred additional costs, since the same content was being translated twice or more times when it could have been leveraged if translators had been using the same translation memory (TM). These issues once identified served as a turning point to carry out a complete overhaul of the company’s program and strategy. 

These are just some of the most common inefficiency risks companies can come across. However, with the hundreds of existing processes that can be part of a localization program, each company will have their own particular inefficiency risks, and assessing them will require a more in-depth exploration of each process. Below are three strategies that localization managers can undertake which will impact a wide range of different processes and can help make localization programs more efficient.

Identify an efficient technology stack for your program

The efficiency of a localization program is directly related to the technology stack it deploys. Localization expert Mikołaj Lauer explains a few of the basic requirements all localization technology should include: “The most basic characteristic it should have is that it needs to be web-based, since this eliminates all the access problems (e.g., licenses, device limitations) that come with desktop-based software. It should also allow different users to work simultaneously on it, as centralized platforms drive consistency, which reflects positively on quality and brand image.”

How can centralization have an impact on brand image? A centralized platform means that all teams involved in the end-to-end localization process are working together and not in siloes, removing the possibility of inconsistency in terminology, suppliers, and even objectives. Consistency in terminology thanks to centralized language assets (TM, term base, glossary), tone, voice, etc. allows for a higher quality of localized content and, as a result, improved brand image, since 64% of buyers value localized content and 87% of them would not buy from an English-only website, according to Forrester and CSA Research respectively.

Connectivity with external systems is also a must-have in your localization technology if you want an efficient localization strategy. Having your localization technology connected to your content repository of choice means that you won’t have to import and export your content manually, saving you a lot of time in the process, as we will see in more detail further below. Ensuring that your localization technology of choice has an integration with your content repository, whether that is for a CMS like Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore or WordPress; marketing automation like HubSpot or design tools like Figma or InDesign, will go a long way in making your program and strategy more efficient. The integration will remove many manual tasks, which will instead be carried out immediately and automatically, speeding up the delivery of localized content.

If you use multiple vendors as part of your localization process, you will need a technology that is vendor neutral. Vendor-neutral solutions give you the freedom to connect with any linguistic provider and allow you to choose the most cost-effective service whilst giving you the transparency to control every aspect of your localization process, no matter how many suppliers you have. This type of technology gives you the flexibility to increase or decrease your suppliers depending on your output volume. It can even help you optimize your supply chain. With a decentralized approach, if each team uses three or four different suppliers, your localization program could end up having over a dozen suppliers. By centralizing the activity thanks to the deployment of a TMS and leverage of the same language assets, this number of suppliers could be reduced to one per team, since thanks to TM leverage they will be able to use existing translations instead of having to re-translate the content again. This way, there will be no need to have as many suppliers, which also derives into smarter and centralized procurement processes.

Furthermore, some localization-technology solutions offer additional features which can be highly useful to optimize the program’s efficiency. The Content Operations Manager of a travel leisure company based in East Asia explains the importance and the benefits of transparency in a localization program: “Not having transparency, in the form of data visibility and access, was a particular challenge for us and our decentralized workforce. If we wanted to be able to give different groups of linguists a different task list, in-house translators didn’t have the visibility on projects assigned to external vendors and were not able to claim those projects for themselves. With a TMS, we have the transparency needed to allocate language resources with confidence and keep track of who is doing what.”

Key Insight

Centralization, vendor-neutrality, connectivity… These features used to be commodities just a handful of years ago in the localization industry, but now they are basic must-haves. Without them, it would be a huge challenge to meet the current demands of modern-day global content strategies. These are all efficient characteristics your technology should have, but the real game-changer is finding a technology that encompasses them all.

Explore which processes can be automated

Automation is a key feature in any efficient localization program since any automated process inherently removes manual tasks and consequently saves time. A first step when automating is finding out which processes you are currently doing manually or have some manual intervention. Once these have been identified, you need to see which ones can be automated and to what degree, and which can’t.  One way to do this is by listing all localization processes and workflows and categorizing by importance and perceived level of  inefficiency. This will give you a good  starting point. We have seen situations where over 500 work processes exist for global content, therefore grouping, classifying and prioritizing them are critical early steps.  

Automated processes can be applied from start to finish of the localization process. Each process has its own particular requirements, though, which means that even configuring these automated workflows takes time. However, translation management systems have different sets of workflows stored as templates as a standard feature, and when you create a project and apply one of these templates, all tasks are assigned automatically, saving you the effort of having to do so manually. Having these predefined features in your technology stack means you can also introduce a self-serving model in your localization program for further efficiency, allowing other teams in the organization to send translation requests without needing to interact directly with the localization team.

If your company starts to experience an increase in the demand for localized content, automated processes are particularly key. For example, a global US-based retail company enjoyed a sharp increase in demand for its products due to the meteoric rise of online shopping and the increase in popularity of digital channels. This resulted in its localization team experiencing a huge demand for its translation services. To be able to meet these requests, they needed to be able to scale, work more efficiently, reduce costs and leverage their resources as effectively as possible. 

Their Languages Technology Manager explains how “By implementing a Translation Management System we were able to introduce a self-serve model, harnessing automation workflows […] and we’ve been able to dramatically increase our output. We’re now producing ten times the volume of work we were seven years ago.” The localization team then implemented even more automation and efficiency in the system backend, focusing in particular on workflow templates. Now anyone in the company can request a translation or language service, select the relevant job type and a TMS workflow will automatically be selected that’s specific to the team requesting the job, with all assignees and stages already pre-populated.

The implementation of automated workflows has allowed other teams to get translations done faster and to a higher standard, and has meant staff spend less time on repetitive tasks as many of the setup and workflow progressing steps have already been automated.

Language Technologies Manager at a global retail company

Internal teams often come to us for advice on processes. Sometimes they say they want the same level of automation the localization team provides, but in other areas too. We’ve become a benchmark, and that’s always nice to hear.”

Language Technologies Manager at a global retail company

Advancements in localization technology have led to most translation management systems on the market today having machine translation (MT). Since this is now an industry standard, technology has shifted its focus on how to improve and make existing technology even smarter—and by extent more productive and efficient. With a translation management system that has MT, you can harness some of the more advanced technological features, such as natural language processing (NLP), artificial intelligence (AI) and neural fuzzy augmented (NFA), which allow you to retrieve more matches from your translation memory at a higher fuzzy rate and even detect non-translatable content to make the translation process more productive and cost efficient. 

This way, thanks to AI, what would have been no-match content because of a single word in the segment now becomes a high fuzzy match thanks to leveraging previous translations. Furthermore, with NFA, you can turn high-fuzzy matches into 100% matches thanks to increased TM leverage if the no-match word can be found in another TM entry. All of these processes reduce the need for human input and make the translation process much quicker.

Consider how a manufacturing company based in the US Midwest overcame the conondrum of increasing their translation output while still having to reduce their overall localization spend. On paper, it sounds like quite the challenge, so they tried to find ways to make their process even more efficient. They managed to find a solution by embracing new technology. They adopted an MT engine which provided NFA, and this solution allowed them to reduce the amount of human time needed for translation and review thanks to the reduced need for post-editing.

As a result, they have been able to obtain more productivity from their team thanks to the freed-up time and, as a result, reduce overall spend. The implementation of NFA in 2021 reduced the company’s human translation efforts by 31%, with the quality of machine translation improving by 100%. Furthermore, NFA has the potential to reduce meticulous editing even further by including 85-99% fuzzy matches. By extension, NFA-translated segments have the potential to increase machine translation by 129%.

Key Insight

Automation is a key driver in efficient localization because it frees up time for your human team, which they can use to come up with improvements for current processes and develop new, innovative ones. This optimization of your human team’s time is a key aspect in the progression of your content maturity level, which will greatly benefit your global content strategy and program as a whole.

Continuously expand your localization knowledge

It’s easy to get caught up in one’s work and all the ins and outs that go into a localization program’s day-to-day, but since localization is a fast-paced and ever-changing environment and the world of technology also advances at breakneck speed, it’s not hard to fall behind the industry trends if you are not actively keeping up to date with the latest releases and knowledge. This approach can affect the efficiency of your program, since you may not be aware of new features or technological developments which could be relevant and beneficial to your company.

As a Localization Manager, there are many events and services that you can sign up for that will allow you to stay at the avant-garde of the localization industry. Technology providers, software developers, specialist publications and research websites among others continuously host webinars or conferences presenting their products or analyzing existing ones in the market, and this is an excellent opportunity to learn about the latest and greatest new features and how you can leverage them for your own needs. The fact that many of these events are non-presential and can be attended online make them highly accessible, although attending in person offers many different benefits. 

For example, LocWorld, a bi-annual international conference for international business, translation, localization and global website management, is the ideal platform for localization managers to immerse themselves in a localization-focused environment. There they can network with their counterparts from other companies and exchange views and practices, learn about the latest industry trends and technologies presented by providers in conferences or at their stands, and even interact with them directly for guidance and support. For example, you can visit the stand of your technology provider and ask them any questions you may have about the use of your tool, request product demonstrations or even ask for guidance on what the next steps would be in specific changing circumstances for your organization. You can also speak to other customers of your localization technology to exchange any pain points and get to the bottom of existing issues much more quickly. The benefits are endless. 

However, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the amount of knowledge-building content that companies put out. Lauer explains how you can read between the lines: “If you see that a technology provider is regularly releasing updates to its features, such as its TMS or its connectors, this denotes its commitment to technological advancements and improvements.” In other words, if you see that a provider releases a new version of its product every quarter and one that releases one every year, this indicates that one of them is committed to constantly improving their product and implementing the latest features at the earliest possible moment while the other is not. Twelve months is a long time in localization technology and it’s better to implement new features progressively rather than all at once. 

Mikołaj Lauer, Xpert at XTM

It’s important that you read the change logs and release notes for each product, since these outline the novelties being released. You might identify some features that would be a great fit for your program that your tech stack doesn’t have. If your tech stack is behind your competitors’ in terms of features, this grants them a considerable advantage over you.”

Mikołaj Lauer, Xpert at XTM

Key Insight

Localization trends are in constant evolution and it’s important for localization managers to keep up with them. Otherwise, your program runs a serious risk of missing out on innovative opportunities that your competitors will surely seize, and thus obtain a competitive advantage over you. Sign up to conferences, webinars, newsletters and any other localization-related content made available to soak up all the latest novelties and trends – this way your program will never stagnate and your choices will always be based on first-hand, well-informed decisions.

Perhaps these strategies do not sound like anything new, but there is a considerable stretch between awareness and implementation. Implementing changes to a program which is seemingly well-oiled is never an easy thing, but in the same way that localization never stops changing, localization programs should never stop evolving. These three strategies will increase your program’s efficiency, but the approach of identifying, exploring and expanding can also be transferred to all your existing processes. Doing this on a regular basis, no matter how well your program is doing, will help maintain high productivity levels in all localization processes, and this approach to consistently seeking improved productivity and efficiency is what will allow your program to be dynamic and ready for any challenges that come in the future.

Aleix Gwilliam

AuthorAleix Gwilliam