The balancing act of localisation
Written by Ian Henderson, Founder & Chief Technical Officer, Rubric -global Language Service Provider, offering translation solutions to companies in the technology, marketing, media and publishing industries
The ROI calculation involves an inverse relationship between the size of the investment (roughly the sum of the cost of all languages that the material is translated into) and the resultant reach (in size of each additional language group).
If the cost of each new translation is roughly the same (barring cost of production and distribution of print publications), but some languages provide greater reach than others, it makes sense to translate into dominant languages first. When translating into a range of languages, ROI will become progressively less as languages are more marginal.
At the same time, volumes will increase (generally-speaking), affecting ROI. Each company will have a cut-off point. Initially, this may simply be influenced by affordability, but over time and with increasing in-country success, the formula will come into play.
Different for different businesses
ROI is further a function of the kind of industry you’re in. For example, an educational publisher has very different variables from a phone manufacturer.
If we assume that the fee for translating and typesetting a school book in any language is a fixed amount in the low thousands of Rands and the selling price in the low hundreds per copy, the payback calculation is in the tens of copies.
Huge volumes are not needed to justify either Afrikaans books or Tshivenda books as additional languages. The business is still printing and distributing the same number of books, whereas now they are available in more languages, not just English.
However, when translating a teacher’s guide, the cost can increase ten-fold or even considerably more, and with soaring costs greater volumes are needed.
With a consumer products company it is quite different. Whereas translation and typesetting costs can be roughly the same for product booklets as for educational material, extra languages may incur extra printing and distribution costs into new geographical terrain, making inclusive marketing less of a no-brainer.
More technology companies are avoiding print, as the cost of printing and distribution is huge compared to electronic delivery. However, this luxury is not an option for most schools in South Africa.
Different for different markets
Little is needed by way of localisation for a South African company moving into Namibia – where English is the official language despite being spoken as a first language by only 1 percent of Namibians. But in linguistically fragmented countries like Nigeria and Uganda (and South Africa), a more difficult situation presents itself.
When mobile operator Orange entered Uganda, the choice of local language fell on Luganda, the dominant language, despite being spoken by a third of the population, 10 million. As a first-choice alternative language the numbers justified the decision.
Even the same language might present difficulties. While it may not be viable to translate into different variants of Afrikaans, French as it is spoken in Canada is a more enticing option.
But Metropolitan French is understood by French Canadians, so French multinationals need not translate for local consumption, whereas French Canadian companies setting up in France will have to translate their wares. The same choice comes into the reckoning with Portuguese as it is spoken in Portugal, Angola and Brazil, and Zulu as it is spoken on the coast and in Jozi.
The problem of ROI is further complicated beyond translating static literature – if you’re going to translate product packaging or manuals or websites into a new language, you also need to avail yourself of the resources to provide customer service in that language.
Another issue is the proliferation of commercially translated languages in modern times, making the choice that much more of an enviable problem. At the height of Nokia’s dominance, its wares were marketed in 52 languages. Today, leading mobile vendors translate into 200 languages. How many languages are justified by your volumes?
What not to do
With such a wide choice, it would seem that market segmentation is the only way to predict viability of a service in a new language, but this is only affordable for companies with the clout of an MTN or Apple. It may not even yield reliable results – Steve Jobs called market segmentation a wasteful exercise, reportedly saying “it is not the consumers' job to know what they want.”
The only way to find out for sure is to test the waters first. The right language service provider can offer advice on which aspects of a content-rich product to translate to keep costs down, allowing projects to either fly with minimal input costs, or fail.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”