Our readers are familiar with language afterthought syndrome, a term we coined in our report on Multilingual Product Content: Transforming Traditional Practices Into Global Content Value Chains.

Language afterhought syndrome refers to that pattern of treating language requirements as secondary considerations within content strategies and solutions. Global companes leak money and opportunity by failing to address language issues as integral to end-to-end solutions rather than ancillary post-processes. Examples abound. Source and translated content that should be reusable, but isn’t. Retrofitting content to meet regulatory requirments in different regions. Lost revenue because product and marketing content isn’t ready at launch time. Desktop publishing costs that are incurred soley due to reformatting in multiple languages. The list goes on and on.

One of the most effective defenses against language afterthought syndrome is baking language requirements into the technology acquisition process, thereby embedding support into the infrastructure as it’s designed, developed, and built out. OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) recognized this opportunity when it embarked on an ambitious transformation of its web content globalization practices. Debra Lewis, web content manager at OCLC, and our friend Andrew Lawless, principal at Dig-IT Consulting, shared their experiences in a terrific session at Gilbane Boson 2010 entitled “Next Thing You Know — You’re Global!”

The presentation delivered by Deb and Andrew is available on the Gilbane conference website (follow the link and click on slides for session E3) . Highlights include Deb’s characterization of the signs of stress. On the production side:

  • Spend more time finding “creative solutions” than creating new content or managing site strategy
  • Use features of your CMS in ways not originally intended
  • Can’t upgrade to new releases without corrupting your pages

On the business side:

  • Localization addressed at the point of publication
  • Turnaround for day-to-day edits increases—affects relationships with internal clients
  • Distributed authors “give up” and relinquish editing rights
  • Team stress increases

These stress points led OCLC to commit resources to evolving its global web content strategy.  Deb and Andrew then walked our audience through OCLC’s three-phased transformation:

  1. Get a translation service provider
  2. Get a new CMS that would scale
  3. Get a translation management system

The portion of the presentation on selecting a web CMS with well-defined multilingual requirements will be especially valuable to any organization wanting to eliminate the negative impacts of language afterthought syndrome. Deb and Andrew described OCLC’s selection process and timeline, CMS selection criteria, prioritized globalization features, key standards that would need to be supported, text and language requirements, and requirements for integration with translation workflows.

Many global companies are now rearchitecting their web strategies for global presence and audience engagement. We see this as a major technology and investment trend for 2011. The insight offered by OCLC couldn’t be more timely.The organization’s experience offers a treasure trove of guidance for companies who are evaluating new web content management systems with language requirements among their priorities.

Thanks to Deb and Andrew for a great contribution to Gilbane Boston.

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