Localization goes beyond language

Most internet services are in English. But according to research people prefer services in their native language, and the majority of people in the world are not native English speakers.
There are also a lot of success stories, when a company has taken e.g. an American concept and launched a localized version of it to create a popular local service. The Samwer brothers from Germany are particularly famous in this concept. Localization is a challenge and opportunities for companies that offer international Internet and mobile services.
Localization might be one of the biggest under-utilized business opportunities, when the Internet and mobile services become part of our life everywhere. And it is also an opportunity for telcos and hosting providers with localization partners.
Localization doesn’t only refer to using a local language. It can also mean modifications to the user interface, processes and partner services. However, languages are an important part of the localization. There are several machine translation services, such as Google Translate, which is also included in the browser Chrome. These typically help users or readers to understand the content to a certain point, but they are not adequate to offer a real local service.
A local language version doesn’t only require translation; actually the translation can only be a small part of the work. The whole service and software must be designed so that it supports several languages.
A significant part of the work is software updates and maintenance. If you implement new features or make changes for an app or service, you must take care of all language versions and keep them synchronized. It is also important to find the right tools and processes to make this work, e.g. it doesn’t make sense that all language versions, text updates and typo corrections require time from software engineers and a new software release, when this work can be isolated with dedicated processes for its own professionals in separate databases and tools.
Nowadays even a small company can offer an internet service or mobile app globally. Localization is often a barrier to attract business globally. That’s why we also see new models to make localization easier.
There are hot Silicon Valley based startups like Gengo and Lost in Translations Inc., and larger companies like SDL that are working in the area with their own focus. They offer different components like translation services with different service levels, or easy ways to make and maintain localized software. Some of them focus more on larger software packages, and some on the cloud, mobile app and SME segments.
Localization is also a business opportunity for local telcos, ISPs and cloud service providers. They could, for example, work together with those localization solution companies. Already several service providers want to have locally hosted services or at least a cache around the world to guarantee better service quality (e.g. access time).
These companies could partner with the localization companies, and they could together offer packages that make it easy also for small and medium size companies to localize their service, maintain the software, host it locally and find local partners if needed.
It has been tough for many telcos, mobile operators and ISPs to offer their own services and fight against the big internet giants. The localization business is another way to approach this. It can be a way to work with global Internet and mobile app services, and enable smaller companies to become rapidly global.
Nowadays it doesn’t make sense to do all this alone, but find the right model to work together with other companies that have already existing localization solutions, and then add additional components to the package and through partnership offer more value to clients.
Jouko Ahvenainen is serial-entrepreneur and co-founder of Grow VC Group (growvc.com), a new funding solution. In the 1990s Jouko worked for Nokia in Europe and Asia, and then lead the 3G practice at Capgemini globally. The last 12 years Jouko has been an entrepreneur and investor.