What’s core to your business?

* Outsourcing non-core work

One of the most contentious points about outsourcing can be the debate over which functions are core and which are non-core and therefore good candidates to be outsourced. Some functions are so obviously non-core that most companies go straight to finding a vendor without debating whether the function should stay in-house. One such function is translation services.

When localizing an application, most companies will have an outside service assist with the translation of screens, error messages and documentation. However, is translation the only non-core function or is the entire process of localization a good candidate to be outsourced?

An independent software company (ISV) or the in-house development team for a proprietary enterprise software application has software development as its core function. Making the coding changes to support an alternate language, once the translation has been done, could be thought of as a core function. However, if you think of core as supporting the business needs by developing new features at the core of the application, it is not really a good use of business process knowledgeable engineers to do the localization work. This is something that could be more efficiently handled by a team of specialists, allowing the application team to focus on the next release rather than the next geography.

The big boys use Lionbridge for much of their localization work. Microsoft, Nokia and Sony Erickson are customers. With 4,000 employees in 25 countries and the ability to handle localization in 60 languages, Lionbridge is the largest provider of localization services. It also provides outsourced quality assurance testing through its Veritest division as well as application development for both enterprise and ISV clients. Lionbridge recently opened a new office in Shanghai, China and expanded offices in India and Eastern European countries.

Lionbridge is not just applying competent resources to localization projects; it has developed specific intellectual property for the process and systems it uses to localize applications. This means it can be far more efficient than any organization doing the same work in-house.

As CEO of a software company prior to joining EMA, I had an application that was used in two languages in Canada as well as in Sweden. We did the work in-house as we built the application from day one to be localized easily, as was required in our market. We did send out the actual translation work. By building the application to be easily localized, we had abstracted the UI and error messages from the core functions and could easily apply a new language set to the application. But this took significant work to plan and was built into the architecture from the very beginning.

I would not have considered doing the localization work in-house if we were trying to retrofit an existing application. Also, we did not have the architecture set up for double byte characters (for those unfamiliar with the issue, certain language with special characters use two bytes rather than one to represent characters). So when we faced making that localization we planned to go outside to a full-service provider rather than work it out in-house.

Outsourcing non-core functions is a good business decision because you can engage specialists with focused resources, great experience, specialized technology and the scale that brings efficiency in a way that cannot be done in-house. In fact, a good test to determine if a function is core or non-core might be to look at your cost structure, training, tools and efficiencies in contrast to outside providers. If you cannot come close to matching their abilities and price then the process is either non-core for you or you are running your core business very poorly. For those functions that outsiders can truly do better, faster or cheaper you should engage them rather than doing them in-house less efficiently. This will let you focus your attention on the things that truly are core to your business so you can be the fastest, cheapest or best at that.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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