Focus on three major vendors

The Computing Japan Survey

- by Noriko Takezaki -

Japan has long been a net importer of software, making this one of the world's largest markets for software localization. Software developed overseas is invariably not written for native-speaking Japanese users and consequently, Japanese subsidiaries of foreign software companies have had to develop in-depth expertise in localizing their products, an essential requirement for expanding local market share. Below, we present the results of our most recent localization survey, and then focus on how Microsoft, SAP, and Network Associates bring their products to market.

For some players, the issue of product localization is a continuing challenge between their parent company's cost-minimization requirements and the need to achieve the exacting quality that the Japanese market demands.

For Japan, software localization comprises:

  • engineering - implementing double-byte code handling for text,
  • translation - of the software and related documentation,
  • adaptation and modification - for the Japanese market, and
  • testing.

In making their localization plans, key recurring factors for local players include: How many of the parent company's products should be localized? and: How much localization work should be done in-house vs. outsourcing? To find out the answers to these and other questions, we sent a market survey to 57 subsidiaries of foreign software companies in Japan. Answers, not surprisingly, varied widely depending on the size of the company and industry segment, but overall the results confirmed, among others, that quality and TTM (time to market) were still more important than cost.

Who localizes what?

The first survey question related to the amount and type of localization work being done. Of the 40 companies that replied to this question, 18 (45%) said they release a Japanese version of more than 80% of their parent company's software.

The companies in this category mostly include those offering consumer products and business applications - including OS, word processing, and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software. In the next category - software related to graphics, networking, and data management applications (database and data analysis) - seven companies (17%) replied that their localization ratio falls to 50-80% of their parent company's offerings, and in the last category - including software development tools and network administration products - 15 companies (37%) replied that their localization ratio falls below 50%.

Of these, three companies answered that they don't localize their parent products at all. This last category included those who offer semi-custom-made software for a limited range of customers, such as risk management tools for financial houses and specialized software for development support.

Reasons for not localizing

The next questionnaire item asked about selling non-localized software products in the Japan market. Of the 22 that responded, 15 companies (68%) stated that there is no need to localize, since all users of their products can understand English. Five companies (23%), replied that although they feel it necessary to provide Japanese versions to every extent possible, localization takes too long and costs too much, and they are not able to make an adequate business case to their overseas headquarters. Finally, two companies (5%) mentioned that there was no need to localize their products since other vendors' software - on which theirs runs - was not yet localized.

The localization process

Concerning the localization work process (29 companies answered), 15 companies (52%) replied that most of the work is done by their parent company or outside Japan, and another 14 (48%) said that most of the work is done in Japan. Regarding outsourcing, 10 of 26 respondents (38%) stated that the majority of their work is done by outside localization houses, and another 10 said they do most of it in-house. The remaining six (23%) said that they outsource portions of their projects, including document translation and quality assurance.

Quality is still a key concern

Survey participants expressed strong opinions to the question of localization quality. The biggest group of respondents (21 companies) felt that quality of the localized product - including the re-engineered software, the translated documents, and how the product was adapted and modified for the local market - was their number one concern. The next major concern was for efficiency, with 18 respondents stating that they required a fast TTM. The last concern - expressed by four companies - was for cost.

Some respondents complained about the poor quality of Japanese translation done by non-Japanese outsourcing companies contracted by their overseas headquarters. "We have to spend a lot of time correcting the translations on the Japan side, since the quality of translations made by foreign outsourcing companies is too poor to be used," said one spokesperson at an enterprise network software company on condition of anonymity. "We wish we could control the localization process by ourselves, but the reality is that the localization decision-making was done by our headquarters."

Further, one ERP software company mentioned that they plan to perform most of their localization work in Japan in the near future, although they have been depending on their headquarters for about 50% of the work so far. "We believe we can find more resources in Japan for the localization work, and that we can improve the quality of the work," said Kenji Takeda, product strategy manager at PeopleSoft.

In fact, the real competition for foreign software sales in Japan may depend greatly on the quality of players' localization efforts. With this in mind, Computing Japan visited the Japan office of several well-known foreign software companies, including Microsoft, SAP, and Network Associates, to see their efforts first-hand.

Microsoft - multi-vendor management

Microsoft Japan's localization efforts are, predictably, huge, with more than 100 software products localized annually. Microsoft relies heavily on outsourcing contractors, and makes use of some 20 local vendors as well as Microsoft contractors worldwide. Such a massive effort reflects their policy of localizing 100% of their products for the Japan market.

The company's use of outsourcing for localization is part of a corporate strategy to improve localization efficiency. All versions of Microsoft products share a common code set that supports double byte characters and, in some cases, bi-directional programming. This inherent internationalization of Microsoft products significantly helps shorten development time for Japanese-version products. However, in the case of some end-user application software, like Microsoft Word, a great deal of additional cultural adaptation work must be done for the Japanese market. "For some products, the release of the localized Japanese version is mandated independently of the US release since the product may have a different market potential in Japan," says Kazumi Komiya, senior manager of Microsoft's Japanese Office Product Group.

One well-known product falling into this category is Microsoft Money. The Japanese version was only released last year, three years after the release of the original US version, because the American and Japanese market situation for home finance software differed greatly. In fact, the localization of Microsoft Money required extensive modification, mandating an almost complete rewrite of the code.

For outsourcing, Microsoft works with two types of vendors: multi-language vendors (MLVs), and single language vendors (SLVs). MLVs - who offer one-stop shopping for multiple-language localization, have been used extensively for localization for Western European-version products, and are starting to play a larger role in Asian versioning as well.

Many MLVs can work on Japanese, Korean, and simplified/traditional Chinese versions. (China uses a simplified character set, whereas Taiwan continues to use the older, more complex characters. - Ed.) SLVs, as the name implies, focus on localization into a single language. There are more SLVs than MLVs localizing into Japanese, and almost all are located in Japan. MLVs often partner with SLVs to provide extra capacity.

"We will keep working with MLVs and SLVs since both have their strengths," says Takeshi Kubo, section manager of Microsoft's Japanese Office User Assistance and Navigation Section. “MLVs have expertise in handling multiple language localization, and this allows us to reduce internal overhead costs for localization project management. We also have a strong need for SLVs, since we have to work on many projects concurrently. If we find an SLV that has sufficient expertise, we are happy to work with them."

Japanese IE 5.0 ready in a week

In addition, to improve localization productivity, Microsoft provides assistance to project teams, including user interface, HTML, and WinHelp localization tools, and a translation style guide. Microsoft uses TRADOS as their main translation memory tool, and has delegated support staff on-site. Owing to these and other measures, Microsoft has reduced the time required for localization. In the past, it has taken as long as one year to get a Japanese version to market, but now, the company can release the Japanese version in 6 weeks or less (in the case of Internet Explorer 5.0, it was just a week). "We are thinking about shifting more testing work to outsourcing vendors" says Keiko Abo, Microsoft's manager in charge of vendor relations, "but we see in Japan fewer vendors who have the required expertise, capacity, and flexibility - unlike in Western Europe. One reason is the overall lower level of outsourcing for development work across the entire IT industry here than in Europe."

SAP Japan - multi-country process

SAP's ERP software - R/3 - was developed from the start on a multi-language, multi-currency, and multi-practice concept at SAP's global development laboratories located in the US, Europe, and Asia. As a result, SAP Japan is mainly concerned with translation of software and related documentation, adaptation of the product to the local computing environment (i.e., run on a Japanese language OS), and quality testing.

For SAP Japan, software translation is mostly carried out in-house, while documentation work is normally done at outside Japanese translation firms. SAP uses more than 70 outsourced translators (of whom some 50% work onsite at SAP's offices), and has 30 translators of their own.

Like Microsoft, SAP has adopted the TRADOS translation tool for their documentation work, and uses this together with a dictionary module, MultiTerm, containing specialized SAP terminology. The original R/3 documents are prepared in German at SAP's headquarters and are immediately translated into English. The English version is then used here in Japan for preparation of the localized version. (For more information on TRADOS, access http://www.trados.com - Ed.)

"Those tools have helped SAP speed up our translation work significantly," says Takashi Sensui, general manager at SAP Labs Tokyo. "Translation of ERP product documentation is not easy, because translators must understand both the context and the specific business activity to which the document refers. These, of course, vary widely from country to country. Therefore, translation becomes part of the local country software adaptation process."

Network Associates - double byte engineering

Unlike the two companies above, localization work at Network Associates Japan starts with basic software engineering to make the original English products double-byte capable, followed by the translation of product documents and the user interface, and testing of the localized products. The main reason for this is that - unlike some Japan subsidiaries of foreign software companies - Network Associates Japan (formally named McAfee JADE) has Japanese software engineers on staff, giving the company a strong capability to do such work by themselves.

"Since we can do the engineering work here, we can quickly react to our Japanese customers' requests, prepare responses for any new viruses found, and generally solve problems right here, if there are any," says Shoichi Kikuchi, the marketing division's senior manager. "This capability helps us serve Japanese customers, particularly OEMs who bundle our VirusScan (antivirus software) with their PCs. If we had to depend on our US headquarters for localization work, it would be difficult to provide comprehensive care to our customers here."

At Network Associates Japan, not all products released by the parent US company are introduced to the Japanese market in localized versions. Consumer products, such as antivirus software and Helpdesk, are 100% localized, whereas a graduated localization approach is taken for network security products, such as firewalls and encryption systems. One-third of these are fully localized, one-third are provided with Japanese documentation but the software itself is not localized, and the balance are shipped as received from the States. For network visibility products, half are localized (both the software and the documentation) and the remainder is shipped in their native versions with English documentation.

"In the case of firewall and network security products, their users - network engineers - usually have no problem in using the software in English" says Kikuchi. He also mentioned that since many Network Associates' products are updated quarterly (especially the antivirus software), it is difficult for the Japan side to localize all versions of each release. Therefore, they sometimes release the Japanese version of a product that integrates functions of the following version of the original product. For example, Japanese version 1.01 of some product will be released after the release of the original product's version 1.02, but the Japanese version will contain the updated functionality of the original's version 1.02. Also, since most of their products are intended to run with other vendors' software (OS and applications), the localization plan for their products is affected by the development of such products at other companies.

For the document translation work, the company depends on several carefully selected translation companies located in Japan, and the company's staff verifies the translation work to fix any inappropriate terms. "To maintain the quality of translation, it is necessary to carefully select translators," said Kikuchi. "The translators should not only translate the English terms correctly into the Japanese ones, but also make the Japanese words flow naturally to make the Japanese users understand the document easily."

The art and science of localization has clearly come a long way. But as our survey and the comments from our focus companies show, creating effective local-market products is an ongoing challenge. Yet with e-commerce, Internet use, ERP software implementation, and corporate networking set to take off this year in Japan, the rewards for bringing effectively localized software to the market have never been greater.

Feedback What do you think? Contact us at editors@cjmag.co.jp and let us know how your company or firm confronts the challenge of localization. We'll share the best responses next month on the CJ Online website.

For more information, visit DoCoMo's English website at http://www.nttdocomo.com.

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