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PracticeByte - Global Multilingual Intranet: You Don't Need to Translate Everything But Stay Consistent

Analyst: Nicolas Bürki
Issue: What are the effective compromises in supporting multi-languages on a global Intranet?
Companies with a global Intranet may decide to provide country or regional sub sites in other languages. However, if the Intranet steering committee investigates the costs for initial translation and ongoing translation during operation as compared to the company's business needs, the committee abandons in many cases the plan for multilingual support on the Intranet.
This decision is mainly based on the costs analysis of translating entirely local sites. However, instead of investigating the costs of completely translating local sites, there are effective compromises for partial translation while ensuring site consistency.
The steering committee should investigate the translation costs of specific elements of a local Intranet like downloadable documents, navigation and page content.
Such an approach allows global companies to may partially translate local Intranet sites, while optimizing the investments as compared to the value of translated Intranet elements and business needs.
There are two major cases for providing a global Intranet with multilingual support:
1. The global Intranet and the country and/or regional Intranet sections are available in English language. Country and/or regional Intranets may are translated into the native languages.
2. The global Intranet is composed of a corporate umbrella in the corporate language (e.g. English) and country and/or regional Intranet sections are available only in the local languages. Country and/or regional Intranet may are translated into the corporate global language.
For both of these cases, the business requirements may not justify translating entirely country and/or regional Intranets in English language or in the native languages. Hence many companies start to translating their local sites in a very inconsistent way such as mixing languages in the navigation bars, partial translation of a local site providing some information on a page in other languages, etc. Such an inconsistent approach of providing multiple languages on an Intranet is most likely to fail business needs, while confusing and frustrating employees. At worst Intranet users will abandon using the Intranet. Though the initial investment of translating maybe financed, it is the ongoing translation of site and content updates that consumes significant efforts in human resources and synchronization between the (sub) sites to avoid site inconsistencies). Instead of totally translating these local Intranets, only some of the following parts may are translated but consistent within them.
1. Downloadable documents: such as corporate policies (security, travel, expenses, etc.), guidelines, request forms (e.g. purchasing, training, etc) have in most cases the best translation value/cost ratio. This ratio is driven by the fact that employees that do not understand the language applied on the Intranet can nevertheless use the Intranet to download the document in their language and the costs are generally limited to a one time translation as such documents do not change often over time. To ensure that employees who do not understand the language of the local Intranet can find by their own documents in their native language, the local site map need to be at least available in their language. This allows those users to navigate to downloadable documents in their language using the site map. For documents that are provided in multiple languages, document owners need to provide for each document its language. From a usability best practice perspective, document owners need to provide further for each document the document type (e.g. PowerPoint, PDF, Word, etc.) and its size.
2. Main navigation: which includes the global navigation bar and any sub-navigation menus (e.g. typically the left-sided navigation menus): Providing at least the navigation bars and menus in the local and English language, allows any employee to navigate to his/her specific destination page. This is particularly effective, if the destination page provides links to tools, documents that are translated as well. As navigation bars and menus should not change over time, there are normally only a few translations during operations.
3. Page Content: refers to links and any information that is provided on navigation and destination pages (e.g. local department description, project information, local events, etc). Typically page content is the last step of a multilingual Intranet translation due to its high volume of initial pages to translate and the ongoing content updates during operations.
Page content should only be translated, if business needs it (e.g. from corporate language to the local language or from local language to the corporate language). If business does not need it, translating page content is a waste of money and human resources.
For companies that want to have a cost-effective multilingual Intranet, the first two steps should be implemented. Ongoing costs during operations for translation of content updates are minimized as well, as downloadable documents and navigation bar and menus hardly change over time. For companies that want to provide entirely multiple languages on the global Intranet, this approach allows to roll-out the multilingual version of Intranet step by step while providing from the beginning already translated information.