Recently, I've been diving deeper into the globalization space as it relates to XML technologies. All too often, content globalization is often a secondary (or tertiary) consideration for moving to a structured authoring environment. And often, globalization is considered a cost center, not a revenue generator. But this shouldn't be the case.
I used to work for a Fortune 50 company where software and hardware was globalized into as many as 26 different languages. Now you might think, "Well, that might work for a Fortune 50 company. They've got gobs of money and can absorb the huge cost." That might be true, but there isn't a company, large or small, that likes to throw away money.
The writing is deeply etched on the wall: emerging markets in Asia and Eastern Europe present a wide range of opportunity for companies to have a significant impact on their bottom lines, if they can speak the language. This means L10N and I18N. And yes, there is a potentially steep cost of entry, meaning a more than nominal level of risk. Consider that, on average, it costs $.30 per word, per language.
So let's say you have a 200 page manual with an average of 250 words per page in English. And let's say you want to localize to 10 different languages. That's 50,000 words X $.30 X 10 = $150,000. That's a pretty significant cost and risk for a new product. Now let's say that it takes 3 months to translate this content. That's 3 months of unrealized potential revenue, whether you decide to wait and release local and globalized versions simultaneously or if you decide to release the local version first, and later release the globalized versions, added to the cost of translation. You can see how this might elicit a 4 letter response along with the rationale that the risk might be too high. But these risks can be mitigated and reduced over time.
Today, with open standards like DITA, good translation memory, tools that can normalize your content (AcroCheck being one that comes to mind), and leveraging standards like OAXAL, you can minimize your translation costs and even improve a globalized product's time-to-market to close to the same time you release the original language version of your product.
Now consider that you are releasing Version 2 of your product, and 10% of the content changed and you added 10% new content using DITA as the source format. That's roughly 10,000 words. Let's also assume that your content normalization tools found that 10% of the text could be normalized to a standard phrase (a very low number). Now we're looking 9,000 words. That's 9,000 X $.30 X 10 = $27,000. Now let's assume that you were able to send translators DITA topics immediately after they were approved in English (or whatever the local language is). Your time-to-market for globalized products is reduced dramatically. That equates to higher revenue potential.
And this is only for one manual. Now consider that you might have 3 or 4 manuals and online that reuse content between the set. By using DITA, along with high quality translators, good translation memories and content normalization tools - you can minimize your globalization risks. In short, L10n, G11N and I18N shouldn't be four-letter words.