Demystifying Just-in-Time Localization

Posted by Erik Vogt
on Tue, Jun 19, 2018 @ 11:45 AM

Demystifying Just-in-Time LocalizationIn the first post in our series on demystifying localization trends, we talked about the use—and abuse—of the term ‘real time’, and what real-time localization really looks like. Real-time localization is, in the end, not easy to pin down. (We explain it with concrete examples.)

One way to think about real time is to swap the notion of speed for that of timeliness. It’s not about how fast you can deliver a product; it’s about when the user needs it.

This interpretation takes what sounds like absolute time (the actual time during which an event unfolds, like live TV) and turns it into relative time (when it’s needed, or when it matters). So it’s not really describing ‘real-time’ localization at all. It’s describing something more like ‘on-demand’ localization, or ‘just-in-time’ localization (JIT)—which is totally different.

In this blog post, we’re going to explore what JIT localization might look like, where and how it works best, and why it could be a smart approach for brands that need to get the right content into the right hands at the right time—on a global scale.

Imagining JIT Localization

‘Just-in-time’ is a familiar concept in manufacturing and inventory-heavy industries. It’s a methodology aimed at minimizing workflow times, waste, and idle inventory.

In localization, JIT is about efficiency—ensuring your processes are lean, your workflows are flowing, your turnaround times are short, and your backlog is as close to zero as possible—the same qualities that are desirable in any localization workflow.

What if we viewed localization through this lens? How could these JIT principles apply to your own globalization program?

Two things to think about: time sensitivity and resource availability

Unlike manufacturing, localization doesn’t really have ‘inventory’. Instead, it deals primarily in time resources, and a translator’s time is one of the most expensive—and valuable—assets in the whole process.

So, anyone managing a localization process has to ask two crucial time-related questions: How soon do I need to deliver a localized product? And how can I make sure everything is ready when my resources are ready to avoid delays? (We look at how to minimize process delays using ‘buffer’ time in our post about real-time localization.)

Time sensitivity

Taken on its own, the issue of time sensitivity is about how quickly you would want to deliver a localized product in an ideal world. The end user is key here: when does the consumer of the product or content need it?

If we’re talking about user-generated support queries, you probably want them to be translated as soon as possible. For critical cases, you may even want a live chat translation capability.

In other cases, speed won’t be as important. Examples include when you’re localizing content that doesn’t change often, or the content is so important that you want to make sure you get it absolutely right—like legal documents.

Then, there are times when translating too far in advance of a product’s release or consumption is a bad idea—or just impossible. Take software products: development cycles are often short, so localizing in advance isn’t feasible because the source content—the product—will change frequently and quickly. You have to think not just about when you finish localization, but when you start it.

Whether it’s making sure you don’t miss a deadline, or not localizing before it’s time, the answer boils down to good old-fashioned project management chops.

Resource availability

Resource availability is about making sure work is ready for your resources—such as translators—when they’re free. On top of that, it’s about making sure you make the most of their precious time.

When you think of the technologies that are standard in localization—translation memory, automated quality assurance tools, glossaries, and instant access to online reference materials—they’re all geared at making human resources more efficient and productive.

As we saw in our post about real-time localization, the goal is to reduce the time that the translator has to wait around for the necessary materials. The ideal outcome is to eliminate delays so your localization machine can run with no unnecessary downtime.

Managing resources efficiently—and at scale—depends on great project management and on tools.

These dual considerations of time sensitivity and resource availability are key to delivering content or products exactly when the customer needs them, or ‘just in time’.

Why JIT localization isn’t as revolutionary as it sounds

In many ways, JIT simply represents a common-sense approach to localization: optimizing each and every piece of content to suit the needs of the user—and the constraints of your resources—in every context. In other words, it’s about efficient processes that provide content to the user at the time of need.

It’s an approach that moves beyond a simple demand for ‘speed’ to a more complex demand for ‘timeliness’. One that necessitates balancing speed with other, equally-important variables that influence your end product like cost, resource availability, and user expectations.

Applying JIT principles to your localization program

Here are some tips to help you figure out whether JIT localization could be a part of your global content operations, and how to implement it successfully.

  • Assess your content needs and the suitability of JIT localization – Ask yourself two questions to start: How soon do I need to deliver a localized product? And how can I make sure everything is ready when my resources are ready to avoid delays?
  • Assess your resource constraints – Do you have enough resources to cover the volume? Can they receive and start on the work packages as soon as you send them?
  • Prioritize your content – Divide your localization jobs into high- and low-priority categories. This will help you optimize your human resources so that when they’re between high-priority jobs, they can keep busy with lower-priority work.
  • Operationalize the right technology – When you supplement your human resources with the right tools for the right jobs, what you get is stronger than the sum of its parts. And remember, the JIT model is about timeliness rather than speed. Machine translation and other high-speed tools will have their applications, and you’ll always want to implement traditional technologies such as workflow tools, CAT tools, and linguistic QA tools. But your tech needs will depend entirely on your situation, the content your localizing, the time frames you’re working in, the scale of your operation, and much more.

Want to learn more about the potential benefits of a just-in-time approach to localization? Let’s talk.

Top image source: IMDB

Topics: Localization

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