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A Word to the Wise: Multilingual Means Multi-Dollars

A new industry research report states conclusively that for U.S., companies, multilingual e-commerce and business sites "are no longer optional."

In fact, e-businesses these days need to build a centralized palette of software to gain leverage, consistency and speed while letting local offices choose which components to implement and in which language, says the report from Forrester Research.

Successful companies will use in-country teams to customize applications to meet local needs, using translation to keep content ethnocentric, the report says.

"Since (an estimated) 50 percent of all online sales will be (made) outside the U.S. by 2004, building a multilingual site has become critical -- particularly to those companies serious about winning in the Internet economy," said Eric Schmitt, analyst at Forrester Research.

"When offered in multiple languages, customer service features like product data sheets and technical FAQs provide differentiation, build brand loyalty and cut support costs."

By 2003, Forrester predicts, a set of globalization software and services will emerge as Web-based localization ascends and legacy translation agencies diminish.

To implement multilingual sites, Forrester believes companies should design a global site infrastructure, including a set of applications that can be customized for any language or country. A core set of software will provide a global, corporatewide foundation for all sites in any language.

Applications will be centrally managed, belonging to a single global technology team. Firms will enhance these software palettes with interactive applications that support multiple tax and payment frameworks and are anchored by a worldwide publishing system.

The next step in building global site infrastructure involves localized application modules that enable firms to implement applications in a new language or locale, Forrester said. Modules will contain locale-specific information needed to give applications a native look and feel, and they will also make it possible for local Web teams to administer the software.

"For help building multilingual sites, firms will look for strategy and integration services but shouldn't neglect help from globalization specialists," Schmitt said. "These specialists will enable firms to make their e-commerce systems international, as well as prepare applications for deployment in new markets."

For the report, "The Multilingual Site Blueprint," Forrester interviewed 27 U.S.-based multilingual-site owners.