Localization + Tech Docs Convergence

4 Tips for Bringing Together Tech Docs with Localization

I had the pleasure of hosting two great presenters who are longtime SDL clients and inspirational thought leaders in global content strategy. Mimi Hills is a Localization executive who is now working closely with her tech docs colleagues in VMware’s Information Experience group, and Suzanne Barr is a longtime leader in product documentation strategy who is building close alliances with the Localization team at NetApp.
Hills and Barr both are reaping major benefits from the convergence of tech docs with localization — as I recapped in a previous blog post — including faster time to market; reduced costs for content development, translation, and publishing; and higher overall customer satisfaction.

Now let’s cover 4 tips discussed in the webinar to help you bring about this convergence more quickly and more smoothly in your organization.

Tip 1: Localization & tech docs must communicate

Roles & responsibilities
The first tip might seem obvious, but many organizations operate in silos and it is common that even people sharing the same office space don’t know the basics of each other’s work and mission. Get to know each other!Management and staff in Localization and Tech Docs should understand the basics of each other’s work, including roles,

Management and staff in Localization and Tech Docs should understand the basics of each other’s work, including roles, processes and timelines. Suzanne Barr urges localization professionals to “learn what happens in the CMS [content management system] – how is content created, modified, and approved." Likewise, doc people should learn what ‘magic’ happens once content enters the TMS (translation management system). Barr notes that her tech docs department has even taken a “field trip" to the localization vendor to understand what happens on that side of the workflow as content is being translated, reviewed, and approved.Barr notes that after you learn how interrelated the departments are, you might take the extra step of having cross-disciplinary staff in each department – she has a globalization specialist on her Tech Docs team focused on

Barr notes that after you learn how interrelated the departments are, you might take the extra step of having cross-disciplinary staff in each department – she has a globalization specialist on her Tech Docs team focused on simultaneous publishing of English and localized documentation.

Regular status meetings
In addition to basic introductions, the two teams should hold regular status meetings to review projects in progress and ensure deadlines will be met, and to understand workload peaks & valleys.

Develop a joint onboarding/evangelizing presentation
Finally, Mimi Hills emphasizes that Tech Docs and Localization should collaborate on internal communications. Develop a joint presentation to evangelize, secure and preserve funding, and on-board new internal clients. Staffing churn and mergers & acquisitions produce a steady flow of new team members who need to be brought on-board all the time. Document your successes and spread the word internally – the job of evangelization is never finished, you need to continually preach about goals and successes.

Tip 2: Align localization & tech docs goals & measurement

Interrelated KPIs
You can’t proclaim success unless you are measuring progress against goals. In many organizations Localization and Documentation report up to a common manager and have interrelated KPIs. This is the case for both Barr and Hills. This makes it easier and more natural to collaborate on goals and measurements.

Service level agreement for common internal clients
But even if Loc and Doc don’t roll up to the same manager in your organization it can still be beneficial to align goals and measurements. For example, hitting simship targets is very challenging if your content creation goals are not aligned with your localization budget and capacity. You can work together to establish a service level agreement with your common internal clients, product development and marketing, to help them understand standard turnaround time for documentation and localization. Barr notes that as product development adopts agile techniques they can neglect to allot enough time for documentation writing or localization.

Hills reminds us that “our common goal is customer success." When Tech Docs and Localization work better together it means customers have more content, better content, in their preferred language to help them learn and resolve their issues more easily.

Tip 3: Optimize your source content

Put your content on a diet

When source content is optimized, it is easier to reuse in different formats, and easier and faster to localize. But what does it mean to optimize your source content? I like to talk about “skinnying down" your content, or “putting it on a diet." Simplify the style and reduce copy. Avoid complex grammatical structures. Fight the urge to describe the same thing in new and different ways. Write in simple, plain English, with a global audience in mind. Hold training sessions for writers to teach them how to write for a global audience to moderate any English-only bias.

Linguistic assets
Barr stresses the importance of using linguistic assets to enforce source content optimization. A terminology database and style guide helps to keep source content tone and terminology consistent. She advises organizations to create a localization style guide that supplements your standard style guide to ensure a consistent tone of voice cascades across the globe into local language content. Acrolinx (an SDL partner) is a great tool for automating the application of your style guide to content as it is being created. Hills notes that Acrolinx can check for sentence structure simplicity in the source content, making translation easier (especially machine translation).

Strive for long-term efficiency
Barr points out that writers should create content with a global audience in mind. English-only techniques can require you to retrofit content for specific languages later. In the long term this can be costly and inefficient.

When there are issues with poor quality content, don’t just go for the quick fix. Analyze the output issues and determine the root cause so you can fix processes that would otherwise produce more problems over time.

Tip 4: Integrate your technology & processes

CMS / TMS integration
Tech Docs has their CMS. Localization has their TMS. Both groups are using technology to squeeze the inefficiency out of complex business processes. The next key leverage point is to make sure the two systems are integrated. VMware is using SDL Tridion Docs  for content management integrated with SDL WorldServer for translation management, and the handoffs between the two systems are completely automated. “This is the way we can move more quickly and get real productivity gains," says Hills.

NetApp also has Tridion Docs integrated with WorldServer. Barr says it’s important to make sure the tech administrators of the two tools are talking to one another so they understand the system requirements as well as capabilities and connectivity. “We upgraded Knowledge Center to take advantage of localization functionality. Had our teams not been closely aligned and integrated and talking to each other we might not have considered doing that."

Other technology
Beyond the CMS and TMS, there are other technologies you need to keep an eye on. Barr mentioned that downstream publishing sites might not be able to handle localized content and might need to be internationalized, to make sure they are Unicode compliant and can handle internationalization challenges such as expanded text, right-to-left languages, etc..

Also, security is always a concern. Hills noted that you need to pay close attention to what your IT department needs for authentication and security to thwart hackers. Be prepared to adapt your communication plan and job aids to quickly roll out any changes mandated by IT.

At SDL, we have the privilege of seeing the strengths and challenges of the world’s top companies, as they manage their global content and their international expansion. The intersection of globalization and content creation can really make or break successful international expansion efforts. We hope these tips have been useful. Contact your SDL relationship manager with questions or contact us here.

For more advanced localization techniques please view these webinars: