Crafting a request for proposal

A decade ago, when I worked as a localization account manager for one of the principal localization houses at a San Francisco site, one of my tasks was to process masses of useless requests for proposals (RFPs). These requests came from companies of all verticals and I was often surprised at how off-target they were.

Rather than setting the stage for providers to effectively present their solutions, these RFPs were innocently structured as an in-the-dark roll of the dice. One significant factor was that the RFP writers were not from the localization industry and, therefore, were not familiar with the workflow nuance specifics required for optimized localization production implementation.   However, a poignant, to-the-point RFP serves as a springboard to the company’s purchasing power with suppliers, as well as identifies risks and benefits at the pre-project plan phase. Throughout the RFP process, both buyers and suppliers gain insight into solution strategies, perspectives and price points.


Best practices for effective RFPs

First and foremost, keep it short and simple! I like to buzz it as the three Cs: Clear. Concise. Consistent. We live in a fast-paced, dynamic world, full of distraction and stimulation. Our attention span is limited. No one is going to read a 50-page RFP and retain its content. A 10-15 page RFP would work just fine, thank you very much. Next, ask good, relevant questions to get good, relevant answers. You could potentially recycle from a same-industry template available online. It will often include generic relevant questions to pin down your vendor selection. But in order to produce a truly fitted RFP, tailored for your company’s specific needs and priorities, you should backtrack for a moment.

First, consider core attributes and unique assets of your company’s products and services. Contemplate the current timeframe, but also your future product or service offerings. Next, consider your current global and local business setup and brand strategy: role ownerships, localization positioning within the company’s internal architecture, localization budget, your international alliances and partnerships, your status in relation to industry competitors in target markets — in other words, what makes you stand out.

Also, look at your target languages and geographic locales for imminent releases, as well as your target audience: socio-economic, cultural, ethnic and level of industry knowledge.

Define your content repository, what content management system (CMS) you are set up with, what your preferred translation memory (TM) tool is and whether you have littered legacy TM. Do you process high-volume content in frequent release cycle updates for multiple components and engaging different resource groups to justify integration of a translation management system (TMS)? Do you follow an agile workflow with sprint publication releases? Are you interested in implementing machine translation (MT) for your low-visibility content? Would you benefit from data mining and text analytics? Look at your international growth objectives such as worldwide usability and visibility expansion, target languages and locales scoped for the next five years.

These factors will have direct impact on your scalable and sustainable localization program planning for the long run. Looking at them will ensure that the time and cost spent today will go a longer way to yield optimal results tomorrow. Before setting off to select your localization production vendor and automated tools provider, you first need to identify your company’s current and future setup strategy. 

Many localization vendors nowadays provide a wide range of comparable services, from source content global readiness and system internationalization, through translation, to hosted testing, language voice talent, global brand strategy and brand culturalization. However, providers differ in their company culture, business service model, specialized verticals, in-country resource availability of screened quality language specialists and so on. In order to team up with a localization vendor that matches your values, your company culture and your global outreach scheme, you first need to define them.

 For example, you might be embarking on your first localization adventure, and having a local contact on the vendor side for personal service may be a priority. You’ll then consider for your RFP pool only vendors that have a local operations site, or at least a local assigned resource, for ongoing onsite meetings. Think about whether you have an internal resource with the bandwidth and expertise to handle the ongoing roundtrip localization projects from your end. You may need to pull in an internal function to manage the localization projects, or else you could also hire an external localization expert to manage your localization program on your behalf, representing your interests and interfacing with the vendor contact to ensure smooth project runs.

Whether your company endorses a global, local or “glocal” brand strategy will also affect the selection of the vendor with the right in-market expertise. For example, if your company adopts the glocal strategy — a hybrid model of managing your company overhead globally from headquarters, while producing, delivering and marketing locally — then you’ll want a localization production team that offers in-country culturalization services of marketing campaign transcreation and support of local e-commerce setup and testing. Your localization budget will likewise carry significant weight on the type of vendor you’ll partner with. The extra-large localization agencies and the boutique medium-large houses will operate at a higher mark-up because their overhead cost is higher. Most localization vendors may be able to reduce rates, or offer a flat discount on the total bottom line quote, for high-volume word counts or for purchase of proprietary tools integration. 

Your target language set will also determine which vendor will fit best with your needs. You’ll get a better price range from a single language vendor compared with a multilanguage vendor. However, if you are planning an across-the-globe outreach to a multitude of markets simultaneously, you will get discounted rates for running several languages in simship releases. By selecting a multilingual simship release strategy, you save on pre- and post-file processing production work and cost. You will also benefit from centralizing all your localization efforts with one larger vendor that has worldwide operation sites. This will come in handy when you want to coordinate direct communication between your in-country reviewer/regional site producers and the in-country translators, to iron out any linguistic issues and for weekly status meetings.  


Tools RFPs

An important thing to factor in when considering integration of automated globalization tools and infrastructure is interoperability — a big word with big implications. You might find a proprietary tool that offers you a good in-budget solution for a specific current need. However, in the long run, when you’ll need to add on new customized functions and workflows, or in the event that you later partner with another vendor that uses a different tools set, you will greatly benefit from interoperable compatible systems.

When you consider which TMS to integrate, make sure it is seamlessly compatible with your CMS. Make a conscientious decision on whether to go with an open-source tool versus a commercial offering. Remember, the objective of creating a tools RFP is to explore relevant customizable industry technologies for optimized cost and time-to-market performance through centralized automation. Your selected TMS tool should be modular and flexible for tailoring and adjustments, as your localization workflow will vary across different content components — website, software, mobile and documentation. Also, your internal and external resources on the workflow will vary with time and project type and your TMS will need to adapt accordingly. Implementing a centralized and streamlined globalization management system that is a hybrid of homegrown and commercial automated technologies will optimize translation velocity and quality consistency; reduce localization cost and defects; provide real-time translations; and enable shared linguistic assets and cloud review process. Integration of TMS tools is effective only when it gets out of the way, enabling the collaborative teams a user-friendly process. Hence, the TMS may need to:

Support integration with your CMS.

Automate task or resource handoff with translation reuse for cost reduction and terminology consistency.

Allow a flexible and technology-neutral system, compatible with a variety of TMs and CMSs. 

Assess vendor-neutral software as a service (SaaS) solutions versus a hosted license solution, to avoid being locked into a long-term proprietary contract.

Enable shared linguistic assets in the cloud: TM, glossaries, style guides, reference material and project instructions.

Facilitate online review approvals enabling regional reviewers to see the localized content in context and provide feedback within the system.

Centralize project management, including project status tracking, vendor management, change detection and budget tracking.

Support compatibility with a variety of file formats.

Today, the vast majority of TM tools can be exported in TMX and, hence, can easily be shared between vendors and clients throughout localization life cycles and across different platforms. Even the bilingual files (TTX) from the commonly used Trados can be handled by most translation environment tools. That said, you will lose some leveraged legacy memory between certain TMs, just because the fuzzy matches are configured differently. For example, if you shift from Trados to Wordfast, you will experience some loss of leveraged fuzzy match words. However, most of the leveraged memory will be maintained overall. The selection of your preferred TM is looped to the TM used by your translation resources, so you’ll want to sync up with them first. Another key consideration for selecting your TM tool is, of course, your content type. You’ll benefit from a visual TM, such as CATALYST or Passolo, for example, for contextual reference in layout for graphical user interface translations. 

Other automated tools you might benefit from are natural language processing applied to source content and designed to build translation-ready copy. These automated tools are developed to simplify sentence structure, omit redundancy and avoid ambiguity. Some of these tools follow the basic rule of unique terms equal unique meaning. Producing global-ready  source English for multilingual translations reduces translation costs, boosts translation quality and speeds time-to-market. There are several providers offering these tools as either SaaS or licensed with training and support. Cost depends on the number of authors, hardware, CMS and required services. Your company might already have a CMS, but when it is time to prepare for a high-scale localization enterprise launching into multiple target languages in frequent release cycles of high content volumes across different components and internal divisions, you might need to reconsider a more robust and scalable CMS, multilingual supportive and compatible with your selected TM and TMS tools.


Snag attention

As for the RFP document format, it is helpful to keep it in compact structure, with bulleted key points. The RFP should include clear expectations, objectives and weighted vendor selection criteria. Graphic and image visuals, when relevant, add an inviting flair to the overall format layout, transforming what could have been just another boring document into a sneak peek into your company’s culture. Organization-wise, you’ll want to start with a brief “About Company” description for contextual reference and placement. This section should be followed by proposal guidelines, contract terms, RFP response submission deadline, primary contact and project description. Next, you can jot down purpose and an overview of the upcoming localization project plan and the pipeline ongoing maintenance localization projects. Target audience and use-case personas would be helpful, as well as a list of key deliverables, budget, project specifications, qualifications, draft localization project timeline and launch dates. Include a section for performance technical specifications and add appendixes and attachments, as needed.  

Before composing the RFP, you should allow some research time to carefully examine the latest technology tools solutions available and to explore the pool of relevant localization production vendors to be included in your RFP bid. To maximize your efforts, you can hire a localization expert to leverage industry knowledge and accelerate results through the RFP process. My advice is to include between three and five vendors in your RFP pool, as long as all these vendors have already been prescreened for relevance. Including more than five vendors will not add more value; rather, it will introduce what may be an overwhelming firehose of responses to the RFP analysis phase. Remember, the end objective is to select the one vendor that offers the best fit for you.