Lionbridge is ready to roar about multilingual e-support and global testing services.
Lionbridge was already a king. size localization provider when it took that name in 1996, and through growth and acquisition it has continued to expand. The present company was formed in 1996 through a management buyout of the language solutions division of Stream International, a subsidiary of publishing giant R.R. Donnelley. Rory Cowan, Lionbridge president and CEO, was an executive vice president of R.R. Donnelley and CEO of Stream International before forming Lionbridge Technologies.
Lionbridge provides localization, testing and multilingual e-support services for clients such as America Online, IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, Novel! Oracle and Sun Microsystems.
“We have most leading IT sector companies as clients, but no single client comprises more than 10% of our total sales,” said Carl Kay, who handles Asia-wide sales and business development. “This immunizes our business against the sudden swings of fortune in single companies or niches so common in the IT field.” Revenues last year reached $39 million, and projections for 1999 are $60 milion.
“Our business in Asia has grown 50%-plus annually throughout the so-called Asian recession,” said Kay, who joined Lionbridge when he sold Japanese Language Services to the company in earlv 1998.
Last year Lionbridge also acquired Lucent Technologies’ localization lab in Monterey, California. This year the company has raised $12 million in a second round of venture capital financing and has expanded its testing and multilingual e-support services.
With the acquisition of VeriTest Labs, Lionbridge has added to its testing services by providing logo compliance and certification testing. Certified products are compatible with and can carry the official logos of key operating systems or foundation software vendors such as Autodesk, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun. Announcements about multilingual e-support services are expected soon, adding to Lionbridge’s ability to serve software developers throughout the product life cycle.
METHODOLOGY AND TOOLS
From the beginning, Lionbridge has invested heavily in its systems, training and workflow process.
“We are focusing on a repeatable methodology worldwide,” said CEO Rory Cowan. ‘It’s something we work on with great energy and focus.”
“What is important in Lionbridge is the methodology,” said Eric Blassin, worldwide process and technology manager. “We have a methodology that we follow to create and continuously refine processes. Those processes evolve, taking into account the evolution of the technology as well as the production and field experiences.”
On the technology side, Lionbridge uses a variety of commercial localization tools for production work, including translation database and automated translation tools.
“We are also using collaborative technology for data collection, information creation and knowledge dissemination,” said Blassin. “We never develop tools when we have the opportunity to use commercial ones. We do develop add-ons for commercial tools to integrate the full production chain. We are also developing components for our intranet that enable realtime information sharing on our performance between all our sites.”
As the industry continues to consolidate, several more companies have moved into the top tier. But Cowan doesn’t see a necessity to outgrow the others. “We have sufficient scale as a company that adding more sites doesn’t necessarily bring more productivity or value.
“We’ve been more fortunate than most, in that we built the company organically with very few acquisitions …We don’t have the cultural melding challenge of putting four or five companies together.”
Still, forging a corporate identity and fostering clear communications have received high priority.
“We really have an evolving culture that is metrics based, and I think that the corporate culture is really superseding the local office culture,” said Cowan. “We spend a lot of time on communications and cultural management.”
He described the “thinking hats methodology, a kind of shorthand to aid cross-cultural communication. Different colored hard hats represent different messages. “We have these hats in every conference room around the world.”
Cowan believes the hats help communications and “insure that there is a common corporate culture. In this business you can’t get everyone together and have an all-hands meeting. And if you just rely on e-mail, that can be misinterpreted by various cultures. So by having these thinking hats it allows people to talk openly and directly and leave their cultural prejudices and biases behind.
“So, frequently in e-mail you’ll have someone saying, ‘Blue hat – this has gone on long enough.’ The blue hat is the process hat. So you are able to say to people, ‘let’s focus on process’ without offending them personally. Or you can say, ‘Red hat – you promised me this by Tuesday night and it’s Wednesday and I don’t have it and I’m angry.’ It allows for swift and consistent communication by all of our team members.”
Cowan believes creative conflict is necessary. “But oftentimes in multinational, multicultural companies, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. So I work really hard to build a framework to minimize that misunderstanding.”
Cowan also uses an alignment meeting each January with 70 top leaders to set the tone for the year. “We also have monthly worldwide calls, where each site manager, each senior manager, presents the last month’s performance metrics to the entire team, to their peers, because I find that public data gets managed.”
“We are organized functionally and not geographically and have very little friction between regions. Many people in the company report to a manager on another continent,” said Kay.
A common corporate culture does not mean the employees are yellow pencils. Cathy Maloney, director of communications, pointed out interesting characters, including Carl Kay, who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard and who is the only non-Japanese member of the Board of Directors of the Japan Translation Federation, and Steve Nemzer, who founded VeriTest Labs more than 10 years ago and still says his favorite hobby is surfing. He’s often spotted on the beach in Santa Monica after work.
Localization and client relations have changed. “It’s no longer an episodic, let’s-all-have-a-rugby-scrum-
“Little chunks are going out and you have a shorter time to do them,” said Cowan. “We’re finding that people are moving from a one-off,
‘Let’s get six vendors, let’s have them bid and we’ll award the project and then we’ll do it again next year’ kind of thinking, to ‘Let’s talk about developing a multi-year relationship around this certain project.”
For example, Lionbridge has localized several products into Japanese for Sonic Foundry, Inc., which develops tools to create, edit and deliver multimedia content via CD-ROM and the Internet.
Lionbridge “will start localizing our new audio product, Vegas, into JFIGS Japanese, French, Italian, German and Spanish), as well as ACID 2.0 into JFIGS in the next few days,” said Roy Elkins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sonic Foundry.
“As a company focused on multimedia, Sonic Foundry needed a localization vendor who understood our product and all facets of the multimedia milieu,” said Elkins. “Lionbridge had already been using our flagship product, Sound Forge, as a multimedia authoring tool…. They enjoy working with our products; it’s an ideal win-win situation.
When engineers take our product home to play with it and learn more about it. we know we are working with the perfect localization company.
“Initially we requested only the localization of ACID Music. After localization began, Sonic Foundry requested that both Style and Pro be localized within the same tight time frame. After carefully assessing our additional localization needs, Lionbridge committed to triple the work-load. They kept their promise delivering high quality work — on time.”
Sonic Foundry’s localization manager, Kristi Hyllekve, said, “Even though a key member of their team had a very serious accident, resources necessary to begin builds and test translations were delivered in a timely fashion.”
While working on the project they encountered missing files, increased demands, printer/font problems, ftp/e-mail problems and, “of course, the ubiquitous bug problem. Each problem was dealt with in a systematic professional way from both sides: identify the problem, find a solution and implement it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Neither side deals in recriminations. We acted as one team headed for the same goal,” said Elkins.
Another client, Network Associates, specializes in Wintel network security and management solutions for enterprise networks. Lionbridge has taken care of a number of localization projects and has “proven to be one of the leaders in re-engineering complicated software projects,” said Network Associate’s Erik Groeneveld in Amsterdam. When software that hadn’t been internationalized was delivered for localization, Lionbridge was able to take on the “engineering-intensive work, which required a high-level engineering team to get everything working within the agreed time frames.”
The most important factor to Network Associates is the time-to-market. “Lionbridge has proven that they are able to not only meet the deadlines, but still provide quality in translation and engineering, which is typically something which will suffer at other translation agencies,” said Groeneveld.
Looking ahead, what does Cowan see in the future? In coordination with its investors, Lionbridge is expanding its services into key areas.
“Often this industry gets so caught up in the translation side,” said Cowan. “Well that’s important, but delivering a functioning product for people, that requires lots of quite technical testing and interoperability issues in multiple languages.” Identifying that need led Lionbridge to acquire VeriTest, “a cool company with cool people who are very smart,” said Cowan.
“VeriTest was getting requests by its customers to go global because they needed logo programs in Europe and Asia. We were getting requests from our customers to increase the level of technical interoperability testing. And there was a sense of, Well, I know you can have people who speak French testing our French version, but what sort of bug testing can they do? What sort of test architecting or scriptwriting can they do? And that really required US-level development testing, which is what VeriTest was involved in.”
Not surprisingly, another key direction for the future is the Internet. Cowan said, “There’s the phrase, The Net changes everything. Well, I think in our industry we are just beginning to see the changes of the Net. It’s going to change commercial relationships. It’s going to change the workflow processes. It’s going to change the technical requirements of our industry.’
“Explosive growth in Internet usage has made Web-based customer support an imperative for most businesses,” said Maloney. While e-support is not expected to replace call center support, “Web-based self-help programs are demonstrably less expensive and give businesses a competitive edge through increased customer satisfaction. The next step for global businesses is to localize their customer support knowledge bases in order to reach customers in their native languages.”
Lionbridge is currently doing several pilot projects with large clients, helping them automate the process of creating and maintaining multilingual versions of their support and training content.
Katrina Teague, general manager of Support Services, said, “Support is exploding. The IT clients are realizing that their customers outside North America prefer – and in some cases demand – reading on-line information in their native languages. For example, in order to realize the 10-to-1 savings of moving voice calls to the Web, they need to provide Web-based support content in customers’ native languages.”
Cowan said there are going to be some “extra-ordinary announcements” in the second half of the year about Support. Other big news is ahead as well. Maloney mentioned possible acquisitions of “strategically complementary businesses.