by CIO Staff

ASK THE EXPERT – Gearing Up for Globalization

Mar 15, 20025 mins
IT Leadership

Q: About a year ago I was promoted to corporate webmaster. My predecessor and I developed a plan whereby all offices would use one Web development tool, and templates would be distributed along with guidelines for development and presentation. Despite the fact that international offices would still be able to manage their own content, the policy has never passed owing to internal politics. Lacking an executive mandate for centralization, most international Webs are now on ISPs, developed and maintained via a myriad of products and technologies. My team must now develop and maintain separate toolkits (templates, guidelines and so forth) for both centrally served Webs and those on the remote servers. Can you provide any insight on how best to steer this into a more manageable situation?

A: Many companies struggle with similar problems. On the one hand, they want to maintain content along with brand consistency, accuracy in multiple languages and a turnaround time of Internet speed. On the other hand, they have to deal with time differences when communicating between offices, poor Internet connections in many countries and few resources that slow down the workflow processes to a trickle. Most regional offices have special promotions and seminars that are time-sensitive and specific to their regions. They want to offer only relative information that caters to their specific regional audience. They also need to be concerned with the speed of connection between the international offices and their websites. Subsidiaries become frustrated with long turnaround times, inability to tailor content for regional audiences and slow connection to nonregional websites. The corporate office knows the problems exist, but it can’t find a solution. When the office weighs the benefits of controlling brand consistency and accuracy against time to market, the decision often made is to let the subsidiaries go off on their own. It all boils down to the corporate office golden rule: Don’t impede sales. So, how do you get to a more manageable situation? Show them an affordable, centralized content management solution that gives them significant improvement on turnaround time by streamlining the workflow processes. The important part is for the platform to allow remote users to edit, review and publish content that they are responsible for. The solution should also give them the ability to maintain content along with brand consistency and accuracy in multiple languages, but the flexibility to address regional issues by tailoring the content for regional audiences and publishing to regionally located Web servers.

Q: What are the key technologies that prepare a website for the global environment?

A: Companies need to remember that the Web is inherently global; when a company launches a website, it is accessible by a worldwide audience. While there are no technologies that prepare companies for the global environment, there are things they need to consider and architecture constraints they need to keep in mind. For example, high-speed connectivity is not as prevalent internationally, so don’t design your site with the T1 audience in mind. Or at least offer a version of the site that minimizes bandwidth-intensive components. From a network design standpoint, consider mirroring your servers in key geographic locations to provide an increased response time to your international visitors. This mirroring can easily be accomplished through conversations with your ISP. Finally, companies need to consider languages when addressing a global audience. Studies show that people are significantly more responsive when addressed in their native tongue. Consider which languages make the most sense for your company and add them only when you are able to effectively handle communication from that region. However, sometimes a really good way to test and cost-effectively get feedback from a potential target market is to create a version of your site for that market, in that language, and drive traffic to the site through remote campaigns. A key component of a multilingual website is translation and content synchronization. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate content management tools with a special emphasis on multilingual content.

Q: Must all websites in a company look the same? We have three separate sites, and all perform different functions but are related to the same general subject matter. The sites share a common but very wide-ranging audience: management, nonmanagement, technical users, nontechnical users and so forth. The three sites were created at different times and have differing volumes of users. My supervisor feels that we should standardize these sites. Other than pleasing my supervisor, what are the benefits of standardizing departmental websites? Should they look exactly the same? How much does it really benefit us to undertake this effort?

A: Whether to standardize the look and feel of multiple websites depends on your company’s branding strategy and the purpose of the different sites. There are a number of benefits to standardizing websites. For example, companies can manage content and development tools easier and faster with fewer staffers and standardized content management tools. Standardizing also allows you to repurpose that content so you have to enter the content only once and can use it for multiple purposes.

The other consideration is branding. If your company has a strong brand identity or is attempting to build a strong brand identity, standardizing the look and feel of multiple sites will help. A website’s appearance is part of that brand identity: The more that “look and feel” is seen, the more that identity is reinforced. In most cases, it is better to standardize to help build the company’s brand identity and take advantage of easier, faster content management tools. The company wins all around.

However, sometimes that can be a disadvantage. For example, if your company has a strong brand identity that people associate with high-end quality products and the company is about to introduce a low-end product line, both products might suffer by association. Instead, the company may choose to create a new brand identity for the low-end product line.