International Software Rollout Considerations

We had a customer considering rolling out their domestic homegrown software to their international locations. Here are some of the things they needed to consider.

The Question

Your business software is working well in the United States at a number of offices.  It is stable.  Your staff understands it.  It meets the business requirements.  It integrates well with other applications. 

You have offices around the world in various cultures.  You believe your business will benefit if all locations, worldwide, can utilize the same software.  This would reduce your IT overhead, improve office to office communications, and streamline operations. 

  • Can the software be rolled out worldwide? 
  • What issues must be considered to ensure that the rollout would be successful?
  • What problems will be encountered?

There are two major topics that these questions raise – how well is the software packaged for rollout and can the software meet international requirements?

Software Packaging
Is the software properly packaged for rollout?  This question would have to be answered, even without the international component.

“Packaged for Rollout” means that:

  • The software can be distributed, installed, configured, user trained and operated with limited headquarters support.  Example:  Intuit’s Quicken software. 
  • If the software is complex, there is local support available for installation, configuration, or training.  Example:  SAP, JD Edwards, Oracle 
  • The software uses industry recognized standards for application integration.  Local offices may have requirements to link the software to other vendors, customers or services.
  • The office has the proper infrastructure to support the application.  As more applications become web enabled, and software moves back toward a centralized model, infrastructure has become less of an issue.  If the applications need to be run locally, then hardware, operating systems and communications infrastructure must be reviewed.  In remote locations, communications infrastructure can still be a critical issue.

Internationalization and Localization. 

What Internationalization  and Localization features and functions must be supported in the software to meet the business requirements of the international office and be accepted by the local user community?

There are many factors that must be considered and are listed below.  However, the culture of the organization as well as the type of business can determine which factors must be addressed. 

For example, if all international offices speak English, and business is conducted in English, then multi-language may not need to be considered as part of the core application.  However, localization may likely be needed to provide reports in local language for external users.

Here are a number of international and localization factors that must be considered.  Depending on the nature of the business as well as the culture of the local office and the region, some of these factors must be addressed and some could be ignored.

Issue

Description

Factors Affecting It

Language

Display the application in the local language.  Address different character sets (ex:  Japanese, Arabic).  Use of Unicode within the application

Does office do business in the local language?  Is staff trained in English?

Writing conventions

Date representation (dd/mm/yy vs. mm/dd/yy).  Time representation (both time display and the time zone).  Calendars.  Number formatting (decimal points, separator character).  Currency symbols, position.

If language is right to left (Arabic, Persian), then the entire user interface may have to be changed.

Is the application used only within the office or is it used by customers or vendors?  Are numbers (financials) a primary focus of the application?

Cultural / Local Content

Names / Titles.  Governmental assigned numbers (ex: the US might use SSN but another country may use another identifier that is in a different format).  Addresses.  Postal Codes.  Sorting.

Images / Colors (appropriateness).  Local customs / content.

These issues may be critical.

Financial

Currency translation – (if business is conducted in multiple currencies).  Tax reporting.  Other governmental reporting.  Weights / measures.

If the software is transaction based, these could be very important.  If it is list based (ex:  mailing lists), this might be less of an issue).

Management

Who will manage software change?  Changing software is disruptive.  People do not like change.

How will the data in the current application be converted to the new application?

If this is a centralized application, what methodology will be used to prioritize and implement new requirements?  How will software improvements be communicated?

Management of an international software application can be far more complex than a domestic application.  Don’t underestimate the politics of software acceptance.  Remember, the remote location can always find a way to ignore headquarter mandates.

Evaluate Your Situation

  • Why rollout your software internationally?
  • What benefits do you expect your organization to get from this rollout?
  • Is your software “packaged for rollout”?
  • Have you identified the international requirements?
  • What are the localization issues?
  • Is your software prepared to handle the international issues and localization issues?
  • What are the internal political issues that will affect software acceptance?
  • What is the benefit the local office will get from this software change?
  • What are the costs of this change?
  • Who will manage future software changes?  How will you ensure that the software keeps pace or ahead of the business requirements?


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