Lost in translation – Globalisation Gotchas

When we think of Globalisation, we often think of the manufacture and trade of goods. With the advent of the European Union came the more formalised notion of ‘the four freedoms’ (people, goods, services, capital) of the internal market. People, goods and capital is fairly tangible, but what is interesting from an IT point of view is globalisation (or free movement) of services. It’s not just fashionable to outsource your call centre department, but also development effort.

High speed internet aspect takes care of one of the challenges of communication, but what about the language itself? When outsourcing, how does one ensure the requirements are communicated correctly. Using online translation tools can go horribly wrong. In this case journalists from Isreal managed to insult a prominent Dutch politician and his mother!

The top destination for outsourcing is India. India has the world’s second largest labour force with 516.4 million (2007 est.), 27% of them involved services (2003 est.). Global consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has more details. This is a highly skilled, well educated workforce and though not always needed, Hindi translation, Punjabi translation and Urdu translation services are available. While Hindi is the official language, English enjoys the status of ‘subsidiary official language’. Certainly within the services sector there is a English language revolution going on. Add to that the fact that most of the development languages, and IT infrastructure product documentation, are in English and there are obvious advantages here.

Outsourcing is no longer just for Fortune 500 companies. Small and mid-sized firms, as well as busy professionals, can outsource their work to increase their productivity and free time for more important commitments. It’s time for the world to take advantage of this revolution.

Vivek Kulkarni (CEO Brickwork India and former IT Secretary, Bangalore)

Of course this level of outsourcing still requires commitment and a lot of upfront preparation and documentation. A lot of industries are moving away from the heavy weight processes of the 20th century. It will be interesting to see how Agile development methodologies, which put a greater emphasis on communication over documentation, work with distributed development teams, in different timezones. Feel free to share your experiences.

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