Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

All around the world

All around the world

  • Article 7 of 26
  • M-iD, June 2004
Creating a global web site with international appeal places huge demands on both managers and technology.

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"The software we used was hot off the press: we pioneered a lot of the work and we had to wait for the release of the software to continue the development. We had to make the site easily updatable as a result, so we've had to go back over older ground: we've come up with better methods and older content now looks a bit childish and not as efficient or as effective as the newer stuff."
Steve Thompson, e-business projects manager, MG Rover. In the 12 months since re-architecting its global web site (700 pages in eight languages), costs have halved and are expected to halve again.

"Initially, we were limited by budget and technology into producing something quite limited, quite clunky, but that did the job. Fortunately, content management systems have come down in price now so that you don't have to mortgage your soul for 5,000 years to afford them."
Simon Grant, head of information systems, Tate Galleries. Tate's site, formerly tens of thousands of static pages, has now been moved to a web content management system, the cost of which has been recovered within a year of deployment.

"We found that if we asked people up front for their opinions and comments on designs, it was amazing how quickly we achieved a consensus. If we presented a design as a fait accompli, suddenly it had fatal problems."
Peter Tait, vice president of e-business strategy at Documentum. Documentum now has sites with localised content for countries including France, Germany Spain, Italy, Korea, Japan and the UK.

A little local difficulty

"You need change management for the business culture," agrees Jeremy Young, managing director of Tridion, a Dutch WCMS vendor (as Young confesses, Tridion has always had to support multiple languages and locales, "because no-one except the Dutch can speak Dutch"). "There is a natural local resistance to any kind of centralisation. The local presence has typically been built up locally and there is resistance to having that taken away." As with any large project, there needs to be local sign-up to a centrally controlled WCMS, and getting local offices to embrace the system can be hard.

A typical sweetener is to allow local offices to have a degree of control over the content on their site. "There are usually pockets of the business vying for ownership," says Ixos' Godfrey. "If you can create champions of the system in local offices, it is a lot easier to get buy-in."

The degree of control offered to local offices will vary from organisation to organisation. Bryan Richter, CEO of WCMS vendor Stellent, says that in his experience, the degree of control most organisations consider appropriate varies over time. "The pendulum swings from having complete central control to the complete opposite over time," he says.

Having complete control at headquarters over web content can prevent inconsistencies but can also create bottlenecks as managers muse upon suggested updates from local offices. It can cause resentment in local offices, which can have knock-on effects in other areas of the business. Such sites are also unlikely to reflect local sensibilities - and blunders in this area can have a detrimental effect on business.

Too much devolution is equally risky: more and more resources are needed to create local content, pushing costs up, and the risk of brand inconsistency increases. "During the dotcom boom, everyone [in an organisation] contributed to sites," says James Murray, Interwoven's vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "It was chaos. And while that can be good in the early days of a small business, it's not so good for GE, for instance."

The optimum degree of localisation is somewhere in between for most organisations. "It's very expensive having everything customised," says Colin Greene, head of e-content for Dell Europe. "It's best to concentrate your resources on the most frequently used 80% or so, particularly all content on the purchase path, customer services and post-sales."

Watch your language

Some organisations baulk at serving English language pages to non-English speakers. At WCMS supplier ATG, senior product manager Ian Davis argues that, "If a web page is in your language, it creates a feeling of empathy." Ben Salama, former vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Uniscape, maintains that, "It's a fact that users spend twice as long on a web site in their natural language and they're three times more likely to buy something." But Tridion's Young says that the reaction from these users isn't what most people in the UK would expect. "Here is the UK, we're not very forgiving of anything foreign appearing on an English-language site. But other cultures are far more used to this hybrid."

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