Globalization behind the firewall: A work in progress

Guest Article:
By Jane McConnell

Based on the 2007 Global Intranet Strategies Survey by NetStrategy/JMC

The second annual Global Intranet Strategies Survey conducted from June through August 2007 revealed some starting facts about the true state of globalization behind the firewall.

78 organizations around the world participated, representing 45% headquartered in Europe, 43% in North America, 10% in Asia-Pacific and 2% in other parts of the world. Over half have more than 15,000 employees, including 8% with 50 to 100,000 employees and 13% with over 100,000 employees.

This article highlights some of the issues dealt with in the survey concerning globalization in intranets: languages, localization, collaboration, customization and global teams.

Single language is prevalent, translation is rudimentary
The study shows that although two thirds of the participating companies are present in many countries, they tend to have a single corporate language. Approximately 3 out of 5 say they are primarily a “single-language” organization and have “single-language” intranet.

Those who do deal in multi-language contexts struggle with translation issues. The translation process is largely a manual one, with few that using technologies such as integration of the translation process into the CMS or translation memory software solutions. The percentages below show the proportion of companies saying the tool or process either exists throughout or in some parts of their organization (figures based on the 72 out of 178 companies who translate intranet content):

Multi-lingual glossaries – 38%
Machine translation – 19%
Translation memory software – 10%
Integration of translation into the Content management system – 11%
Definition of a clear process among the people involved in translations – 31%

Localization: A 3-step process
Effective localization strategies start with a global strategy and pass through the intermediary step of internationalization as defined below before reaching the localization level. 35% of the companies in the survey population have a globalization strategy, which was defined as “defining systems, procedures based on the whole organization, such as global teams, standardizing intranet-related processes across the organization, sharing resources across the organization.”

28% say they practice internationalization, defined as “creating models for templates, guidelines, content that can easily be adapted to local needs without needing to revise the model, such as menu structures, customization, navigation, meta data.” Only 24% have localization strategies, defined as “procedures for adapting internationalized models to meet local needs, such as specific navigation, template adaptations, content strategies, language, etc.”

Collaboration: Not yet optimized globally
Intranets are not yet optimized for collaboration among employees. Globalization of companies means that people around the world who do not know each other need to work in teams together. Virtual teams become essential workplaces for global companies. However, only 20% of the companies say their employees perceive collaboration as one of the primary objectives of the intranet. However, between 30 and 40% have collaborative spaces integrated into the intranet.

The top 3 collaboration tools rated as “optimized” or “in general use” in the consolidated results of all 178 enterprises are (1) web conferencing at 31%, (2) shared calendars at 30% and (3) instant messaging at 23%. The usage of these and other collaborative tools by companies who say the intranet has become the “way of working” internally is dramatically higher than in companies where the intranet is not yet “the way of working”.

Customization: A necessity to remain relevant
All global organizations struggle to define strategies for how to offer common content to everyone, helping to build a shared culture, and proposing customized content to users, making them more efficient and satisfied. The survey shows that half or more of the content and services on intranets is “automatically delivered by the system according to the person’s profile” in 23% of the organizations. However, only 8% offer “personalizable content – explicit choices made by the person him/herself” for half or more of the content. Once again, companies where the intranet is the way of working today have intranets with a higher degree of personalization that the other companies.

Global teams and steering committees smooth the way
Global intranet teams are essential if an organization wishes to ensure that an intranet meets user and business needs around the world. However, global teams exist in only 31% of the organizations with another 12% “planned.” Steering committees with decision-making power should have representation from all parts of the organization. In fact they exist in 46% of the cases with another 10% “planned.”

The survey shows that certain major obstacles are significantly decreased in the cases where these global bodies exist. Examples are out of date information, unclear navigation and difficulties getting content producers to contribute. All these issues exist to a greater extent in companies where there are no global teams or global decision-making bodies.

Future trends

  • Both customization and the availability of collaboration tools will increase. This is clear from the markedly higher usage in enterprises where the intranet is the way of working today.
  • Portals will become more common, thereby requiring the ability to be customized in order to remain relevant. 38% of those who do not currently have portal solutions plan to move in that direction in terms of intranet structures.
  • The number of languages in an intranet will increase over time, according to 38% of the participants. Hopefully translation will be facilitated by the use of technology, but the number of responses indicating plans in this area is very low.
  • “User-centered design and usability” is the leading area of planned investment over 2008 and 2009. 60% of the respondents expressed it as their number one area. Acquisition of new tools such as content management systems, search engines, statistics tool were further down the list.

Intranets are slowing moving up the value chain in the mind of the average senior executive. The proportion of organizations where senior management considers the intranet to be business critical increased from 13% in 2006 to 17.5% in 2007. This is low, but at least the number is rising.

A manager in a country distant from headquarters of his organization says, “The farther you are from the center, the more you need the intranet. But the farther you are from the center, the less the intranet meets your needs.” Companies who understand this can take big steps towards making their intranet relevant to all employees, whoever and wherever they are. It requires strategy and investment in the areas mentioned in this article. In the end, the intranet will become a tool that brings value to both employees and the business as the enterprise gradually becomes truly global.

Stay tuned for the 2008 survey to see if progress is being made in this area!

About the Author
Jane McConnell is an intranet and portal strategy specialist. She founded NetStrategy/JMC in 2001 and works primarily with companies and organizations with complex intranets and challenges. McConnell writes the column International Intranets for the magazine Intranets: Enterprise Strategies and Solutions (Information Today). Her English blog is Globally Local & Locally Global and the French one is Carnet intranet. She initiated the Annual Global Intranet Strategies Survey in 2006, and published the 2007 results in the form of two reports that can be purchased: Global Intranet Trends and Global Intranet Analysis. More information is available on or by contacting Jane at

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