Interpro Dots the ‘i’ for Application Translations
June 12, 2007 Alex Woodie
In the global IT market, having a good software product with an accurate foreign language translation can mean the difference between gaining solid traction in the new country and fruitlessly spinning one’s wheels in an attempt at breaking new ground. Sometimes, the margin for error is as thin as the tail at the end of an apostrophe. And when it comes to navigating the wily world of i5/OS application translation, few have as much experience as Interpro Translation Solutions, which has worked with some of the biggest application providers in the midrange.
There are a number of companies offering translation and localization services for software developers and large end-user companies. However, few of them have any experience on the System i, which sort of makes this a market a niche-within-a-niche-within-a-niche.
One of the reasons for that is, to do i5/OS application translations and localizations right, it really takes a System i box and the technical expertise to use it, says Ralph Strozza, president of Interpro Translation Services, which is based in the Chicago, Illinois, suburb of Lombard. “There aren’t a lot of companies that do this stuff,” he says. “In the ‘400 world, we’re pretty well known.”
Interpro got its start in the 1993-1994 time frame. Strozza, who had previously worked as the head of BPCS translation for SSA, teamed up with John Greenwood, a former Seagull Software employee, to offer application translation and globalization services. At the time, the company was one of several Interpro companies owned, at one point or another, by the same company. But the other Interpro companies have fallen by the wayside, leaving Interpro Translation Solutions as the last one standing.
Over the years, Interpro has worked with some of the biggest names in OS/400 and i5/OS application business, including SSA and its BPCS ERP system, Geac and its System 21 ERP system, MAPICS and its eponymous ERP system (now called XA), Manhattan Associates and its OS/400- and i5/OS-based supply chain solutions, JDA Software Group‘s i5/OS-based MMS, and Lakeview Technology and its MIMIX high availability software, among others.
Many of these companies have been acquired, most of them through Infor, and Interpro continues to provide translation services for Infor’s XA (and System 21 ERP product, not to mention its SyteLine and PointMan Windows-based ERP products. Another large iSeries customer is Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, which relies on Interpro to translate financial documents and data into English. The company has also worked with Aldon and will be working with Arcad Software, the French developer of change management software that is making a big push into the North American market.
Most of Interpro’s customers are software vendors that develop ERP and other enterprise applications, as opposed to developers of systems management or programming tools. The reason is that, while the end users of large enterprise applications typically need to see the screen in their native language, systems administrators and programmers around the world typically do fine using English-based tools, so there is not as much of a demand. “The world, whether we like it or not, revolves around English,” Strozza says. Much of the work Interpro does for tools vendors involves translating sales and marketing materials. Web site translations are also in high demand these days.
Interpro defines itself as a multilanguage vendor (MLV) that has a core competency in a handful of languages, including Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. The company has about a dozen employees, many of whom are linguists in certain languages. When Interpro receives a request to translate into other languages in less demand, such as Russian, Czech, Arabic, or Hebrew, it will often work with a single language vendor (SLV) based in the target country.
In addition to being language experts, Interpro’s employees are familiar with the System i and the intricacies of the i5/OS platform. That is a critical factor in doing accurate translations and localizations of System i applications, says John Greenwood, a principal at Interpro who works out of Poway, California, and who was the person who introduced Seagull’s Text Translation Tool (TTT) to the North American market in the early 1990s.
The TTT tool is also a very important part of Interpro’s capability to accurately translate i5/OS applications into other languages and to keep the context constant, Greenwood says. The TTT tool works by copying the source code of an application, analyzing all the RPG, COBOL, CL, and DDS, identifying and extracting the translatable literals, and inserting placeholders so it knows where to re-insert the literals once they have been translated. It keeps track of all things System i related in the translation process, and even reverses the screens for languages that read right to left, such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Farsi.
“If you don’t use that tool at all, you’re converting the thing into Excel spreadsheets or text documents, where they’re certainly going to run into codepage issues. They are solvable, but they’re a pain in the butt,” Greenwood says. “TTT doesn’t run totally in a native environment–the translation itself is done on Window–but you’re running in a controlled environment.”
Seagull hasn’t released a major upgrade of TTT in years, but it still supports the product. It’s the workhorse of Interpro’s System i translation business, which accounts for about 30 to 40 percent of its total business–a percentage that hasn’t risen or declined significantly in years.
In addition to language translations, Interpro provides double-byte character set (DBCS) enablement and Unicode enablement, which is a necessary step before a software vendor can translate its application into Japanese or Chinese. Interpro gets a DBCS request every couple of years or so. “A lot of iSeries professionals don’t know about it,” Greenwood says. When they ask what DBCS means, they may say “double the cost of translation.” While it’s meant as a joke, there’s an element of truth to it, because DBCS can double the cost. (A typical first-time translation of a full application, not including help text, runs about $50,000, while subsequent updates will be less.)
While translating an application into a new language is often a critical step in the process of breaking into new markets, a more important step that must be accomplished first is setting up a network of partners in the new market. Depending on the market, these partners will accept the responsibility of translating the software into the new language.
Whether a company relies on partners for translations or hires a professional translation firm such as Interpro, attention to detail should not be overlooked. While a minor error in translation could bring a harmless laugh or guffaw, a bigger mistake could be a major cultural gaffe and doom expansion plans before they get off the ground.
For example, differences in terminology must be identified and fixed. In England, companies used to refer to the sales ledger, which is the equivalent of accounts receivable in North America. Failure to change all such references–particularly in the help text, which if often a scale of magnitude larger than the application itself, and is the first place users will call when they have a problem–could leave both users and help desk personnel baffled and perplexed by what they see on their screens.
Often, it’s not enough to accurately translate a language into a new language, but it must be localized, too. For example, there are numerous dialects of Spanish in use around the world, and a good translation must take into account whether the user will be in Mexico, Chile, or Spain.
But it’s often the seemingly smallest things can have the biggest effects. For example, one customer had contracted with Interpro to translate the contents of a Web site from English into Spanish. Interpro completed the translation and provided the company with all the translations, plus the necessary HTML codepages to accurately display the translations. However, the customer didn’t install the codepages correctly.
“The company wanted to say that they had been in business for 15 years, but they had trouble getting codepages loaded,” Greenwood said. Unfortunately, the lack of accurate codepages meant there was no tilde over the “n” in the Spanish word for years, años, changing the meaning of the word to refer to a body part. Greenwood informed the company of their error, but they never fixed it. “It’s just as well they didn’t wish anybody a happy new year.”