The Importance of Global XML in Global Communications

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August 2007

The Importance of Global XML in Global Communications

CIDMIconNewsletterSophie Hurst, SDL International

Global organizations face the challenge of providing large volumes of content to meet the needs of local markets. Key strategic goals include accelerating the time to reach these global markets along with ensuring brand consistency across all content. Many organizations today are looking at XML as a way to handle the reuse of this content to improve the process of providing multilingual content—and yet many fail to consider the global element right from the start of an XML strategy.

A recent survey conducted by SDL showed, however, that 91 percent of respondents see the benefits of global XML or want to learn more. This article will look at the importance for global organizations to consider the global element of an XML strategy right from the start. Leaving it until the end can cost money, waste time, and minimize the potential return on investment gained from moving to XML.

In the survey, 83 percent of respondents were either using or planning to use XML in the next 2 years and yet only 3 percent had moved all their content to XML. Clearly, XML has a cornerstone role to play in reducing costs, accelerating time-to-market for new products, and minimizing translation and publishing costs. According to the research, companies see three significant benefits in moving to XML—cost reduction (62 percent), accelerating time-to-market (50 percent), and driving brand consistency (50 percent).

But the story is more complex. XML does address many of the challenges associated with reuse, but relying solely on XML to switch from a non-structured to structured content strategy undermines the organization’s ability to survive and thrive in the dynamic, ultra-competitive global marketplace.

Effectively managing global content is beyond the boundaries of XML’s standard capabilities. Organizations need the capability to simultaneously write once, translate once, and publish many times. XML alone cannot solve the problem of ‘translate once.’ First several strategies must be in place, including

  • a repository that can remember connections between source chunks and translated chunks
  • a means of storing translation assets at the sentence level and benefiting from them in all parts of the content lifecycle
  • a way to manage terminology consistently
  • the ability to manage across multiple translation vendors across the supply chain
  • the ability to track costs and reporting for managing global information
  • indexing multilingual entries
  • templates that can handle layout in multiple languages
  • the enforcement of standards when writing for global audiences

In implementing these strategies, we turn to global XML. For any organization considering an XML strategy, the one word that needs to be considered from the outset is ‘global’. Organizations that are moving to an XML strategy and conducting business on the global stage must support global XML. Global XML means the use of XML when communicating with global markets. It is the vision to store information in XML and then replicate it in multiple languages across multiple channels of communication.

It is critical for any organization to include global XML as part of their overall Global Information Management strategy—from the outset. Thinking global after the implementation is underway wastes time and money and reduces the benefits of using XML in the end-to-end content creation process.

Benefits of Global XML in Global Communications

The benefits of global XML include all of the benefits of XML, together with some additional benefits. Global XML increases the return on investment for the XML initiative and protects XML code investment during translation. It ensures consistency through global content reuse. It accelerates time to global markets by applying global XML rules and standards and by integrating translation management into a Content Management System.

Global XML in Action

Consumer electronics giant Philips is a real-world example of global XML in action. The company—which is one of the world’s top three consumer electronics companies—was faced with a complex content management chain with many isolated processes. Over 9,000 communications were required to source content for product catalogs, translation of the same content occured multiple times, and it was taking over four months for new content to reach local web sites. There were 1,800 different logos and over 50,000 different product specifications, including over 10,000 different feature descriptions. With a requirement for web content in 19 different languages, catalogs in 28 languages, and product leaflets in 35 languages, it was clear that a lot of time and money was being wasted.

In line with its Global Information Management strategy, it was necessary for Philips to adopt an efficient, standardized Global Information Management process. This new strategy had to ensure consistent and consumer-acceptable quality levels of localization, while maximizing the efficiency of the process of creating multilingual content. Philips had to reduce the time-to-market delays, reduce translation costs, and reduce the overhead costs related to the publication of multilingual content. SDL teamed up with Philips to design and deploy a truly international translation platform.

Philips uses XML throughout its content, knowledge, catalog, and translation management systems. SDL developed for Philips an integrated and automated publishing system, which enables on-the-fly, instant, on-demand PDF, and PowerPoint publishing from XML source and translated content held within Philips’ product
catalog system. This unique technology provides Philips with a complete, integrated, multilingual translation and publishing solution.

Think global from the outset
In the race to move forward with an XML strategy, it is easy to overlook a fundamental issue: all too often an XML strategy is designed with only one market and one language in mind. The strategy may take care of the content in the domestic language and customer base, but it disregards the broader global audience. As a result, systems must be re-architected to accommodate the needs of other languages. Costs rise, localization plans are delayed, and the time-to-market for new products and services is jeopardized. For maximum ROI, you need to take a strategic approach to the global dimension of XML.

Automation matters
Your organization must automate the process of managing high volumes of small content updates which are sent more frequently for translation. On the one hand, XML promises to alleviate the problem of global content by reducing the volume of content that goes into translation. On the other hand, it also introduces complexities, because content updates are sent for translation more frequently. A translation management system can help you handle this new complexity in localization by automating processes.

The context of XML chunks needs to be clear to translators
As part of a global XML strategy, your translators need to be able to visualize the context of XML chunks. Translating chunks of content is often harder than previous approaches which dealt with entire documents, books, or chapters because the content is often out of context. Terminology databases, translation memories, and style guides all help the translator get a fuller picture of the chunk’s meaning. Using appropriate online editing and review functionality, terms can be highlighted automatically, ensuring that the translator and reviewer are always aware of previously translated terms.
Additionally, by integrating content management into your translation management system, SDL enables the preview of content so that translators can see the wider context of the content that has been sent for translation.

Taking care of your content
It is important to identify and distinguish content that should be localized from content that should not be localized. Similarly, you should avoid storing non-localizable content as text content in elements. Use empty elements, attribute values or, if necessary, entity references instead. This practice avoids misinterpretations and unintended modifications during localization.

Your XML can easily be corrupted when sent to translators. Your authors need to deploy technology which ensures the XML is ‘locked down’ and unbreakable during translation. If not, when the content is returned it may not load into a CMS or publishing engine.

If large text blocks of non-localizable content (such as scripts) are necessary, consider storing these in separate files that can be referenced as external entities. If separate files are not an option, make it obvious that the element content should not be localized by introducing a translate=”no” attribute.

Design mixed content with care
XML authors must carefully design the use of mixed content, i.e., elements that can appear mixed with (or inside) text in the XML. Follow this simple advice:

  • Allow mixed content (i.e., elements appearing inside text) only when necessary
  • Ensure that all elements appearing in mixed content may be duplicated, moved around, and re-ordered, as such adjustments are often necessary because of grammatical differences and different structures of languages other than English
  • If possible, use different elements to represent pure formatting versus semantics. This separation helps when it may be necessary to introduce additional formatting during localization. Formatting may also need to be removed for some languages (e.g., italics are typically not used for Japanese). Using separate element types means that functionality will not be unintentionally affected if pure formatting is removed or omitted.

Ensure consistency of content, style, and terminology
When your authors are working within a global XML environment, they need to ensure that the terminology and style they use are consistent across dispersed chunks. When different authors are writing different chunks, terminology and style consistency can become harder to manage. A tool like the SDL AuthorAssistant helps authors apply consistent terminology and style, as well as enabling them to ensure that content matches more closely what has been written and translated previously. Terminology databases can be built to ensure terms are used consistently both in source and translated content.

It is imperative that you deploy a solution that enables you to manage and share terminology across the enterprise. By managing terminology and providing access to every content creator within an organization, you can secure the corporate global brand by maintaining consistency, improving both communication quality and the customer experience. At the same time, your organization can accelerate time-to-market and business agility by enabling fast and accurate content creation across multiple languages and geographies.

In addition to some of these suggestions, we have written a white paper on what to know and avoid when migrating to XML, giving you information on what to do from the beginning to make sure your XML content is best prepared for global audiences. Here are a few examples. To download the white paper, go to and navigate to the events/downloads tab.

Beware of different flavors of XML
Not all XML is the same. Different types of XML files can have a significant impact on the outcome of your content.

1. Not all XML files adapt themselves easily to localization. CDATA (character data, i.e., strings of text) is a prime example when it is included outside of XML elements. Advise your authors to avoid using CDATA where possible. CDATA sections are used to escape blocks of text containing characters which would otherwise be recognized as markup. It is difficult to validate content within CDATA sections because it allows authors to embed different types of markup within the defined structure.

2. Multiple language XML files. Here, the localized content is stored in the same file as the source language content. This practice creates additional work to put the final document together and makes it difficult to keep it updated. Files containing more than two languages are difficult to handle during localization.

Optimize the structure of global XML for localization
Taking heed of best practices to prepare your global XML content for localization will increase your efficiency.

Using variables or placeholders
The use of placeholders for variable text improves the reusability of text and reduces the overall text volume. However, it may result in some translation issues with respect to gender and/or the placement of the variables in the running text. The placement can be handled by Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools, but they become a problem when the variable text must be divided into multiple parts in the translation. To avoid this problem, consider the following advise:

  • Variables should only be used for limited portions of text, for example, one or two word terms and obvious items (entities) like brand name or product name.
  • Variables should never contain a verb.
  • The list of variables should be finite and the definition needs to be part of the information analysis.
  • Do not let authors define their own variables, but provide a controlled list of variable names.

In this article, I have tried to demonstrate the importance of taking a global view on content from the start and indicate what happens if you do not do so. You risk losing a lot of the benefits that XML can have for your organization. By taking a global perspective and doing what you can from the start to incorporate translation software and processes into your XML processes, you will maximize the return on investment of your XML initiative. For any organization that has already begun the path to XML, there is still time to think about global XML—just don’t make it too late.

For more information, details, and white papers on global XML, visit CIDMIconNewsletter

About the Author

Sophie Hurst

Sophie Hurst
SDL International

Sophie Hurst is a member of the Institute of Linguists and a Senior Product Marketing Manager at SDL International. Sophie is fluent in French and German, and has worked at various IT companies including Business Objects and Crystal Decisions, through which she has gained a good understanding of the requirements for global information management strategies within organizations.