Simship: The New Normal

Category: Technology, Translation Services

Simship, a neologism at the dawn of the new millennium, quickly morphed into a buzz term and, by 2010 or so, was poised to become the new normal for major multinationals. Now, in 2013, simship has become a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the majors in IT and, increasingly, an attainable ideal for other market segments and smaller businesses. Indeed, in the video and online game world, the term “simship” forms an integral part of marketing hype. So what’s all the buzz about?

Let’s start with a definition. Simship is shorthand for “simultaneous shipment” Although any product may be simshipped, the term is most common in the language and IT sectors. It typically means [t]he release of localized editions of a product at the same time as the domestic product. And it’s based on the notion that there is always an original, a source, upon which other versions (targets) are based.

If you are a consumer in North America with a preference for homegrown IT products, you’re accustomed to having access to the latest, greatest versions of everything. Not so long ago, however, folks in other parts of the world had to wait awhile for the localized version of the latest and greatest product as well as for the updates, fixes and security patches others took for granted.

Typically, localized product releases were published once the source and documentation were finalized and essentially immutable. The shipment strategy for the releases was organized into target language tiers starting with the most profitable (or least costly to produce) and, back in the day, that usually meant FIGS (i.e., French, Italian, German and Spanish). Cost benefit analysis and technology usually played a role in identifying additional tiers with Latin-based European languages getting priority over versions that used more “exotic” writing systems (e.g., Arabic, Chinese, Russian or Greek). Clearly, this approach to multilingual software publication could mean wait-times of days and even months.

Nowadays, while slowing product releases in the domestic market, simship has made the wait times for localized product releases much shorter. Innovations in IT technology, in addition to affecting the cost-to-benefit calculation, have triggered a rapid revolution in the processes that ultimately facilitate and accelerate simship.

Once seen as a strictly post-development activity, these days a successful simship strategy is part and parcel of savvy internationalization informed by bones-deep, enterprise-level globalization. Among the myriad factors to consider, aiming for simship requires:

  • a complete rethinking and internationalization of product development processes
  • a thorough understanding of the diverse linguistic, cultural and legal contexts of your target markets
  • developing source code and a user interface (UI) that are readily localizable
  • identifying features and functions that, despite internationalization, will need to be localized and developing efficient localization processes
  • Rethinking and restructuring your in-country review, testing and QA processes

In the future, and possibly the very near future, the ability to produce multiple, market-customized versions simultaneously may blur or even eliminate the notional distinction between “source” and “target”. In the meantime, simship remains the gold standard in the IT sector and, increasingly, the marketing ideal of companies aiming for a viable global presence.

Photo Credit: “Caveman Chuck” Coker