Supplier Management Fundamentals — Do You Really Need Multilingual Capability? (Part 1)

The recently published Spend Matters Compass Report, Supplier Information Management (SIM) Technology Fundamentals -- Part Two, offers a true insider's view -- in condensed Cliff Notes format -- into the nuances of successfully implementing supplier management systems and programs from the likes of providers such as Aravo, GXS/Rollstream, HICX, Hiperos, SAP, Oracle, Emptoris/IBM, Achilles and others. One of the subjects we examine in the paper is whether multilingual capabilities truly matter -- or not.

We think that multilingual capability is often overrated when it comes to SIM (especially from a supplier perspective). Our experience and research suggests that it is usually not important for the majority of SIM deployments. Still, in the case of global rollouts and for organizations desiring truly best-in-class capabilities -- for whatever reason -- multilingual support can be important. But these rollouts comprise only a minority in the field today. Relative to sourcing, P2P and other areas (especially when they are/will be used globally) pragmatic globalization of supplier management often involves more around the types of qualification questions and data that needs to be managed rather than simply localizing for language.

When it comes to how providers actually stack up today regarding multilingual capability, the majority of vendors have difficulty with either Asian characters (double-byte) or Arabic/ Hebrew right-to-left enablement. It is important to note that these can be important given transliteration challenges (especially in Arabic) with individuals, place names, etc. Still, we have observed that less than 10% of organizations evaluating SIM tools require these capabilities up front given targeted geographic deployment scopes. This may reflect an overreliance on English with suppliers, but the reality is that the internal language used by corporations operating in cross-border settings is almost always English, even in many companies headquartered in non-English countries.

Stay tuned as our investigation of this topic continues in Part 2. Or if you're curious to learn more in the meantime, you can download the entire report: Supplier Information Management (SIM) Technology Fundamentals -- Part Two.

- Jason Busch

Voices (4)

  1. Thomas Kase:

    James, I think you underestimate the capabilities of suppliers – I have direct experience from clients working successfully with Japanese suppliers (in English) as well as the same in non-English parts of Europe.

    Suppliers to the Fortune 500 (a good portion of our audience) are quite capable in English. Also, I know of many firms headquartered in non-English countries that have chosen English as their internal communication language.

    It is certainly not an irrelevant feature – but shouldn’t be used as an excuse when it comes to rolling out a solution.

    Thomas
    Tri-lingual – English, Japanese, Swedish 🙂

  2. James:

    "What do you call someone that speaks one language – American."

    A great post but still myopic.
    What do you call someone that speaks one language – American / English or Australian. They all have the same lack of global perspective.

    Anyone trying to do global business needs to have local language capability or they increase cost and error rates within their supply chain.

  3. Philip:

    I wasn’t going to poke this one, but now that the Godfather has chimed in, I have to add that the SIM Fundamentals article mentions the importance of selecting a solution that has the flexibility to meet tomorrow’s needs and not just today’s.

  4. The Godfather:

    It only matters if the language required is yours. Try telling a CPO in Paris that English is good enough. A cyrillic company name, IS cyrillic not an English transliteration and an Mandarin address is not written intended to be ASCII. I think if we’re truly objective, we tend to be a bit overly English centric.

    Reminds me of an old joke:
    What do you call someone that speaks three languages – multilingual.
    What do you call someone that speaks two languages – bilingual.
    What do you call someone that speaks one language – American.

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