Parlez-vous Software?

Language translations and currency conversions enhance financial accuracy.

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The majority of D-Liteful Baking Company's rank-and-file employees speak Spanish, whereas English is dominant among management at the Miami-based company. Eighty-five percent of D-Liteful's 40 workers who speak Spanish are more proficient performing tasks when provided instructions in their native language.

"They are more comfortable and at ease,'' says Eric Guevara, D-Liteful's chief financial officer. "Work is stressful as it is-if you force someone to use a language that is not their first language it becomes even more stressful."

The $2.1 million company recently installed Accpac's Advantage Series to assist in the training of its Spanish-speaking employees.

Partner Insights

Using the multi-language application, D-Liteful employees log onto their computer and select which language they want to work in-English or Spanish. The software is also configured so that numerous employees working on the same document can access it in different languages simultaneously. When the worker is finished, but before the report is closed, its words and financial data are converted to the language where the business is located or the one that meets the company's reporting requirements.

The application has reduced the workers' learning curve and enhanced their accuracy and performance, says Guevara.

D-Liteful is hardly an isolated case. America's workforce is growing increasingly diverse as it mirrors the United States' dependence on the global marketplace.

Spanish is the most popular language for multi-language software. In the United States, the Spanish-speaking population in particular represents both a challenge and an opportunity. Latinos represent the largest minority group in the United States. The U.S. Census reports in 2002 that there were 37.4 million Latinos, or more than one in eight people in the United States. With the fifth-largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, this country is expected to move into second place behind Mexico by 2010.

Latino-owned businesses represent one of the most dynamic segments of the U.S. economy, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The agency reported, in 2004, that there were some 2 million Latino-owned businesses (or 8 percent of all U.S. businesses) with annual revenues totaling $200 billion.

The need is strongest in places like Florida where new Spanish speakers continue to arrive.

"You have waves of immigrants coming in-Columbians and Venezuelans-and there's the older generation of Cubans who are more comfortable in their language. It's a quicker learning curve if they are able to see the modules in Spanish than it is in English," says Manny Buigas, vice president of sales and marketing for Next Level Information Systems, the Coral Springs, Fla..-based reseller that sold and installed the D-Liteful system.

Perhaps surprisingly, there's less demand in some international areas than would seem likely. Although Next Level does a substantial amount of business in the Caribbean islands, most business there is done in English.

There are a wide range of popular products not available in Spanish, including Peachtree Software and the widely used QuickBooks. Best Software also doesn't have an official Spanish version of its mainstay MAS 90 line. In some cases, resellers have taken things into their own hands. Open Systems provides a Spanish version of its Traverse through a reseller in Puerto Rico.

Novato, Calif.-based AccountMate offers a language translator built into the domestic version of its software, but the functions need to be implemented by a reseller.

"All screens can be translated without having to modify source code," says Donna DeRosa, the company's director of product development. The software can also be tuned so that different users work in different languages while in the same application.

Best has largely inherited Spanish language products through its purchase of Accpac and of SalesLogix, the CRM company that sells products in French, Italian, German, and Spanish.

Not all foreign language products succeed, despite the growing Spanish-speaking population.

Michael Drapes, owner of El Paso, Texas-based Drapes Consulting, says that a Florida reseller had offered a Spanish translation of MAS 90 in about 1997. In fact, he still has a link to the information on his Web site.

"I had a couple of opportunities to sell it," says Drapes, whose headquarters sits in a city along the Mexican border. "But when I called them, they said it had gone nowhere."

Across the World

Still, there is a need that goes beyond serving non-English speakers in the U.S. The proliferation of multi-language applications is welcomed by multinationals, and by small businesses wanting to maximize their workers' productivity. One appeal for businesses is the ability of a manager in the home office to log on and review local accounting reports from foreign offices. By utilizing the same application in offices in different countries, companies can generate significant time-and-cost savings.

To cater to the growing needs of U.S. businesses hiring employees whose second language is English, accounting software vendors are rolling out updated products with multi-language applications.

Chinese, French, and Spanish are just a few of the languages from which the multi-language accounting applications on the market can translate data entered by employees into English.

Peter Kaufman, CEO of Dynamic Software Solutions, a Miami-based Accpac reseller, says companies-especially multinationals and those with foreign subsidiaries-have an increased need for software applications that can be read and understood by employees in various countries.

Accpac, purchased by Best Software last year, has had one of the more active language programs, driven by its business in Canada, where the need for French versions is strong.

Its retail Simply Accounting 2005, available in an English/Spanish version, has an English/French counterpart sold in Canada under the name Simple Comptable.

The multi-language capabilities extend to Accpac CRM, which can present information in the language determined by the user's location. It can upload personal or business data and roll the translation over to all the software's applications.

Much of the need for the use of additional languages is driven by the regulatory requirements of different countries, which means a one-dimensional approach will not work, says Kaufman.

"Where it becomes tricky,'' Kaufman says, "is when different countries have different accounting rules and sometimes there are different names for the same thing." For example, in Argentina, software must be able to cope with the terms of the Impuesto de Valor Aggregado, a value-added tax.

DSS, which had revenue of around $3.5 million last year, has derived much of its growth from companies looking to enter or further penetrate foreign markets.

Growing Demand

A surge in demand for multilingual products from companies wanting to grow their international business has San Mateo, Calif.-based NetSuite preparing to introduce German and Italian, in addition to the already available Chinese and French versions of its online application.

"When you are operating in multiple countries you have to make sure you adhere to the local filing requirements, including taxation, currency, and disclaimers,'' says Craig Sullivan, NetSuite's director of product management.

NetSuite says this is one area in which the advantages of offering online updates show. Customers don't have to wait for the company to ship new versions. Once the language is ready, it can be made available online.

Similarly, as more countries join the European Union, software vendors will be introducing or revising their existing multi-language applications. Some vendors say that there are different ways of adding languages, not all of which generate the same quality of product, particularly a straight translation.

"Translation is never really complete because there are always changes,'' says Sullivan.

Accpac boasts it doesn't localize multi-language software by developing patches from existing foreign language software and adapting it for new markets. Instead, it develops its multi-language product from the ground up to ensure it is relevant to the market it is to serve.

"The distinction is more than just language,'' said Craig Downing, Accpac's vice president of product management. It's not just a matter of putting the words in another language. The software, he continues "must be compliant with local standards pertaining to language, date, and currency."

For example, accurate conversions to Italian lira from other currencies would require additional spaces for zeros and decimal places. It doesn't stop there. The dateline order in Italian and other European languages, is year, month, day; instead of the month, day, and year, as in English.

Following a Pattern

Microsoft Business Solutions contends that its approach to multilingual software, patterning new foreign language applications on similarities with its existing offerings, gives it an edge when it comes to rolling out new products.

Andy Smith, product unit manager of the Global Development and Localization Team for MBS, used the creation of its Japanese language product due out in 2006 as an example.

When MBS evaluated introducing a Japanese language product it got the green light due to the significant cost and time savings that would be realized designing it based on the similarities it had with its existing foreign language software.

Of a pre-existing list of 13 criteria for the Japanese application, Smith says, each one had been created before for software included in other foreign language applications.

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