Over the past 12 months, I’ve taken a number of client inquiries on globalization and multilingual strategies. But in all cases, it turned out that the challenge wasn’t really providing multilingual support. Instead, organizations are struggling to meet demand among customers, suppliers, partners, regulators and others for direct access to core enterprise systems from multiple regions, often through mobile devices or pervasive web applications. So the real question is: How are user engagement strategies affecting our ability to achieve a single, global business and technology platform that supports the increasingly pervasive use of mobile technologies?

This is now a top-of-mind consideration for many companies, especially as emerging markets are an increasingly important part of their global business strategies. The challenge is how best to tailor and adapt their products and services to capitalize on these emerging market opportunities without losing the benefits of economies of scale and the requirements for global transparency and compliance. And it’s not just about global IT service delivery; it’s about how technology can now serve the unique needs of both internal and external users, particularly where major differences may exist across language, culture, law, infrastructure, geography, value systems, and the economy.

In the early days of the Web, organizations had trouble creating a single web presence that could handle multiregional and multilingual requirements. These days, enterprise web content management platforms support the rendering of a single content object in multiple languages with relative ease. A “one-to-many” publishing solution, like these web content management systems, is great for outward-facing communications. But what happens when you must support functionally rich systems of engagement that are built on top of smart and connected mobile devices that transcend the relatively “simple” need for language translation?

We have spent the past 15 to 20 years consolidating and centralizing regional systems into a rationalized portfolio of global IT systems that help support the business. But in the age of the customer, the use of technology is more about the relationship users have with smart devices, personalized services, and highly dynamic information. So, is it desirable — or even possible — to have a single global enterprise technology platform that meets the needs of both internally and externally facing users? Must we sacrifice everything achieved over the past 15 or 20 years just to provide a richer end user experience? Are there any compromises that we can make to ensure we achieve global consistency while balancing the need for supporting regional uniqueness?

My research has already shown that the majority of global organizations have an unofficial English-first policy for the bulk of employee-facing enterprise applications. This suggests that our focus on standardization and consolidation over the past 15 to 20 years has forced a lowest-common-denominator approach. This won’t work in the age of the customer. So will technology itself rise to the challenge of being able to equally serve global needs, regional requirements, and individual users’ tastes and preferences, whether they are internal or external users of our technology platforms? What methods and approaches are organizations using to try and determine needs and what decision models help to define priorities?

I’m currently working on research that is asking some of these fundamental questions. I will be seeking answers from global software and services providers and large end user organizations alike. If you would like to participate in this research, please let me know; email me at jbrand@forrester.com. I will set up a short 30-minute interview as a starting point. Anyone who contributes to this research will receive a free copy of the completed report. If you have any burning issues on how mobility and pervasive computing might be affecting your organization’s globalization strategy, please provide your comment on this blog or shoot me an email.