For US companies, multilingual sites are no longer optional. According to a new Report from Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR), firms must build a centralized palette of software to gain leverage, consistency, and speed while letting local offices choose which components to implement. In-country teams will customize applications to meet local needs, using translation to keep content ethnocentric.

“Since 50% of all online sales will be sold outside the US by 2004, building a multilingual site has become critical — particularly to those companies serious about winning in the Internet economy,” said Eric Schmitt, analyst at Forrester Research. “When offered in multiple languages, customer service features like product data sheets and technical FAQs provide differentiation, build brand loyalty, and cut support costs.”

By 2003, Forrester believes that a set of globalization software and services will emerge as Web-based localization ascends and legacy translation agencies diminish. In addition, today’s eBusiness applications that offer random multilingual capabilities will evolve into more language-agnostic products by the end of 2001. Finally, although qualified third-party assistance for multilingual sites is currently scarce, eCommerce integrators will increase globalization efforts.

To implement multilingual sites, Forrester believes companies should architect global site infrastructure, including a set of applications that can be customized for any language or country. A core set of software will provide a global, corporatewide foundation for all sites in any language. Applications will be centrally managed, belonging to a single global technology team. Firms will enhance these software palettes with interactive applications that support multiple tax and payment frameworks and are anchored by a worldwide publishing system.

The next step in building global site infrastructure involves localized application modules that enable firms to implement applications in a new language or locale. Modules will contain locale-specific information needed to give applications a native look and feel, and they will also make it possible for local Web teams to administer the software. Due to the unique demands of each market, local offices will selectively choose applications from the palette as needed.

Before software applications can go live, firms must establish processes to continuously integrate new content. To route this content through translation, editing, and approval, firms will use rules-based workflows that allow language synchronization and support every content type, including graphics, sound, and scripts. Administrators will also be able to vary access and security by user through a management console.

“For help building multilingual sites, firms will look for strategy and integration services but shouldn’t neglect help from globalization specialist,” added Schmitt. “These specialists will enable firms to make their eCommerce systems international, as well as prepare applications for deployment in new markets.”

For the Report “The Multilingual Site Blueprint,” Forrester interviewed 27 US-based multilingual-site owners. These early adopters target both business and consumer audiences, and most have maintained a non-English presence for at least 12 months. Sixty-three of the Fortune 100 Web sites are available in English only.