Globalization in the Technology Sector Part One: Creating a Geo-Alignment Program to Boost NetApp’s Globalization Strategy

By NetApp’s Anna N Schlegel

Anna SchlegalAnna N Schlegel heads up globalization strategy at NetApp. She is the Director of NetApp’s Globalization Programs Strategy Office (GPSO), which she set up in 2009. Anna is a globalization industry innovator and leader who relied on Welocalize to set up a solid operation to go to market. As a Technology leader, NetApp regularly launches products and services to a worldwide audience. Their globalization strategy is crucial to NetApp’s success. In this first blog, Anna talks about how she introduced “geo-alignment” to NetApp and her localization team. Her objective on this topic was to improve internal communication with NetApp HQ and field offices, based all over the world. This would in turn improve localization efforts for global technology product launches, increasing efficiency and reducing internal waste. A challenge for global enterprises.

A few years back, I introduced the term “geo-alignment” to my department. Although car mechanics use the term when aligning tires (smile), I think this is the first time it was used in a global business setting with a formal program. For me, I wanted the introduction of my geo-alignment to mean better internal communications with the NetApp field offices and HQ to reduce fake work. This would make our globalization and localization strategy even better.

You can imagine the amount of questions and push back when I tried to explain that we ought to do better and listen to the field more, and I was also asking the field to show accountability back to HQ. I had seen too many communication gaps with the field, and we were not necessarily listening well to our geo leads and country managers, and the HQ leads were also not being heard. I saw HQ teams spending hours and money on programs that were not being adopted in the field; I saw programs being incubated in the field that HQ had no idea about. At a multi-billion dollar high growth company, this type of activity creates anxiety, misunderstandings, headaches and a ton of wasted time and efforts. Not ideal for your brand strategy. If you work at a global company, this probably all sounds familiar.

Believe it or not, I was so passionate about this and saw so much waste that I was allowed to create a “geo alignment” team at NetApp. When I presented the concept at a few conferences a few years ago, most globalization managers said something in the likes of: “I wish we had such a team!” or “Wow, there are too many disconnects, I don’t even know where to begin.”

I selected a team of individuals who worked at HQ who were the ultimate globalizers. They were well travelled, had lived in several countries, had worked in several countries and understood multi-country relations with a passion. True diplomats. Equally important, we placed a lead in Europe, a lead in Asia, and a lead for the Americas geographies.

The job of this team was, amongst other things, to understand what was cooking and being produced at HQ and what was needed from a field perspective. Their mission was to embed geo requirements from the start. Sounds easy right? This took a whole mindset change of folks who albeit having the word “global” in their titles did not quite know how to ask for requirements, or who to necessarily talk in the field. Now we had a formalized program, and there were no more excuses. We offered the vehicle to exchange ideas, introduce early concepts, gather and vet requirements and share calendars in advance. The waste went down fast!

The results were astounding over time: fewer programs sprouted out from the field, less confusion around HQ programs, more connections between all worlds, with clearer requirements and less waste, and folks with the title “Global” were now acting globally. Going global is not easy; this was a way to educate teams.

I didn’t want any more “one country centric programs, or one language centric programs.” With this team, we educated full departments how to plan to go global, how to embed requirements from the start, and how to include the country leads in crucial conversations. It helped having a strong localization partner like Welocalize to man the operation so we could focus on requirements. A huge benefit to NetApp was more simultaneous product launches, in more languages, to more global markets with less misalignment.

Anna N Schlegel

Read the second blog in this series: Globalization in the Technology Sector Part Two: Four Tips to Setting Up a Geo-Alignment Program by Anna N Schlegel

Anna is also co-founder of the Women in Localization organization