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By Lee Quane, regional director, Asia at ECA International

In today’s digital era, it should come as no surprise to anyone that technology plays a key role in transforming businesses.

Over the past couple of years, global mobility professionals have faced increased complexity, such as volatility from economic, socio-political and business perspectives. As well as the need to adapt existing policies and processes to a market that demands segmentation of the offering, due to fast-changing employee and business requirements.

Many companies are now looking for ways to modernise their programmes, whether through automation or by increasing their use of technology to save time, reduce errors or generate greater efficiency.

By spending less time on laborious tasks and removing duplicate work by implementing tools that integrate with each other, global mobility teams can instead focus on value-adding tasks. In other words, technological solutions will help them meet business requirements: Managing ever-shortening lead times, demonstrating value and ideally creating savings, and having strong analytics at the ready to support the business.

Varying degrees of automation

In its most basic form, a technology solution to automate a global mobility task can be something as simple as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which runs basic macros to deliver a build-up calculation or a rudimentary cost-estimate.

Given all the excitement around technology, Microsoft Excel is still a crucial technology solution for most companies and, technically speaking, a macro is a basic type of robot. This is worth bearing in mind, as often people talk about ‘robots’ without really considering that anything that replicates something that humans already do is a ‘bot’.

The next level of automation uses standalone calculators that save global mobility teams from writing and maintaining the various macros and spreadsheets, whether for the latest cost of living data or changes to tax codes. After this comes more sophisticated assignment management systems, and it is typically at this stage where global mobility teams begin to customize technological tools to their specific policy rules and requirements.

A system like this usually works off the back of a database of assignees, allowing for convenient and accurate reporting with a few clicks – something that even the most talented spreadsheet wizards would struggle to put together. The more high-end systems also offer time-saving functionalities like workflows or document generation.

The next generation – VR, AR and AI

The scope for global mobility technology does not end with systems and tools, as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are entering the arena, especially when it comes to relocation. Instead of arranging a preview visit to check out a selection of properties ahead of an assignment, some potential assignees could take a 360-degree tour with a VR headset to show them around a possible new home.

Although the headset cannot fully replicate the experience of a visit in person, it’s much more immersive than scrolling through pictures, and significantly cheaper, more convenient and environmentally friendlier than flying over the property.

AR can also be harnessed for the physical relocation process, and apps already exist that help people figure out whether that piece of furniture they have will fit into their new home, or how big a shipment they will require for the contents of their house.

AI offers real potential to free up global mobility teams from having to answer some basic, repetitive questions. Assignees might speak with chatbots as the first port of call for basic questions, with only the more complex queries escalating to the global mobility team. Although it is still early days when it comes to VR, AR and AI, we can only expect these technologies to develop and change the way mobility happens.

On the horizon

Regardless of where companies are on their technology ‘journeys’, they are increasingly aware of what the future might offer. Even if technology is not yet being used to its full potential, many companies are taking steps to future-proof their businesses. The key is to have a clear focus of future needs when making the initial selection – transitioning from one software to another can be an arduous process.

It’s vital for companies to be able to rely on their suppliers and care should be taken to select tech providers who can become long-term partners and continue to provide support as requirements evolve over time.

Crucially, we cannot forget the human aspect that seeps into everything we do, both within global mobility and beyond. Although technology can be a huge asset that makes our daily jobs and life easier, it will never fully replace the roles of humans.

Rather than fearing replacement, we should embrace the exciting opportunities and liberties that new technologies can offer, and how they will enable us to add value to what we do every day.