With the increasing need for automation and remote working, the modern workspace has become more elusive than ever before, as did the vetting and relocation processes of skilled migrants. From tender to implementation, technology has solved many mobility challenges – and created some new ones.
A recent panel discussion about the effects of technology on global mobility processes delivery shed a lot of light on the sector and its future. The virtual LinkedIn event was hosted by Madalina Andrei, who is the Provider Relationship Manager at Xpath.global. The three industry specialists present as speakers were Bianka Budai (Global Mobility Program Manager for Nokia), Gopi Krishna (Global Head of Compensation & Benefits at QuEST Global), and Marisa Jacobs, (Managing Director at Xpatweb, Expatriate Solutions Specialists in Africa).
The pros of technology in the global mobility space
As the speakers shared their experience, the benefits of technology became evident. Krishna pointed out that the biggest impact technology has had on global mobility is that it was no longer about case management or improving on Service Level Agreement (SLA) standards. He believes that technology is all-pervasive and has enabled them to be more focused on the overall experience, for the employer as well as the employee, which could range from ensuring efficiency of remote working to facilitating the relocation process for employees.
“Technology creates transparency, improves user experience, enforces compliance through automated processes and removes individual dependency,” says Krishna.
For Budai, the benefit is not just about a central database that makes sure nothing gets overlooked. She is more excited about the analytics component of modern technology, which goes beyond the usual reports on assignments, nice presentations about geographical locations of assignees or the company’s male-female ratios.
“We have access to all this information,” said Budai. “Not just current data but also the historical data, which can add value to the business management process. We can form part of a business and proactively advise on business plans based on this data. This is something we could never do before.”
The host also made mention of how Xpatweb has made use of technology to conduct their annual skills surveys, which subsequently contributed immensely to South Africa’s Critical Skills List, as well as the Occupations in High Demand List. Jacobs highlighted the fact that the skills that showed the most movement were in the technology sector, which was another example of where global mobility and technology merged.
Challenges solved vs challenges created
The challenges brought about by the introduction of technology to the global mobility sector, differ largely from the challenges faced prior to the arrival of the digital age.
“Our challenges have transformed,” says Budai. “Technology is an enabler. We must now maintain that system and feed it information.”
Andrei, having ample experience herself, was quick to quip that the system will do whatever you tell it to do. However, it is difficult for people to trust in a system or to give over to technology. Also, it takes long to implement new technologies. Those who would have to rely on it, will have to be taught how to use it first. Understanding the process and knowing how to apply technology effectively could prove to be the biggest hurdle for global mobility practitioners to overcome.
“The best automation solution implemented on a bad process would still deliver a bad result,” says Krishna. His comment speaks to getting the process understood and the workflow correct before implementation. “A bad process can only see the gaps getting more emphasized. While there are fragmented technology solutions, global mobility is still a vast topic and requires many things to be integrated. I have not yet seen a technology solution bringing those fragmented pieces together.”
The power of human touch
When asked about the relationship between compliance and technology, Jacobs’ answer put an entirely new perspective on the discussion.
“The relationship between technology and global mobility compliance is indirect. Technology is used to facilitate the visa application process, to better track that process, and to submit documents to government, but, ultimately, it still ends up with an individual who is tasked to review the documentation and make a decision based on the information provided therein. Where technology has been more incorporated, especially with regards to pre-approval, pre-assessments or otherwise individual tax return filings, there remains a manual audit process that can’t presently be automated retaining the need for the human touch.”
The area of compliance is very complex because every jurisdiction will have a different mandate to follow. Technology could bridge the gap and, though still a far way off, the use of Artificial Intelligence could expedite many aspects of the global mobility process. However, the human element will always be a vital factor in the process.
Krishna fondly remembers how the use of tech was called upon during the lockdowns to engage with expatriates and a global workforce overall. He concludes, “The pandemic was a big disruptor. We created Whatsapp groups to keep in touch. In fact, we had to increase the human element! Tech enabled us to focus on this human touch.”
“I agree that the human touch is needed. Technology can never replace it. The two biggest stress events in someone’s life are changing jobs and moving house, an international assignment combines these two, and is compounded by uprooting your life and taking your kids with. Global mobility assignment managers are there to help, facilitate and support you during this process and the role these professionals play in a successful assignment cannot be underestimated” added Budai.