The evolution of global mobility through technology

Written by
Andrea Piacentini

08 Jan 2016

08 Jan 2016 • by Andrea Piacentini

The management of global mobility (GM) programmes and, the use of technological means to support and refine GM activities and vendor/outsourcing decisions are a key part of the delivery strategy and practices for multinationals.

As the HR and GM worlds continue to evolve at such a fast pace, the RES forum wanted to take the pulse of organisations in terms of their use of targeted IT approaches to generate and manage expatriation information and decision-making. In addition, multinationals are always looking for areas where they can eliminate wasteful GM patterns and practices, improve their mobility processes and remodel their service delivery. This article showcases the results of a survey of 70 international organisations and will help enterprises reflect on their chosen GM programme management and technology use.

Strategic support

The role of GM professionals seems to have evolved with about half having some sort of strategic role today. More than a third of GM professionals work as partners to other HR professionals in order to manage strategic business needs (39%) while 14% work as HR business partners (HRBPs). However, another third have no strategic involvement in assignment planning. 84% of the organisations had a mobility centre of expertise (CoE) with a wide range of functions. These functions always undertake policy writing and management, but their work also normally encompasses assignment documentation management, tax, immigration, compensation and vendor management.

The GM teams almost always support the reward strategy globally through feeding back strategic information (86%) and through a range of other support roles. Beyond this, two in five mobility managers deliver strategic information to support the talent management strategy, plus almost a third (30%) assist with individual assignments and career planning of identified future leaders.

Programme management and the decision to outsource

The workflows, speed, flexibility and quality assurance mechanisms of global mobility depend on the delivery mechanisms. Organisations obviously exercise their own choices with substantial variations in terms of whether they do the GM work entirely within their organisation or outsource some or all of it.

The data indicates that most multinationals have chosen to deliver all of the GM work in-house. Amongst those, the majority are highly centralised in their expatriate work in that it is managed globally and executed in one global HR service centre (53%). A further 24% have organised the GM work regionally and only a small minority (10%) are currently reviewing or planning to outsource some or all of their work in the future.

Where organisations have chosen to partially outsource activities, they indicated that the range and frequency of outsourcing of particular services is varied. Often, specialised knowledge in the areas of immigration, tax services, destination services and language instruction is hard to come by in-house which is one of the predominant reasons to use an external service provider. In turn, companies normally have good expertise to draw up compensation packages, create the overall assignment packages, draw up offer letters and do the contracting so these activities are rarely outsourced. Again, organisations seem to be reasonably content with their overall programme management structure in so far as 65% would not even consider moving to a fully outsourced model in the future.

A tenth of organisations had opted for a fully outsourced GM approach. The providers would frequently interact on a global level with internal HR professionals (60%) with only 10% having local level interactions. Only half of these organisations were happy with the fully outsourced model. Last year, the RES Forum asked its members to rate the outsourcing providers and there is no indication in this year’s comments that these ratings have changed.

Of those companies that had either partially or fully outsourced their GM services, the large majority used multiple vendors (71%) and only 17% focussed on one vendor. Multiple vendors were used because organisations wanted to retain control of the overall mobility programme (61%), because the expertise in-house was strong enough so that only some specialised vendor services were needed (61%), to improve assignee support (43%) and/or to ensure that maximal perceived cost savings were achieved (41%).

The issues of quality assurance and service delivery as well as good prices are obviously at the heart of the relationship with outside vendors. One of the       in-house GM team’s responsibilities is therefore the management of the key performance indicators and overall quality of outsourcing providers.

In contrast to last year’s survey, this year’s survey suggests that it is more likely that mobility experts manage the organisation's service provider relationship. A third of local/regional mobility HR teams and a quarter of in-house global relocation vendor management teams are charged with this task. Managers outside the GM function, e.g. the in-house procurement team (17%), are much less likely to interact with mobility service vendors. In depth mobility understanding seems likely to enhance the HR staff’s ability to successfully negotiate and quality-assure outsourcing relationships.

Programme management and the use of technology

It is clearly important to track assignee movements. The data showed that the tracking solution used by responding organisations for this is often highly unsophisticated but equally inexpensive. Almost half of the multinationals questioned used excel spreadsheets to track their expatriates, with the other half having more specialised software.

Of these tracking systems, 76% are not intelligent, only 9% are fully interactive and automated while a further 15% suggest the next steps in the workflow. Slightly more than half (55%) of respondents had assignee reporting capabilities. In terms of their interaction with other HR IT systems, less than one in ten was fully interactive and could share data in an automated way. Almost two thirds of organisations had to input data into other systems manually and 24% could at least transfer data through downloading reports from the tracking system. Overall, there is little movement in terms of the technology used in comparison to last year. It seems there is still a severe lack of the use of intelligent GM systems. Thus, only rarely do the IT approaches help to notify vendors or update payroll systems when changes occur. With respect to GM technology, there are still efficiency effects that remain unexploited.

The data indicated a 10% risk for two areas. First, when asked whether the assignee tracking tools available gave a clear picture at all times of the exact expatriate population (including locations), one in ten respondents indicated that their system does not provide accurate assignee data (and a further 55% said it was only ‘reasonably accurate’). A further 10% of organisations thought that their systems did not allow them to track or manage tax and immigration compliance appropriately.

Many companies are acutely aware of the value of data management in GM. Good data management shows the value of assignment data in contributing to strategic workforce planning, cost and risk management, as well as strategic talent management. As it stands, some organisations do not fully exploit the opportunities that the sophisticated use of technology in GM can open up. In addition, it seems that a small percentage of companies may expose themselves to considerable risks within their global mobility tracking.

This article is an abridged extract taken from The RES Forum’s latest Annual Report which can be found on the group’s website.