Technology in the world of work

Technology is changing the way in which companies and workers operate. In the global mobility sphere, a host of innovative new tools promise to save time and cost and empower employers and employees.

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See more features about technology in the Autumn 2016 issue of Relocate magazine on our Digital Issues page.


The importance of technology to the economy has been underlined in recent weeks.In July, it was announced that Japanese technology company Softbank was buying Cambridge-based ARM, one of the brightest jewels in the UK’s homegrown technology sector. In September, British company Micro Focus International, based in Newbury, announced the £7 billion acquisition of the software arm of American-owned Hewlett Packard. By any stretch of the imagination, this is a mega deal, and it could see Micro Focus overtaking Sage to become the UK’s biggest tech company.In both instances, the mobility programmes of these global companies will be put to the test. Teams will negotiate and work through the phases of transition and change as new corporate identities evolve and international centres of decision-making and operation are determined.

Impact on the retail sector

Retailers relocate their employees in a domestic context, and increasingly embrace global mobility as business expansion demands overseas travel for project work, career development or fact-finding short-term business trips.For companies from Tesco to Marks and Spencer and Amazon, being at the sharp end of technology is important as they respond to changing retail developments. Just as they deal with change in their own sector, they look to their suppliers to deliver cost savings and technology to support their people moves.
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The latest report from the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) and Capgemini reveals that year-on-year growth for online retailers (January to June 2016) is 25 per cent, while multichannel retailers report 9.5 per cent growth in the same period. Much of this is due to smartphones evolving from being research tools to becoming the major device to complete the purchase.The challenges of multichannel retailing and changes in shopping habits put Sports Direct under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, exposing the dangers of building inadequate facilities and employing 4,500 low-paid workers at its Shirebrook warehouse to do laborious work picking low-cost products. Sports Direct’s share price dropped by 60 per cent in the year.In contrast, John Lewis has seen enormous growth in online sales, which now account for 34 per cent of total revenue. As reported in the Financial Times, it has invested £250 million in building a highly automated warehouse complex near Milton Keynes. Viewers of a recent television documentary series on the company’s distribution technology couldn’t fail to be impressed.Andrew Street, John Lewis’s chief executive, who featured heavily in the series, was reported in the FT as saying the company needed “high skill, the technical knowledge to make all of this work. And high service, the people who are out with our customers.” This was the ethos that won John Lewis the Relocate HR Team of the Year award in 2012.There is an increasing drive for HR global mobility professionals and HR generalists to be more strategic. The technology tools of their suppliers can often free them up to deal with the bigger-picture issues and engage with their relocating employees and expatriates.

Technology enabling a more strategic approach

MOVE Guides, the technology-based relocation management company, brings together the various aspects of global mobility onto one platform. This allows HR global mobility users to focus on the parts of the job they love most. It also frees up more time.The company’s Cost Estimate Tool is a prime example. A familiar problem in global mobility has been the manual third-party generation of cost estimates and the slow turnaround of cost estimates for relocations and assignments.The tool gives users the ability to make real-time changes and compare cost estimates with actual expenditure. It reduces time in estimating and managing mobility spend, and gives real visibility on the cost to the business, thanks to easy-to-access data. At the click of a button, the user has cost estimates in minutes, not days or weeks, the company claims.The thorny issue of exceptions – or deviations from relocation and assignment policy – is another area in which a technology platform can make a huge difference. By tracking and storing the data on a platform, global mobility teams can focus on the analysis and key trends, enabling them to make strategic decisions about their programmes. MOVE Guides also explains how this approach relates to the wider HR trend around improving the employee experience and “empowering employees to take ownership of their situation and trusting them to do the right thing”. Removing the layers of admin and time spent on manually managing the employee population enables companies to shift the focus to hiring the right people and providing a positive experience that will drive retention.

Apple in the headlines

Apple has been in the headlines again recently, for controversial reasons as well as for the well-hyped launch of the iPhone 7. Longer battery life and a better camera will have kept some admirers happy, but the loss of the headphone jack infuriated others. This is seen as Apple’s move towards a future in which its sights will be set on the wireless audio market.Apple was also newsworthy because of the recent tax ruling against the Irish government. Liam Brennan, Going-there’s VP of client relations, highlights why the Apple tax ruling was important to global mobility. Referring to the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting reports (BEPS) that were presented to the G20 group of nations near the end of 2015, he explains this renewed initiative by governments to standardise the approach to taxing global corporates.The intention is to remove the possibility of companies playing off one jurisdiction against another and seeking to move profits from high-tax to low-tax locations. There is a strong wish from governments and the public to see global corporates pay their fair share of taxes. Liam Brennan points out that, while many of the guidelines are complex, Action 7 and Action 13 could have the biggest impact on global mobility and business travel.
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Action 7 seeks to reduce the threshold by which a Permanent Establishment (PE) is created. Action 13 requires companies to submit detailed country-by-country reports indicating the scale of their operations and the movement of employees and contractors in those markets. Although currently only applying to companies with global revenues exceeding €750 million, this is likely to impact companies of all sizes over time.Says Liam Brennan, “What this means for global mobility teams will be an increased requirement to monitor business travellers and assignees to particular jurisdictions. This increased administrative burden will be requested by the C suite in order to ensure that profits are allocated to individual markets and taxed accordingly.”Going-there’s GT Global Tracker app, which won this year’s Relocate Award for Technological Innovation, seems to have been launched at a perfect time as compliance measures become more vigorous. It tracks business travellers and assignees and records the length of time spent in each jurisdiction.The app checks double tax treaties and sends alerts, so that HR and global mobility teams can keep accurate records. Combining tracking for immigration and security, the benefits are obvious for this simple standalone app that delivers potentially huge value for organisations of all sizes in keeping employees and their corporate employers compliant and safe.

The power of mobility insights

Graebel has launched a new tool, MQ Insights, designed to support mobility leaders in their quest to provide their business leaders with strategic insights and to demonstrate the importance of mobility and the excellence of their programmes.Tim O’Shea, VP of consulting services at Graebel, explained how HR leaders could utilise the tool to strengthen their mobility programmes. The objective is to go beyond benchmarking and give senior mobility and HR executives a 360-degree view of their mobility programmes.Mr O’Shea is confident this tool is relatively unique in the mobility industry. This refreshing approach should tease out the forward-thinking strategists who are hungry to prove their worth and bring real value to their organisation’s decision-making table. It is about ambition and having the courage to take on board invaluable feedback from your peers. With this stride comes the empowerment to make a difference and tailor your mobility programme to the real and immediate needs of the business – and, importantly, to shape the future.Surely this is a true partnership approach? For those new to mobility or embarking on global expansion with little in-house support, this tool could be a godsend, bringing on board the stakeholders in tax, immigration and benefits, together with external suppliers, to provide a meaningful roadmap for mobility.MQ Insight assesses a company's mobility programme across seven areas, including people and structure, process, risk and compliance, technology, supply chain, financial services and policy management. It then provides HR/mobility executives with actionable, tangible recommendations to improve and strengthen their company’s programme. The diagnostic process involves two parts. First a survey is sent to individuals throughout the company to assess the mobility programmme. Once data is tabulated, Graebel follows up with comprehensive findings that reveal areas of excellence and opportunity, along with recommendations and resources to enhance the programme.Tim O’Shea, having previously worked for Fidelity Investments in Boston as VP of human resource shared services, is all too aware of the pitfalls of becoming too transactional in a mobility role. He understands the need to think more strategically. “The job is so much more about workplace planning and talent management,” he explained. The tool offers real leverage for mobility, making a valuable contribution to the success of the company, he feels, as well as offering a more interesting role and something much more impactful. “It is all too easy to get stuck in the day to day,” he said, and – with real empathy – “this makes us smarter”.

Virtual homesearch – select a new home without leaving your desk

Crown World Mobility has been investing in IT solutions to deliver home search at a reasonable cost that can be matched to policy type, saving time and effort all round. Needless to say, the solution is marketed as a perfect fit for short-term assignments and tech-savvy Millennials, who can view properties abroad without leaving their desks.Crown World Mobility’s regional director, Peter Sewell, says, “This is an exciting advance that aligns with the changes in the mobility sector. It is especially suitable for low-cost assignments, those who have challenges making physical viewings, and assignees who are time poor.”Depending on the option selected, those who choose Virtual Home Search will receive all the components of a traditional home-search programme, but without having to visit the destination.The assignee will be directed to a Crown World Mobility adviser to confirm and fine-tune their requirements before a destination specialist maps out the right solution for them. The assignee can choose to view this via a live stream or access the recording later.Peter Sewell adds, “These kind of technical solutions really appeal to Digital Natives and lower-budget career-development assignees, but we have also seen higher-level executives and their families take up this option rather than take a week out of work at a very stressful time in their lives. This saves the employee considerable time, while the company saves on flights and hotel costs.”

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