The recent FIDI Conference in Amsterdam was an opportunity for FIDI members to take stock of many industry trends – but the topic that dominated was technology. In all kinds of industries the same conversations are happening: but how is technology changing the world of global mobility? And what are the key technologies that we need to watch?
Three technological trends came up repeatedly. And the good news is that we should not see them as complications to our lives. Blockchain, artificial intelligence and data analytics are going to make our lives easier. Here’s how.
Trend #1: Blockchain – streamlining processes
Global assignments are managed through a complex arrangement of companies, agencies, individuals and governments – all spread around the world, and often working in very different ways. This means that communications and processes between them are painfully slow and laborious.
From customs clearance and insurance documents to payment processes and working permits, we have to deal with lots of small, unconnected mini-processes, each with its own documentation.
The principle behind blockchain streamlines these processes by bringing everything together and logging it on a single distributed “hyper-ledger”.
Because every transaction is indelibly recorded and made viewable to all interested parties, it is a trusted single source of truth. This removes much of the manual work involved in such processes. What used to be done by several people over a week can now be done quickly by a single person.
Trend #2: Data analytics – proving your worth
For years, global mobility has been trying to assume a more strategic role in the organization. But to do that, it has to prove its value. Which means producing some hard facts.
The case for data analytics is clear. As analytics technology evolves, we are better placed to measure and analyse factors such as:
Again, our use of analytics is just starting. BGRS reports in a survey that over 70% of companies are taking only a reactive approach to using data analytics – i.e. waiting to be asked before providing the information. But companies are increasingly using their data as a way to analyse and control costs, pre-empt problems, improve program design and ultimately to align with other parts of the business – e.g. HR and Talent Management.
It is often a constant battle to prove to other parts of the business the importance of the role played by global mobility. If you are armed with the right facts and figures – and show that you are using this data to support other divisions – your life will be much easier.
Trend #3: AI – making better use of your time
Artificial intelligence. The title seems partly ironic because AI exists to replace the tasks that require the least intelligence of us. While blockchain creates a single, trusted ledger where all transactions are documented, artificial intelligence frees us of the mundane.
AI technology automates payments, it pre-populates forms, it manages communications: all those tasks that might occupy an afternoon’s work of a human being can now be done by software behind the scenes.
Often known as machine learning, AI will have an increasing effect on global mobility processes. A typical example is the ‘chatbot’ – an AI-driven resource for assignees or other interested parties that delivers answers without the involvement of GM personnel. As the term ‘machine learning’ suggests, AI gets better over time. The software algorithms behind it are smart enough to identify patterns and respond accordingly – a simple example might be to place the most frequently requested resource at the top of the page.
The result is that expats, suppliers and other third parties get a better experience, while the more mundane tasks are removed from your to-do list.
Concerns and next steps?
The general agreement at the FIDI Conference was that the technologies mentioned will cascade through the industry in the coming years – with blockchain leading the way. Larger companies are more able to invest in their development, and their successes will embolden others to follow their example.
Keynote speaker Patrick Shwerdtfeger noted that use of such technologies will become so commonplace that it will be expected by customers. This is known as the Amazon effect, ie that technology makes our everyday lives so much easier as consumers that we begin to expect it in the workplace. “Rather than being a competitive advantage, not using it will become a disadvantage”.
However, one delegate’s concern that an emphasis on technology would take the ‘human factor’ out of global mobility was quickly discounted. It is true that ours is an industry built around people’s needs. And it is equally true that we should not forget the importance of human relationships and concerns. But blockchain, artificial intelligence and analytics will enhance our ability – and free up our time from administrative tasks – to act as and interact with humans. Because with better data, more streamlined processes and more efficient tools, people are more able to deliver creativity, innovation and value. People are freed from machine-like drudgery to be more effective than ever.
To help its Affiliates and global mobility stakeholders in general to navigate this complex and fast-changing world, FIDI Global Alliance will continue to keep a pulse on what’s happening – stay tuned for exciting news to come!