Global mobility digitalization: building a business case By Narcisa Chelaru and Ulrike Hellenkamp, Mercer As a result of the ongoing COVID pandemic, digital considerations within the global mobility field have increased dramatically over the past year. Not surprisingly, a growing number of organizations are starting to respond, albeit with varying levels of success. After all, it’s not always easy to build a convincing business case for initiatives that will initially cost corporations more money. However, there are ways to overcome this and convince key decision-makers that these investments will pay off in the long-term. After first understanding the three guiding principles of global mobility digitalization, the next step is learning how to build a stable business case for your mobility digitalization efforts. Performing a detailed gap analysis can help uncover current shortcomings and provide organizational higher-ups with a clearer sense of direction and supporting evidence for guiding any mobile workforce towards increased digitalization. Here, you’ll learn how to identify your mobility department’s current challenges as a first step towards conducting a gap analysis to make your business case. From there, you’ll be able to obtain a better overview of your department’s current status quo, which in turn will allow you to identify and promote your desired solutions more effectively. Gap analysis: stating your challenge Within any gap analysis, there could be a variety of pain points which could be addressed. When it comes to increased digitalization and automation, some of the challenges include: Administrative complexity. Compliance and regulatory efforts. Workload and transactional error. Expatriates’ needs. Potential skill set changes. Budget constraints. Any of the above challenges should all be considered from the viewpoint of your different stakeholders’ expectations. For example, businesses need to be able to quickly run scenarios and understand different estimates to gain a better understanding of costs associated with sending employees abroad. This also helps businesses decide on the most practical method for doing this – whether through an assignment, permanent transfer, or hiring locally. Assessing different options in a critical manner such as this helps businesses improve their decision-making processes regarding costs and efficiency (as well as who to send where, and for how long). As for the assignees themselves, consider the ways in which their experiences could be improved through increased automation or digitalization. For example, something as simple as automated, pre-scheduled email reminders could make their jobs easier, while simultaneously saving the organization time and money. Gap analysis: understanding the status quo After carefully assessing the challenges your specific organization faces when it comes to increased talent mobility digitalization, you’ll gain a better understanding of your current status quo as a whole. But the work isn’t done there. After this, there are both considerations to consider relevant to your specific global mobility organization and considerations to be considered relevant to any global mobility organization. Status quo considerations for your global mobility organization Within your gap analysis, business case considerations that could be relevant to your unique organization include things such as the size of your global mobility program. For larger programs, it’s more likely for assignees to already rely on more automated solutions. With more people to manage, the costs of automation are more easily justified. On the other hand, medium- or smaller-sized programs tend to have a harder time justifying large-scale automations. Your digital adoption business case might be harder to justify if your department falls into this category. However, over the past five years or so, the technological landscape has evolved to the extent that there are now a wide variety of cost-efficient, scalable solutions designed for departments of all sizes. In addition, many of these tech-based solutions are also designed as out-of-the-box services, making them more efficient and less time-consuming to adopt for smaller- and medium-sized businesses/departments. When it comes to your specific global mobility organization, another consideration is whether or not there is already a larger tech strategy in place where global mobility could simply be added to the agenda. After all, the company culture and its affinity toward technology in general is an incredibly important consideration when putting together your business case. Also, take time to consider the set-up of these tech strategies (and, at the same time, your global mobility departments/programs). For example, are these strategies and programs centralized or decentralized? This will impact how long it might change to adopt increased automation and digitalization (i.e., it’s usually easier to implement and use new technologies in a more centralized environment). Status quo considerations for all global mobility organizations Aside from the aforementioned specific global mobility elements individual to each unique company, there are some commonalities that apply to all organizations. One of these commonalities is the cost element. Companies rarely prioritize the budget for mobility technology, so this generally requires a bigger effort to turn the focus to mobility and why it matters for the organization at large. This ties into the next part of the gap analysis: promoting your desired solution. Gap analysis: promoting your desired solution To make any business case, the most important thing to justify is the up-front costs. From this perspective, one thing to always keep in mind is the fact that global mobility itself will not be the only beneficiary of increased automation. The expatriates/assignees, HR professionals, and various other stakeholders within your company will ultimately benefit as well. Therefore, it is important to highlight that any solution you wish to promote will actually be beneficial and more cost-efficient for the entire organization. Below, you’ll see an overview of three main pillars for substantiating the up-front business costs of talent mobility digitalization. These pillars include increased speed/efficiency/ROI, a streamlined employee experience, and enhanced visibility and interaction. Increased speed, efficiency, and ROI Increased speed, efficiency, and ROI are all indirect cost benefits of increased digitalization. By improving and minimizing risks with automation, these intangible benefits will give various members of the organization with more free time to focus on more human-centric, strategic tasks. A streamlined employee experience Another softer element of increased digitalization is the unique experiences it can provide for expats. Naturally, before adopting any new digitalization processes, the expectations and needs of your employees and assignees should all be taken into account, addressed accordingly, and presented as benefits within your business case. Enhanced visibility and interaction Within many companies, mobility is seen as an area that is extremely specialized. As a result, mobility departments frequently aren’t as well-connected to other parts of the business as they should or could be. Programs within the mobility department are seen as even more specialized. However, a key point to make is that the digitalization of global mobility and international working is no longer unusual in this day and age. In fact, these things are very much a part of the new normal, and have only been pushed further into the limelight by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, enhanced levels of visibility and interaction should be focused on mobility departments, which ultimately helps the others within the organization connect with these mobile employees. The right technology is a great asset for achieving this. Case Studies Case study 1: technology integration Case study 2: improving workflows and recurring tasks Some final thoughts on global mobility digitalization It’s important to remember that making the jump to increased digitalization can be a difficult step to make. With that in mind, one of the key accelerators of increased automation and digitalization is some catalyst that changes the dynamics of the mobility function or the entire organization. A simple example might be the decision to add more staff to manage the international assignment function. Or, an acquisition might significantly expand the pool of mobile employees to manage at a company. When building your business case and conducting your gap analysis, keep an eye out for such changes and consider how they might be used to your advantage.