HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Lee Quane

What firms need to know about mobility management


Global mobility programmes are pivotal to the growth and success of organisations, but with increasing complexities and the increasing volume of information to manage, the decision-making process can get rather daunting. Changing business dynamics, market volatility, the involvement of multiple stakeholders – each with their own priorities, and the need to contain costs whilst maintaining flexibility are just but a handful of the challenges faced by mobility professionals.

Organisations in Singapore, in particular, have found it necessary to rethink their mobility strategies ever since the economy has been under pressure. With a slowdown in global trade and a tightening labour market brought about by the exit of Baby Boomers and falling birth rates, the pressure on mobility professionals to effectively manage a globally mobile workforce has never been greater. In fact, a recent policy statement by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) predicts that the economy is not expected to pick up significantly in 2017.

As mobility management continues to be a function of the right technology, the right processes, and the right talent, we are witnessing a clear shift away from manual processes towards a robust, technology-based approach to managing assignments. The evolution of technology has seen software solutions become more feature-rich and complex, allowing international assignments – and the organisation’s greatest asset, their human capital – to be managed more sophisticatedly.

Optimal allocation of resources
There is typically a wealth of information gathered about an employee on assignment, including performance review ratings and appraisals, pay scales, fringe benefits, as well as learning and development activities. With a holistic assignment management platform in place, organisations are able to leverage a range of tools to help them carry out these administrative tasks. Apart from offering mobility professionals greater visibility, certain platforms can facilitate the matching of employee talent profiles with positions available and conduct skills gap analysis – allowing for a more efficient workforce allocation.

Cost estimate tools are another prime example. Mobility professionals often find themselves wondering: Why are our expatriate assignments so expensive? How do we justify such an expensive assignment policy? Is it worth it?

Some of the common problems in mobility management include understanding the nature of expenses unique to each location, charting cost projections and estimates and the slow turnaround in calculating return on investments for expatriates. Reducing time in managing mobility spend will result in efforts being channeled towards making strategic decisions; evaluating business operations against expatriate costs or identifying individuals that should be localised or repatriated in the coming year.

A cost-reduction measure
From having to manage retirement benefits, tax liabilities, and long-term career trajectories – the odds are that even if the mobility programme is well-planned, there is still room for error. This is presumably more pertinent for organisations overseeing a large number of expatriates across multiple destinations, where the management process is more complex.

There are inherent risks in miscalculations; the cumulative costs of failing to update an exchange or tax rate can mount up quickly, and may mean months, or years of financial burden on the expatriate. This could also incur non-financial costs such as low productivity, low self-esteem, or emotional stress. For organisations, the error might be difficult to rectify, resulting in reputational damage.

The adoption of new technology, however, does not eliminate the probability of error altogether. But by entering data in a single database that is up-to-date with regimes and policies that matter, organisations are able to avoid costs by reducing inaccuracies and inefficiencies. For instance, knowing that property prices in the host location has fallen allows the expatriates’ pay package to be automatically adjusted accordingly, without compromising on their welfare. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Lee Quane

Lee Quane

Lee Quane is Regional Director, Asia at ECA International.

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