After a year of limited movement, the relocation industry is getting ahead with the usage of new, agile technology.
By Zee Johnson
With many businesses in the process of picking up the pieces left by last year’s tumult, the relocation sector is implementing new tools and technologies to help restore its momentum, productivity, and profits. One of the tools that’s been able to assist most with this? Artificial intelligence (AI).
According to Imran Karbhari, VP of technology transformation at Cartus, a relocation company, new technologies have made the sector more agile, and are shining a bright light at the end of the pandemic-driven tunnel. “When your industry is focused on physically moving people from one place to another, and half the world shuts down to varying degrees, that has a huge impact,” he says. “But it may have ironically set us up for longer term success by accelerating the digital transformation of our various initiatives and reprioritizing those things that could be optimized remotely.”
A recent Business Wire study found that the employee relocation services market will see a $6 billion dollar growth in spending over a four year period, between 2020 and 2024. Subsequently, it is expected that the industry will also grow at a CAGR of 3.56%.
For many companies, AI has been a revitalizer. Sam Hoey, senior VP of business development at Global Mobility Solutions, says companies across the industry are actively implementing new software into their processes and expect the payoff to be more than worthwhile. “We learned that many of the players in the relocation space are all working towards incorporating data intelligence into their processes. In the future, it will have a high impact as companies implement big data and artificial intelligence into their employee and client experience,” she says.
The use of AI is steadily helping streamline the relocation process, allowing the placement of transferees to be more efficient. From onboarding and scoping metrics to exchanging feedback and mapping out assignments, AI has helped to remove much of the angst that often comes with relocating.
“AI alleviates a huge amount of stress,” says Paige Holden, president of Xonex Relocation. “As an assignee, you’re going to a whole different place with a whole different work style with people who have different cultural norms that have influenced their personalities and work style. Culturally, it’s helping assignees decide if they are ready to move to a new country and what they can expect when they get there.”
Holden says that AI is able to gather specifics about a country’s culture and climate, metrics that would be difficult to obtain otherwise. “For example, we began working with GlobeSmart®, which is an online platform that enables a potential assignee to take a confidential assessment of their work style. The tool then uses its aggregated data to compare the assignee’s work style results to the cumulative work style trends common in the destination country,” she says. “From there, an assignee can see on a graph where their work style may be similar or different to their colleagues in the new location.”
Paul Gucciardi, global mobility systems manager at IBM, says the company’s tool, “Watson AI, Your Global Mobility Advisor,” uses data from reliable sources to help managers and employees make the best, most informed decisions prior to a move.
“It has simplified the initiation of an assignment that has allowed the assignee and the manager increased flexibility in choosing allowances and provisions,” he says.
He also believes it’s been critical in increasing both cost savings and work output.
“It reduces exceptions, increases productivity, and reduces mobility administration work. [So], we are not redesigning our plans because ‘Watson’ is recommending a budget with a set of allowance provisions. That constant reformulating gets downplayed considerably.”
According to a PwC study, the adoption of AI technology has skyrocketed over the past 18 months. Fifty-five percent of companies reported they accelerated their AI strategy in 2020 thanks to Covid, and 67% plan to continue the progression of their AI strategy this year. Seventy-four percent of executives not only anticipate AI will deliver more efficient business processes but believe it will help create new business models (55%) and enable the creation of new products and services (54%).
In another study by KPMG, business leaders from both small (88 percent) and large (80 percent) companies say AI technology helped their company during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s no surprise AI is playing a larger role in the relocation process. Hoey says that technology can collect essential data like payroll information to improve speed and efficiency.
“APIs (automated programming interfaces) allow for ease of data transmission between our systems and those used by our clients and our vendors. Key data such as wage requests, payroll data, service delivery information, and other important information, is sent and received in real-time, allowing for improved communication speed, reduced human handling, and improved accuracy,” she says.
Karbhari says AI is impacting the overall experience, with employers, transferees, and suppliers, seeing improvements. “AI helps them make decisions, and it enables organizations, especially the industry we are in, to respond to change quickly,” he explains.
While AI’s ease of use has reduced the need for human interference, relocation partners should ensure they are not utilizing tools that house implicit biases.
A study by the National Institute for Healthcare Management found that algorithmic predictions accounted for 4.7 times more racial disparities relative to standard measures. Corporations like Amazon and Microsoft also found their AI systems were unconsciously bias, favoring, and in turn, disregarding specific genders and races.
Gucciardi says that when using “Watson,” all data is gathered and provided without the use of distinguishing human qualities. “With our AI solution, we’re not bringing in any attributes to the employee or manager. So, we don’t know if it were male or female. We don’t know their age bracket. We don’t know their salary,” he explains.
Similarly, Karbhari says using trusted technology is one of the only ways for companies to get to the data and the data only. “Implementing AI helps a lot because it removes a lot of uncertainty from a human point of view and focuses more on data. That usually brings a very unbiased view of things. We only focus on zeros and ones.”
According to PwC, by 2030, AI will contribute roughly $15 trillion to the global economy, solidifying the technology’s wavering significance to the relocation industry and all other industries who adopt it.
Gucciardi says that AI is already deeply embedded in much of the world’s culture. “It’s here to stay. AI is being used in almost every business environment today. Think of when you use e-commerce. The vendors remember what you searched, present the info back, and extend other products when you access the site again and again,” he says. “AI is moving from compliance and tracking to bringing people together in positive ways.”
If not yet endorsed, companies should strongly consider how AI can be a solution for streamlining company operations and an advocate for efficiency and future-readiness.