Mobile apps deliver all the essentials—and much more—right in the palm of your hand.
By Russ Banham
Few career demands are as financially and emotionally taxing as relocation, one of the most stressful transitions for employees to undergo. For their employers, the process is also demanding, given the complex array of relocation challenges, particularly in international reassignments.
Now imagine a mobile app that makes it easy and fun for both companies and employees to attend to the tasks involved in moving to another location. Such apps are now a reality and, according to the relocation services providers that deliver the tools, have become exceedingly multi-functional.
For employees, technology provides the ability to click onto the app using a smartphone or tablet anywhere and at anytime to peruse pretty much everything entailed in their transfer: the market price of homes at the new employment site, school rankings, and delivery timetables for their household goods in transit. Even expense reporting for reimbursement can be tracked if the employee simply photographs each invoice or receipt related to the move with the mobile device and an app takes care of repayment in the background.
For employers, the apps result in more efficient reporting procedures, and with relocation made easier for employees, the potential retention risks are reduced. But, the key benefit is strategic—if the CFO needs to know the relocation spend over the past two quarters to compare to forecasts and budgets, he or she can tap the app and get the results instantly. Ditto such granular information as the expenditures earmarked for temporary housing or moving van expenses. Based on this insight, decisions around resource allocation can be revised.
While such capabilities were available in past using the websites of many relocation services providers, a portal is not a mobile device. Not only is the ease of accessing data on a smartphone or tablet far superior—one does not have to sit at a desktop or log onto a laptop and then slowly navigate through muddy waters—so is the volume of information flying through the airwaves.
Indeed, business apps hosted in the cloud have great horsepower, are easy to deploy, and present wide flexibility. A CFO or chief HR officer can quickly access an enormous amount of data from across the world to slice and dice and thereby scrutinize relocation expense trends, sifting through the information to improve the overall process.
The improvements in relocation apps have even the providers excited. “I’ve been in the relocation industry for 29 years, and this is by far the coolest development in the business,” says Jennifer Thomas, senior vice president of global business development at NEI Global Relocation.
Yet, like all things cool, some are less cool than others.
“I did some homework and learned that there are 106 apps that are listed when you type the words ‘relocation’ in the App Store,” Thomas says. “Some are aimed just at employers or employees, some are aimed at both, some support only parts of the relocation process like real estate or moving household goods, and some are really not apps at all, just mobile links to website portals. I saw one that was called “Denver Relocation”, which I thought would be a vendor of some sort. It wasn’t. It was Denver the city, and the benefits of relocating there.”
Mix and Match
To Thomas’s point, employers would be wise to do their due diligence when it comes to relocation apps and their promoted technological sophistication. “The intent of a relocation app should be to take the functionality that users have grown accustomed to with a portal, functionality that they value and appreciate, and then put it at their fingertips whenever they need that information,” she explains. “The goal should be to have as much if not more functionality than was previously available.”
As many users of business apps would attest, this functionality is rising. Early banking apps, for instance, provided a glimpse of current account balances and not much else. Today, they offer the ability to deposit checks with a click of a mobile camera and the ease of transferring sums of money from one account to another. Early airline apps also were limited to information, but they, too, now present the opportunity to book European vacations, while feeding the pigeons in the park.
XONEX Relocation LLC has also experienced the growing sophistication of technology with its relocation app. “We looked at the (website) technology we had and have made it mobile friendly for transferees, which is the focus of our app,” says Paige Holden, director of the app development team at the Wilmington, Delaware-based service provider. “It’s geared exclusively to the lifestyle changes they and their families undergo as part of the relocation process.”
While NEI Global Relocation also leveraged the functionality of its website portal in building the employer-focused and employee-focused apps, Thomas says the final products have much greater scope and simplicity—the wheat without the chaff. “We looked at what our clients and their employees were accessing on our portals and elevated these features on the apps,” she explains.
Of primary importance in creating the tools was the ability of individuals to use them on the fly. “Say you’re in a meeting or in a conference room and someone senior wants a quick answer,” Thomas says. “You can provide a response without having to go back to your desk. Often the people managing mobility programs are themselves traveling, so this fits right in.”
The technology supporting business apps is growing quickly to incorporate new features and functionality. Big data feeds can be linked to an app to give constant updates on home prices in a region or even the weather the week of the planned move. Each new function compels providers to return to their tools to ensure they’re up-to-date, if not at the bleeding edge.
Such was the case at Global Mobility Solution in Scottsdale, Arizona. The services provider launched a client-facing and transferee-facing duo of apps a few years ago, when other providers were merely mulling the possibility. It has now pulled both apps off the shelf, reengineered the tools, and will unveil them this Fall.
“The initial driver of our first apps was pure expense management—an efficient way to submit receipts,” explains Brian Schutjer, GMS executive vice president and co-founder. “Wherever you were in the world, you could upload this data for quicker reimbursement and accounting purposes. For the employer app, we focused on a simpler way to pull down reports, looking at dollars spent on this task or that one. It was all pretty basic.”
Clients voiced their interest in a richer array of financial reports and metrics delivered via the app, such as candidate performance assessments, on-time delivery of household goods, and home sales statistics. “If you get a question on the fly and need information at your fingertips, the new apps can handle it,” he says.
As with many industries today, big data is having its impact on relocation services. “As companies have become much more data driven, their needs have changed as well,” says Ron Dunlap, chief information officer the Graebel Companies, Inc. “Clients now expect proactive management of their entire global mobility program. This includes deploying predicative analytics that can lead to changes in their mobility policies to meet the needs of their existing and prospective employees quickly. This can be done via traditional reporting, ad hoc reporting, and automated dashboards that notify client decision-makers of changes that would have otherwise been reported days, if not weeks later.”
What’s next for this technology? “Apps will continue to move toward the cloud,” says Dunlap. “While that may help companies and their relocating employees and transferees have great access to information, it will also require a much more detailed due diligence to ensure that the apps are secure for the type of personal, confidential information that is required during relocations or overseas assignments.”
Rich content is also on the horizon. “To provide our clients’ employees with an even more enhanced experience, we’re currently working on the next generation of apps, which will take advantage of advances in smartphone and tablet technologies,” notes Eric Egnet, COO and CIO of Mobility Services International. “We see video, education and training, language, and culture apps being at the forefront of the next technological push.”
Russ Banham can be reached at www.russbanham.com