The Robot at Your Desk

As mobility teams seek to balance the efficiencies available through technology with personal service, they should consider robotic process automation.

Technology is changing how we interact with each other, our work, and the world. At work, companies look for ways to manage employee and mobility costs while providing the right level of personal touch. Technology, including robotic process automation (RPA), is an important part of the solution.

The shift to robotics is a marked change in the mobility business model that can create new efficiencies with reduced costs, leaving companies time and resources to provide high-touch, individual attention to mobile employees. The question is, how do companies integrate these new technologies into their businesses, teams, and corporate structures?

The Robot’s Job Description

RPA technologies work similarly to an Excel macro, which automates tasks that are repeated frequently. However, rather than being limited to one program (e.g., Excel), RPA can be programmed to leverage multiple applications, thereby automating multistep processes with the push of a single button.

Many mobility departments are realizing that RPA can provide a blend of efficiency, 24/7 performance, and consistent quality, all while reducing human error and costs. When working to implement RPA, it’s important first to determine the correct technology, or process and technology mix, required for your organization and project. Essentially, it’s time to build a job description for your RPA. As a company works to build a business case and hiring criteria, it’s helpful to consider factors such as the complexity of the process, the team members needed, meeting metrics or goals, as well as system integration and alternatives.

Mobility-Based Requirements

With their need to complete both qualitative and quantitative tasks, many mobility departments are ready to reevaluate current practices. Well-designed RPA can help manage portions of the complete assignment or mobility life cycle, from candidate selection through repatriation.

Examples of processes that may be revised and/or automated include but are not limited to authorization; document creation; email notifications; data updates; approval, instruction, and review; reporting and data points. Companies that begin to leverage RPA in these or other processes are capable of processing more data more quickly, thereby freeing mobility team members’ time for strategic initiatives such as analytics around long-term employment and retention, broader talent integration, and year-over-year trend reporting.

Managing the Technology-Human Divide

RPA has an impact on both your internal and your globally mobile employees. As a result, the (real) people aspect of RPA is an important consideration requiring strong change management during planning, implementation, and adoption.

So, the question becomes: How do we engage employees in supporting and accepting the implementation of RPA? Transparent communication, a thorough transition plan, a clear value proposition, employee involvement, excitement building, and a smooth rollout are all recommendations to consider. The more you empower employees to move beyond standard job roles, the more successful adoption can become and the more confident your employees will be regarding changing roles and new technologies.

Introducing RPA to Your Mobile Workforce

As you begin introductions to RPA, it’s important for employees to be made aware of, and trained on, how to interact with the technology. If they are made aware early in the process, or early during the assignment planning phase, adoption and expectations can be more easily managed with little or potentially no interruption during critical times.

Additionally, it’s important to make sure that employees understand the role of the RPA and any confines associated with that role. This helps create a solidly defined expectation and lets employees know at what point the interaction will take place and how it will personally affect them.

A New Resource, A New Staffing Model

Over the past two decades, we’ve seen a push to centralize back-office functions, and much of mobility, into shared service centers in countries such as China, India, Vietnam, and Mauritius. This strategy, which was effectively designed to lower costs, worked for many years, but it is becoming increasingly obsolete as we witness shrinking gaps in labor costs, decreased efficiency, political changes, increased globalization, and turnover.

As global wages continue to rise, mobility departments must seek new efficiencies and should look to automation that provides the right mix of cost and efficiency gains. Technology may well be the shared service center of the future, a true 24/7 resource.

The Company Perspective

Companies need to understand how RPA can accomplish needed tasks, but also how it furthers the corporate vision. This could be as simple as decreasing redundant resources or as complex as creating new processes to drive percentage increases in efficiency. RPAs that adhere to a strong corporate vision are better suited for long-term use and less subject to short-term obsolescence. True efficiency and savings can be realized only with long-term usage and a solidified long-term vision.

With many mobility departments using multiple technology systems, it is easy to see the importance of making strategic decisions early in the RPA life cycle, as decisions made today can affect future success. It’s also easy to see that there are multiple system considerations and points of connection that need to be assessed more broadly than a single process and may require specialized resources.

RPAs that adhere to a strong corporate vision are better suited for long-term use and less subject to short-term obsolescence.

Mobility functions will continue to change and will need to deal with more complex domestic and international issues, requiring new skill sets and new tools. This ongoing organizational evolution is necessary for continued success and will give rise to new processes, new objectives, and new outlooks on moving the organization forward. A key element will be an emphasis on changing our employment and staffing models to incorporate technology as a valued member of the team.

As we adjust to the increasing role of automated technology, it’s important to think about how we can best use our talents when we look across the office floor and gain a new perspective on global mobility and business from the perspective of the machine. M

Robert Smith is senior manager, global mobility services, with KPMG LLP. He can be reached at +1 408 367 2787 or robertnsmith@kpmg.com.

The above information is excerpted from an article that will appear in the December 2019 issue of Mobility magazine.

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