This article analyses the way Relocation Management Companies (RMCs) and Destination Servive Providers (DSPs) utilize technology to get updated and update their customers from the field in real time, when providing destination services. Many relocation companies may declare that they already provide all the details in real time, but do they take advantage of the technology? Do they use applications to report from the field? After discussing with many senior managers of different RMCs and DSPs around the globe, I came to the conclusion that the relocation sector is behind other sectors in terms of utilization of technology.
The objective of this article is to bring new ideas to the relocation market. The focus will be to show that a simple application is able to improve the way that reporting is completed from the field, improving the efficiency of the process and enabling transparency between the consultant in the field and the DSP/RMC.
Let’s take the example of Language Training. How do RMCs, DSPs and language providers prove that the lessons took place? In most cases, the teacher asks the student to sign a printed attendance sheet and at the end of each month sends it scanned (or as a picture to the concerned parties. In other cases, the teacher will report the days and times the lessons took place and provides an excel file with the list of lessons completed, without any kind of confirmation from the student.
Which solution do I propose for field reporting?
I believe that a field application is missing in our sector to allow the consultants on the field to report instantly about the destination services they are performing, especially for home-search, orientation tour and settle-in. Some of the real time reporting will be:
• The consultant uploads pictures of each apartment shown to the assignee, informing the amount of time used for each visit.
• The application will also allow geo-localization, so the DSP will know immediately where the apartments shown are located.
• Each settle-in service will be reported as in-progress or completed, and inform the time spent.
I have discussed with the senior employees of several RMCs and DSPs around the world about the possibility of using this field application for destination services and throughout the article, I will include what the RMC and DSP companies mentioned.
What is the priority for RMCs and DSPs in terms of technology?
All companies in the relocation sector have thought about implementing technologies to improve efficiency. Many of the DSPs and RMCs with whom I discussed are in the process of developing or implementing a solution. However, it seems that companies are not very worried about a field application to report on the field tasks (home-search, orientation tour, settle-in, etc) to increase efficiency of the consultant. The priority is a management tool that shows information in an organized and neat form to their customers.
The four main drivers for Steve Burson, CEO of Orientations Inc.- Relo Network Asia and President of Relo Japan, in relation to the implementation of a new technology system in the company are: “First, we need to be able to see what is going on properly, manage the schedules and monitor what everybody is doing; second, we need to be able to report better to the RMCs; third, we need to be able to analyze what we are doing and improve the efficiency and fourth, we need to be able to visualize how we are performing per country or per account”. Steve notices a need of a CRM system, a field application that reports in real time for the destination services, and also incorporates applications such as an inventory move in/move out system.
For Alexandra Brits Managing Director South Africa at Intouch Relocations, “the need to develop technology comes from internal needs, mainly for their direct customers, to improve efficiency allowing more capacity with the same employees”. However, she believes that the investment in the technology will take years to pay back.
Priyamvada Majumdar, Head of Global Partnerships of HELMA International, thinks that a field app on the Consultants phone is very interesting when providing destination services. The objective is to optimize time by reducing paperwork. “A field application for the consultants will help us to improve the service efficiency. We truly require data automatization, so that we can spend our time more efficiently showcasing our expertise, rather than being bogged down by documentation and paperwork. The field app would save time of the field consultant, as he/she would not be required to download photos and prepare a reporting after each day of visit”.
As per Priyamvada, excellence in service delivery includes real time reporting. “The key account manager should not have to wait for n number of days to receive reports from a field consultant. The App should be able to:
• Log the time for each visit.
• Provide the end client proof of time spent on property viewing each day. This is particularly useful when DSPs have been mandated for one day home-search packages.
• Avoid any disagreement between DSPs and client HR/RMC regarding how the time was managed”.
However, Priyamvada detects challenges that need to be addressed, for instance “photos use up both storage space and mobile data- the app may run a risk of varying quality of service based on brand of mobile phone and net connectivity based on location of home-search”.
For Christoph Anders, from Anders Consulting, there is definitely a need for technology in the relocation sector. The issue is that most of the companies (RMCs and DSPs) are more worried about having huge databases and CRM systems with tons of information, rather than improving the efficiency and provide real time reports to the end customer. “Many consultants are feeding databases for hours and hours. A field app is more efficient than a web site with login/password that can also be accessed with the mobile phone. HR wants just that the relocation is done. If the job has been done properly, they do not check on all the detailed data provided in too complex databases”.
For Nick Read from AGS360, “any technology that provides transparency about the number of hours used by a field consultant when doing home-search or orientation tour is very welcome”. He even believes that a field application should mark on a map where the apartments visited are located. That would potentially be shared not only with HR of the end customer, but also with the assignee, and it will help the assignee to remember more details about the apartments.
Current state of technology solutions of the RMCs and DSPs
In the last few years there have been many discussions in conferences and events about how to bring state-of-the-art technology into the relocation sector. However, most RMCs and DSPs are at this moment developing, adapting or integrating a new solution. It surprises me that most companies are in “working in progress” mode, and very few have already implemented a solution that they were fully happy with.
When discussing about technology applied to the relocation market, companies are more worried about having a huge database connected to a complete CRM system, rather than thinking about field applications that may increase the process efficiency. Yes, everybody talks about efficiency, but most of the efforts are into CRM systems that will only bring effectiveness if used correctly. It is not rare that a CRM system brings overhead and duplication of processes instead of improving the overall performance of the company.
Alexandra Brits from Intouch Relocations informed that the company is in the process of implementing a new software solution that will be adapted to their needs, which allows their employees to improve the processes and be more efficient. “Intouch Relocations has already a software system in place; however, this new solution is tailor made to the needs of the DSP, offers grater standardization across the region and offers in-the-field capabilities to allow consultants to report from the field in real time from an iPad device”.
For Alexandra Brits, it seems that many DSPs around the globe are currently working on implementing, or have already implemented, some form of software solutions. Intouch Relocations expects to go live with their software towards the end of 2017 with full use expected in early 2018. However, the challenge will be how to integrate this system with that of their clients and RMCs to fully realize its potential in creating efficiency. “We experience a greater administrative burden due to having to duplicate our data input into multiple systems. The challenge will be how to balance the secure integration of our software with that of the RMSs without jeopardizing data security”.
Steve Burson from Orientations Inc.- Relo Network Asia, is working on implementing a CRM system to be used across the 17 countries where they are operating. The new system will replace a number of legacy database systems and a lot of manual processes and automate the reports and keep a track of the check list tasks.
For Steve, as each DSP and each RMC are working on technology improvements on their own, there is no common consensus event for the basic information required for each assignee. At least there should be an industry standard (like in other industries), saying the common fields to be used, so that the utilization of APIs between the systems could be easier. “All other industries have standards. I do wonder whether industry associations such as “Worldwide ERC” and “EURA” could help to advocate for industry standards in terms of the official terminology used in our industry”.
At AGS360, Nick Read, Group Client Services Manager, informed that they have developed their own management solution, specifically designed to manage moving and destination services. This platform does not include a field application for consultants.
How much are RMCs and DSPs ready to invest?
It is clear that most companies within the relocation sector, including RMCs, global DSPs, regional DSPs and local DSPs are eager to invest in technology. However, they face difficulties to decide what kind of solution they should invest in.
The amount invested could vary from a few thousand dollars a year for a field application for a small number of programs to more than one hundred thousand dollars plus recurrent fees for a complete system that includes a CRM system.
Alexandra Brits informed me that Intouch Relocations has made a significant investment in a complete solution to be used by all their employees and consultants in all offices across Africa and Middle East.
For Steve Burson from Orientations Inc.- Relo Network Asia, “a simple field application should be enough for smaller DSPs operating in only one country. The investment should not be more than 1.000 USD per year. However, for regional DSPs, a CRM system is becoming mandatory and requires a one-off payment of at least 10.000 USD plus the yearly fee for support, which could amount to the same or more”.
Nick Read from AGS360 thinks that the relocation market is at a stage where price maters a lot and the RMCs may expect that the DSPs invest in this kind of in-field application to provide a better service to the RMCs. However, he thinks it would be difficult to see RMCs investing in a field app to be used by their DSPs. However, if we talk about CRM, “everybody is expending on management systems. They want to catch up with RMCs in terms of sharing information in a nice manner with HR of the direct customers”.
About the RMCs and standardization
RMCs should be leading the technologies to be used in the market, but they seem to be more concerned with developing their own systems and show to their customers as a differentiator rather than in providing tools to the DSPs to improve performance, as a field application would be for destination services.
Alexandra Brits, Managing Director South Africa of Intouch Relocations, believes that the RMCs have only recently started to talk about allowing APIs to integrate DSPs systems to their systems. “It can be complex and time consuming for Intouch Relocations’ employees to master multiple RMCs’ systems which they are required to update on a daily basis. This makes onboarding new employees a lengthy process”. That is why the API approach will definitely make the process much more efficient. However, she does not think that the RMCs will open up their systems to be integrated with third party systems without extensive due diligence and risk analysis, which may take a year or two.
For Steve Burson from Orientations Inc- Relo Network Asia, the DSPs normally are the ones that collect all the information about the assignee, updated address, phone number, etc. “This information needs to be entered into two systems, the DSP’s and the RMC’s. The DSP is responsible to update the info in the RMC database (and Orientations Inc uses more than 10 different databases from different RMCs), which is a challenge”.
For Priyamvada (from HELMA Intl), “there should be a way by which a field app can be compatible with reporting tools of DSPs, RMCs and end clients because otherwise the consultant would have to repeat the same reporting task on two or three different tools”.
Priyamvada would like to see a tool that includes a glossary of each service and its definition: home search, settling-in, etc., so that DSPs, RMCs and end clients can have clarity on what service to expect and for what price.
Nick Read from AGS360 thinks that having a field application for the consultants will be very helpful for RMCs as they will be able to track in real time the consultant and DSP’s activities. He does not see a great need to integrate the field app into the CRM of the RMCs, at least in a first stage.
Security in the Relocation processes
Everybody is concerned about security, but many processes and information sharing takes place totally manually nowadays at some point of the chain: RMC-DSP-Field Consultant. Steve Burton from Orientations Inc has expended a reasonable amount of time to implement ISO 27001 certification, the International Information Security Standard. He thinks the way the information is shared in the relocation sector needs to be improved dramatically: “Not many companies know what they are doing in terms of security. Some RMCs have systems policies against common sense, like forcing to change password every month, being the passwords weak and nearly repetitive. The RMCs say that they use information in a secured way because they make their vendors sign a document”.
Steve mentioned a typical example where an excel sheet is sent by email and the password is send right after by email (instead of using a different way like by telephone). “We have to wake up and be more sensible about security”.
Nick Read from AGS360 mentioned the ISO 27001 is a good way to keep the information secure. However, he still recognizes that there is a chain that goes from RMC to the potential freelance consultant and there are still many things that are done manually in the relocation market.
Christoph from Anders Consulting thinks that many unsecure relocation-related mails are travelling around the world. “The expats themselves should decide which information is confidential or not, and this is only possible if the assignees receive a lump sum to expend as they want with the RMC, and which services to hire”.
When talking about technologies for the relocation market, the priority at the moment in the interface with HR of the end-customers and a CRM system with a powerful database to manage customers and assignees.
However, once we talk about a field application to improve the efficiency and reporting of the consultants on the field, everybody seems to be interested. It is to be proved if companies are interested in investing, and who will be the one taking the lead on this.
Time will show.