Earlier this year, HR industry pundit Steve Boese provided a thoughtful and informative viewpoint on the newest HR applications that can strengthen the competitive advantage of an organisation. After reading, I realised Steve had given me the perfect opportunity to widen the discussion beyond the U.S. market. In working with many multi-national corporations around the world, I do see a lot of the same issues Steve mentioned. And while automation is definitely high on the agenda for global HR teams, most are still far away from having all the basic administrative HR functions (like benefits admin) automated. 

Why, you ask? Here is just a short list of challenges that global HR teams need to address before moving to the next phase of HR automation.

Mobile accessibility 

To begin, while HR automation tools in the U.S. market are largely complete, this is usually not the case for global HR teams. The global market is changing so quickly and unevenly – what one company is able to implement in the U.S. is far different from what they can implement in Indonesia, where only 23 percent of residents use the Internet. As a result, there is constant movement when it comes to global HR organisation. 

Part of this evolution is a result of software being more accessible than ever before. However, not all regions have been able to keep up. For example, the use of mobile in Africa is different from the way Americans are able to access their information via an app anytime, anywhere. Information to employees in this region would need to be sent via SMS, who communicate with a mobile phone, but not a smartphone – yet! That is quickly changing as well, which Ericsson highlighted in this year's mobility report, which found that 70 percent of world's population using smartphones by 2020! That’s just five years from now! And still, most multi-national corporations have not developed a robust mobile strategy that addresses each market to the fullest extent, nor how they will address it as smartphones finally do take off in the region. This is going to be key in order for HR automation to truly succeed in the year ahead. 

Talent and salary inflation

The world is getting smaller by the second, and people are no longer content working for the same company or even living in the same country for their entire life. At the same time, benefits and rewards communications strategies are getting sharper. Companies have realised that it’s not all about bottom-line salary – people are more interested in new types of benefits As such, they devote more energy and resources into better communicating these benefits and rewards by implementing various automation tools.

Globalization and governance

Recently, Fortune Magazine found that 72 percent of the World’s Most Admired Companies (WMACs) believe globalisation will have a “very important” or “important” impact on their organisations, compared to 52 percent of their peer groups. As globalisation continues to take root companies with global presences need to be aware of the laws in each country they  operate in. Companies in Spain, for example, need to abide by the country’s strict labour laws that were designed to protect older workers. The bottom line is that there are thousands of considerations a company needs to be mindful of when operating in multiple countries. Having a system that can make sense of it all and keep track of ongoing changes will be a huge asset in the coming years. 

Language and culture barriers

While there are over 6,000 languages in the world, there are approximately 10-12 that make up the vast majority of all the speakers in the world. Within that number, there are hundreds of cultural customs that different regions and groups uphold. A global company is managing thousands of people – all with different cultures and native languages – so they need to have a simple platform for communicating clear messages to each group.

Cost control

In order for global HR and benefits leaders to have centralised oversight and control, they must have easy access to global data to understand the total benefit costs across all markets. Unfortunately, most teams are still struggling with obtaining this global data. 

Most of these leaders are looking to technology to help address these issues. In fact, according to our annual 2015 Global Employee Benefits Watch, 29% percent of large enterprises expect to increase spend on benefits technology in 2015. The technology they choose needs to help them understand global trends in cost changes, so that they can forecast to make strategic investments and growth decisions. 

On the horizon

If the U.S. market has taught us anything, it’s that HR automation is a game changer for enterprises. But companies with global operations need to address a different set of pain points before being able to automate their HR strategies and executions. We are on the cusp of an incredible new era of HR technology and growth, and everyone stands to win if they  can do this right.