SunGard, a leading software and technology services company, has more than 17,000 employees and serves 25,000 customers in over 70 countries. We discussed SunGard’s expansive approach to global mobility with Abigail Harris, Senior Director of International Mobility. Abigail’s role evolved out of a growing need for effective and experienced senior management of the employee mobility program across global regions. SunGard has made global mobility a priority, with a highly skilled staff, new policies and ongoing training.
SunGard’s global mobility team is headed by the Senior Director and includes regional international mobility specialists covering three regions: America (based in New York), EMEA (based in London) and Asia (based in Sydney). Another two consultants (in Sydney and New York) focus on SunGard’s International Business Traveler Program. SunGard operates a lean International Mobility team with services outsourced to vendors, such as SIRVA who assist with relocation services, and Ernst & Young who provide assignment and tax services including briefings, letter and cost projection preparation, and tax returns.
Ms Harris noted that there was little buy-in outside the US for using Mobility prior to her arrival at SunGard. The Business and HR had experienced lengthy turnaround times for getting the necessary advice and documentation, and service levels had been very poor, with many Business Managers going around the team to send their employees overseas. “When we started, no one wanted to use us and it took time to build our credibility and demonstrate the value we could add. Now all businesses use our services if they sending an employee on an international assignment or transfer. Today International Mobility has a place at the table at SunGard.” New training has been widespread for new HR Business Partners and managers, second year managers and senior directors in the Business Groups.
Ms Harris added, “SunGard has undergone a significant amount of change over the last few years. We have a very dynamic senior leadership team who are focused on growing SunGard, but in the right way, and with a focus on values. As a result, and with such a strong, credible function, we have been able to implement new initiatives which I might not have been able to do as easily at other companies.
SunGard prides itself on its cultural diversity across all 26 countries in which it operates. Ms Harris emphasised the importance of cultural intelligence in operating across different cultures, for those relocating or simply dealing with other countries. “As an example we have a senior business leader who heads up the Asia business for one of our largest groups. He’s a French national who has lived in Japan, the UK, and China and has recently relocated to Singapore – all with SunGard. He has been very successful in improving employee engagement and communications across a number of very different cultures.
A mobile workforce has its own challenges, for example, the complex issues related to immigration and tax compliance. Another challenge is linking mobility with talent programs. Consequently, SunGard is currently developing a Talent Mobility Strategy. “We are working with our Talent team to develop a strategy to use mobility more effectively as a talent management tool. One goal of the strategy is to be able to more effectively identify our high potential employees early in their careers and provide them with international experience. Most of our current key leaders who embody SunGard values have completed a successful international assignment. Our aim is to facilitate this experience early on so they can understand the issues that could arise with doing business in or with other countries.” Ms Harris said.
SunGard define an international assignment as anybody who undertakes travel to an overseas location for 90 days or more in a twelve month period, not necessarily consecutively. That covers Fly-In Fly-Out (FIFO) arrangements, short-term assignments and longer term relocations of 1-5 years. SunGard is also reviewing its policies for defining short and long term assignments from a tax point of view. “It’s possible that we’ll revise our policy to reduce the burden on short term assignments.” Ms Harris said.
Another important project implementation has been to accurately report on all assignment/transfer costings, visa expiry dates, and other necessary information for all group assignments and transfers. The HR Business Partners receive monthly reporting and this facilitates meaningful discussions with the Business based on accurate data. The next important step is to provide more meaningful and detailed mobility metrics to the Business, for example data on staff retention following repatriation from assignment, and locations around the world where particular skills can be developed
Ms Harris emphasised the need for a body like The Employee Mobility Institute in Australia, explaining that The Institute is important in terms of training and accreditations in the Australian market. “Good training is readily available on tax and immigration legislation, but there is little training available, at the entry level or the more experienced levels, on the specific skills required of a mobility professional. This is particularly true for those skills and knowledge required for those who operate predominantly in the APAC region. I have found that many courses run out of the US are America-centric, whereas courses in other regions are more successful in applying the topics as an international course, which could be more relevant to Asia.” Ms Harris said.
BY LANA LACHYANI
Lana Lachyani is a Melbourne-based Freelance Writer and Communications Consultant. Lana lived overseas for several years, working across Europe and the Middle East before returning to Australia in 2012.