As technological challenges go, they don’t come much bigger than the one posed to Osborne Clarke by telecoms giant Vodafone.
We already had an established relationship with Vodafone, having been appointed to its legal panel the previous year, when we were asked to help transform the workings of its huge property portfolio across England and Wales.
Headquartered in Newbury, Berkshire, the world’s second largest mobile phone company has around 10,000 properties including offices, retail outlets, technical sites and masts, in England and Wales. All of these sites involve the usual range of management tasks including renewing leases, acquiring and selling properties, acquiring rights in existing properties and litigation.
But in late 2015, Vodafone’s head of legal Sarah Spooner approached Osborne Clarke with a new proposal which would take the relationship to a new level.
The company wanted to radically rethink the way legal support was provided to its property team, with a new emphasis on efficiency, visibility of risk and digitisation. It wanted to ‘reset’ the way it delivered property legal services to increase efficiency and allow it to use resources appropriately, while at the same time improving risk management and maintaining control of processes.
Keen to collect data about their transactions and their estate – including the average period from instruction to completion, the causes of any delays and the precise nature of rights and obligations across the portfolio – Vodafone’s team set about establishing what the ideal service delivery would look like.
As head of Osborne Clarke’s Service Innovation programme, which helps clients explore exactly how they would like legal services to be delivered to maximise the value to their businesses, Dan Wright was brought in to the project by two colleagues, property litigation Partner Leona Briggs and property Partner Shane Toal, who handles the real estate aspect of the Vodafone relationship.
In addition to Sarah Spooner, the team working on the project comprised Vodafone legal’s Michael Kapsos and Lisa Goodenough alongside a paralegal, plus Alastair Lindsay of commercial real estate company Cushman and Wakefield, who was involved in process mapping and ensuring the new processes were user-friendly.
Our firm was already developing advanced multi-party workflow capabilities through HighQ’s Collaborate online platform. Accessible across devices, the cloud-based tool aids project management by presenting relevant property documentation and interactive calendars. It also provides the workflows to run the work needed, shows various “up to the minute” live databases and dashboards, plus graphics which illustrate patterns and issues across projects.
From the outset, a central starting point was that the system had to work for everyone. From its inception we ensured that elements were built in, often on a standalone basis, which would help all of the people involved.
What we did
One of the key tasks was bringing Vodafone’s property documents online into a searchable database. For our team, this meant bulk uploading and then volume scanning relevant documentation which previously had multiple locations, to create a bespoke structure of common information types across all of Vodafone’s properties.
Another was the creation of an online platform which meant that the in-house legal team no longer had to provide email updates which were correct at the outset. The new system allowed Cushman and Wakefield and other partners to instruct us as and when necessary.
Each piece of property work is now specified, instructed and managed online. Workflows, built around the initial choice of work required, can alert and require input from others involved in the project when appropriate, while the production of documents can be automated.
Previously, Vodafone legal had to monitor and pass on all instructions for property work. Now, any matter can be initiated by the company’s external agents and surveyors, as requests for the correct information to be provided for any piece of work being instructed are already embedded in the system. This makes it very easy to get things right and very hard to get things wrong.
The benefits of the project for Vodafone are numerous:
- The online platform has created a completely new model for the company’s legal and property operation, enabling legal colleagues to provide strategic support to the business.
- Full matter and case management, data analysis and visualisation; embedding alerts and approval processes automatically; and automating internal and external documentation.
- Major process and cost efficiency savings, enabling risks to be managed in a way which wasn’t previously possible.
- Having a sophisticated online platform enables access to property documents and allows all parties, including external ones, to contribute to the progress of any matter at any time.
- Creating valuable data for enhanced reporting and ongoing visualisation, analysis and improvement.
- Extensive playbooks and risk matrices enabling Osborne Clarke and Vodafone’s agents to negotiate documents to Vodafone’s design.
While legal work inevitably forms a key part of the project, it is only one aspect of the wider requirements of Vodafone’s property portfolio. This gives its legal team valuable insights which can be applied in other parts of the business.
We are now rolling out the process to other Vodafone service lines including corporate projects and applying its principles to other clients across the management of disputes and new approaches to corporate and banking deal managements, plus contract and asset management platforms.
Meanwhile Vodafone plans to bring its Scottish properties onto the platform.
The project has dramatically improved the quality and consistency of output on both sides – Vodafone and Osborne Clarke now have meaningful KPIs, being able to measure quality and consistency rather than merely volume.
This is a truly groundbreaking initiative that shows what can be achieved through innovative thinking, collaboration and use of new technology. Everyone involved sees the achievement as just the start.