RICS and UNESCO's Cities for our Future Challenge seeks projects that address climate change and resource scarcity ©RICS
RICS and UNESCO's Cities for our Future Challenge seeks projects that address climate change and resource scarcity ©RICS

RICS case study: the value of joining up with commercial legal

13 July 2018

A wider remit for procurement has meant more savings are being reinvested for the professional body

When Cath Houlihan joined the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) just over five years ago, she was its first procurement professional. But in the last year this has changed, and she now heads up a team of five – all of whom happen to be women.

Procurement’s remit has also grown to encompass the commercial legal team. The team’s growth and increased scope neatly coincides with RICS’ 150th anniversary.

Being an all-female team in a male-dominated environment (surveyors are traditionally more likely to be men) hasn’t brought “too many challenges outside the norm”, but Houlihan believes it does bring an extra something to the table. “As well as the high levels of technical skill and expertise, the softer skillsets the team possess – such as cognitive and emotional empathy – help in relationship building, negotiations and reaching our goals,” she says.

“There has always been a very close relationship between procurement and legal as nearly everything we touch transitions to a contract,” she adds. So bringing together procurement and commercial legal makes perfect sense, and has provided a “fantastic platform” to showcase the business acumen of the procurement team.

The double expertise of procurement and legal is also contributing to topline growth. “The team has been instrumental in negotiating commercial agreements that generate revenue for training, affinity schemes and advertising on certain products,” says Houlihan. It is also integral to global tender bids that the sales team pitches for, such as with international governments or EU tenders.  

RICS keeps a watch on technology for the future. “We are always looking to introduce innovation, smarter ways of working and to improve our customer experience,” says Houlihan. It has already invested in technology such as Skype for Business, video conferencing and contact centre software to help members to self-serve and communicate more effectively with their professional body. This has helped reduce travel costs and cut its environmental impact.

The small yet agile team has to be able to handle anything that is thrown at it. In February this year, the Ombudsman Services gave six months’ notice that it would stop offering alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services with regard to building surveyors, managing agents, estate agents and letting agents and their services. RICS has a firm public interest mandate, and so the procurement and commercial legal team has been working closely with internal and external stakeholders to appoint a replacement ADR. “We have had to do this in extremely tight timescales,” says Houlihan.

But to be a relevant, and highly effective business partner, the team should not be pigeonholed into specific specialisms or areas, she believes. “We see ourselves as business facilitators, we generate revenue, secure best value and manage risk.”

Getting the best value for members is a key driver, and procurement cost savings are reinvested. “We invest our resources wisely to ensure continued value for money,” says Houlihan. “

Making the move

An office relocation from Coventry to Birmingham provided a major procurement programme for RICS this year, with about 240 members of staff being moved from a remote business park to a modern city centre office space – which can also be used by RICS members. “A move of this magnitude does have a very personal impact for staff and that has certainly been at the forefront of the organisation’s mind,” says Houlihan.

Procurement played a key role in the move, sourcing the new premises, design, fit-out contractors, furniture and fixtures, facilities management and IT.

“We also managed the transition of the supply base for the Coventry premises – all while continuing with business as usual,” she adds.

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