While most companies find a way to maintain a firm grasp on their domestic portfolio and expenses, they often report significant data gaps with their international locations. This is primarily due to the lack of similar processes and communication between global colleagues that would foster regular review, input, and change management. These challenges are further complicated by time, language, and measurement differences. The result is the lack of a complete central source of information and documents which fractures the reporting and expense tracking.
There is little doubt that assembling and tracking the full global footprint is crucial to the proactive and comprehensive management of a real estate portfolio (for ASC842/IFRS16, gaining this capability is a critical first step). So, what can be done to unify the data, documents, information and activity cycles? In the past several years, we’ve gone from unchecked lists of locations to complete, fully reconciled global rent forecasts for some of the world’s best-known companies. Our “secret sauce” is no big secret: some common-sense adaptations on foundational lease administration basics, plus some good old-fashioned communication and hard work, facilitated by technology, and led by Senior Level Sponsorship.
SHARING WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
As with domestic projects, planning is everything, and the approach and communication guide critical first steps on which future progress is built. By thinking through the processes and re-calibrating methods and tools, we help reduce confusion, resistance, and cycle times for collection and validation. Some of our methods include:
- Circulate an Initial Survey– Whatever is used for an initial property listing, break it down by region, country, and local manager. Request its validation from someone who knows that footprint and can quickly recognize errors that should be easily avoidable, like missing locations, closed locations, size, or rent being mis-stated. Communicate the request in a piece that outlines the project, identifies the immediate task, and foreshadows future process compliance.
- Consider the Full Roadmap– For stakeholder requests, applying the “Golden Rule” to sending memos across the organization, we recommend considering what would motivate us to want to help prioritize such a request. (Beyond a C-Suite Requirement). By generating communication pieces that convey the organizational objective and goals, the benefits to each business group, and the new tools they will receive to help them with their job functions, we draw in a new group of constituents that are not jaded by previous requests and possibly an organizational bias to remain “decentralized”. Their reports of course are organized by Country and reflect the local currency and units of measure. The communication piece itself can even be translated to the local language.
- Offer Data Collection Options– Once the basic locations and data are known and reflected, expanding and improving that information set may require a few methods. Having a standard method but being open to additional data-collection options just increases the likelihood of getting data otherwise missed when only using one method. All of the following methods should be on the table:
- Verbatim Translation & Team Abstraction – Some companies require this as policy and it may be an initial best-practice, but often the lease documents themselves do NOT state local statute or accepted custom that prove helpful to know when considering expense items, alterations, or expirations.
- Bi-Lingual Abstraction – There are plenty of Global Abstracting Companies and Translation Providers that have bi-lingual staff that can make quick work of this task. The key is to make sure that they understand what data elements are desired and the format in which it should be provided. This can cost significantly less than the option above.
- Local Data Collection – This method involves taking the Global Abstract form and establishing an on-line data collection method wherein the local manager can provide their knowledge about the lease. The key data elements (Dates, Dollars & Options) can be reviewed against the documents by one of the other methods, but often this local data collection can harness information not in the lease, including how they are utilizing the location and what the business unit plans are related to the site. Often this contains an open-ended field or two that let the field manager tell their “story” in their own words. Their story can then be interpreted down to how it affects the database, rather than having the database restrict this effort.
- Build A Process- Ongoing data and expense tracking should not be considered a never ending “project”. Now that there is a well understood and accepted method of collecting the data and the local manager sees the process and the benefits, it becomes a natural extension to build a monthly cycle to ensure that new information (data, documents and invoices) are regularly sent in so updates can be made. This is where all of that solid communication and process building starts to pay off. Of course, every organization will differ in the extent to which they will require the local manager to interface with the database (perform their own updates) or send it through for centralized processing (by lease administration), but the results are greatly improved. Ongoing accuracy and process compliance are validated by the next step in the process.
- Use Reporting & Measurement to Identify Issues & Opportunities- Any and all changes to the “baseline conditions” established while building the database need to be logged and tracked. They will create the reconciliation items on which measurements and metrics rely. This should be a monthly process even if certain management reporting or dashboards are not updated as frequently. Building these global reports has to consider EVERYTHING that could skew the data because now there are a lot of potential variations in what is being reported. Alone these variations are perfectly fine, but when blended together with all the different “types” of variations, you run the risk of telling a potentially inaccurate story. Things we’ve seen that impair reports are:
- Missing Area Measures – Small locations, eSuites, and some global sites do not state the square footage/meters clearly in the premises. We tend to request a reasonable estimate from the local manager and footnote that estimate as opposed to leaving that field blank.
- Mixed Usage – Including warehouse space with office space skews the metrics, but this happens a lot if global locations don’t reflect a space-breakdown with the usage.
- Currency, Measurement and Date Formats – Absent footnotes about these items, everyone is inclined to think in terms of their own format. All global reports should clarify whether or not conversions are present.