Friday, 17 February 2012

OSCRE: Just for the geeks or time for the lawyers to get involved?

On 24 January 2012 I attended a symposium in London to discuss trying to push forward at a greater rate the implementation of the OSCRE standard and its adoption in the Real Estate community.  This is not a new path and many will remember the unsuccessful attempts at doing this no more than 10 years ago with PISCES.  In fact OSCRE is a sort of successor to PISCES.  It is the US version of PISCES and has now been adopted by the UK commercial real estate market following an amalagamation of the two standards boards.  So why does anyone think that OSCRE will succeed where PISCES disappeared into obscurity?
In my view the world is now significantly more advanced than it was 10 years ago making OSCRE a necessity.
1   What is OSCRE?
OSCRE stands for Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate but this does not describe what it is.  It is a universal language intended to allow real estate systems to "speak" to each other.  The ultimate goal is to enable the inputting of data only once and for that data then to be able to be re-used in different systems in the real estate world.
2   What happens currently?
Let's consider a simple property leasing transaction.  The steps are as follows:
a)  The agents agree heads of terms and send a hard copy to the relevant solicitor
b)  The solicitors draft the various documentation and following some negotiation it is finalised
c)  Both solicitors will produce word based reports to their clients setting out the final agreed terms and seeking execution
d)  The documents are executed and then completion occurs
e)  Various SDLT (tax) and Land Registry forms are prepared and sent to the relevant authorities
f)  Both solicitors will prepare a report for the asset management teams at landlord and tenant providing detailed information on the lease
g)  The asset manager will input the information received from the solicitors onto their systems
3   What could happen?
Taking the same transaction:
a)  The heads of terms are sent as data (a wordy version can be created as well)
b)  The initial draft lease is created automatically from that data and issued
c)  The documents are negotiated and agreed
d)  One solicitor updates the data reflecting the agreed terms and the other checks and approves it
e)  Both solicitors generate automatic signing request forms to their clients using the data and the matter completes
f)  The SDLT and Land Registry forms are gnerated automatically
g)  The information required by the asset manager is sent automatically

Is there a difference?
One simply needs to consider the above two lists to realise that the reference to "automatic" pervasive in the "What could happen?" scenario means two things:
  1. Efficiency and thus cost savings
  2. Reduced risk of data corruption
In a world where data and cost are key drivers it seems to me inevitable that the industry will be forced down the route of agreeing a standard form of "language".  It is incumbent on all professionals within the industry to work together so that we achieve that goal as quickly as possible and create the best possible language.  Lawyers are a lynch pin in this development.  We are the source of much of the base data.  If we do not actively participate in setting it up we will be left with the rest of the industry talking a "language" we do not understand.  I for one would rather help create the language than need an interpretor!