On the 23rd March 2020, the UK Government announced a national lockdown to manage increasing coronavirus cases, telling people to stay at home, save lives, and save the NHS. Up and down the country, households and businesses responded to the call. For organisations like Cornerstone, the UK’s leading mobile infrastructure services company, that owns and manages over 20,000 sites for Vodafone and Telefónica, all 250 of our employees switched overnight to working from home. It was a time where our processes, services and people would provide vital support for the UK’s digital connectivity.
Our sites had to continue to run seamlessly to provide critical connectivity across the UK. To do so, our extended family of several hundred suppliers required safe access to our sites, and needed to understand their current status, allowing them to perform their critical national infrastructure (CNI) work. On top of that, we knew that our suppliers faced, like so many businesses, financial uncertainty with their cashflow.
“I’d like to think we have influenced the market on how to manage their suppliers, from the experience they have shared with us over the past six months. As a business and a 4,500 people strong Supply Chain, we are better equipped to take on any second wave challenge. I firmly believe that with our new tools at our disposal, we will be stronger, have greater flexibility and transparency, with safety at the continued forefront of our future Business Continuity Plans.”
Stuart Farrell, Head of Supply Chain Management, Cornerstone
We quickly mobilised as a team, and through the pro-active use of technology and an innovative, challenging mindset, Cornerstone developed a suite of solutions to tackle our challenges.
Our priority was to contact all of our strategic CNI suppliers, creating both a verbal and visual dialogue early on. It allowed everyone to understand how they could work together to continually keep the UK connected. We did this by hosting weekly Supplier Surgeries on MS Teams, attended by 70 colleagues across Cornerstone and our supplier network. Our agenda led with Health and Safety, which was at the centre of all our decision-making. To make sure our suppliers were as informed as we were, the Surgeries were used to communicate:
- The latest details on our mobile infrastructure estate
- Current government safety advice and guidance
- Information from the National Criminal Intelligence briefings that detailed where sites had encountered attacks of arson or vandalism
To overcome the challenge of making sure the lives of those out in the field were made safer and better understood by the British public, we backed up our approach with tangible actions. We provided CNI equipment and jackets, created telecoms critical works van signage and CNI site notices. Leaflets were issued to explain to members of the public, where needed, that our people were key essential workers, performing critical services to the nation.
Recognising the potential financial risks to some of our suppliers, during these uncertain times, we took the bold decision to reduce payment terms and paid valid invoices more quickly.
- Our decisions and actions have enabled our suppliers to continue delivering vital services to support our critical national infrastructure throughout this challenging time – and it’s encouraging to report that the UK’s digital connectivity is withstanding the demands on its network. We are proud to say that for our sector, we have led by example.
- Nigel Newton, Managing Director of one of our long term strategic partners, Clarke Telecom, describes Cornerstone’s response as “setting a very high benchmark by taking an industry lead, that to my knowledge, has not been replicated anywhere. Your approach to Supplier communications and leadership has been exemplary.”
- Reducing our payment terms to pay valid invoices more quickly has ensured the ‘freeing up’ of operating cash flow, enabling our suppliers to support their sub contractors downstream, allowing them to continue trading and providing a much-needed service.
- Throughout this period, our company values have driven all of our actions, while demonstrating that we genuinely care and value our partners.