How Instacart Automates Matter Intake With Tonkean


As the pandemic took hold in 2020 and shoppers became more apprehensive about making trips to the grocery store, Instacart found its grocery delivery and pick-up services across North America in high demand.

The business grew 4X during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the influx of new customers necessitated the engagement of more vendors and partnerships. Each new engagement required new intake, triage, and coordination from Instacart’s legal team.

To ensure their intake and approval processes remained effective at scale, Instacart’s legal operations team turned to Tonkean no-code process orchestration.

The Challenge: Adapting at Scale

Veronica Yu joined Instacart as a junior paralegal several years ago. The company at the time looked very different than it did in 2021. By that time, Yu was Instacart's Director of Legal Operations. Her team had grown from just a handful of legal professionals to a team of more than 50 people. (Yu is now Instacart's Legal Chief of Staff.)

With that growth came the need to adapt. When a contract arrives at Instacart, a complex and changing web of criteria determines which departments need to approve it, depending on the financial value, type of counterparty, type of engagement, and what the relationship will be. Some contracts require little human review and involvement while others require multiple approvals across different teams. Largely, the responsibility of obtaining and tracking those approvals falls on a legal team member—who is also responsible for reviewing the contract and ensuring contractual obligations are understood by the business.

At the time, Instacart’s contract triage process was managed through an email inbox. This can be sufficient for a small team operating at a low volume. But as Instacart’s business grew, Yu knew she needed a more efficient and scalable way of operating. But she didn’t want to totally disrupt the way her team did things, either, fearing change management.

“The processes that worked for a 10 person legal team were very different from what we needed for a 50 person team,” said Yu. “We needed metrics and data to quantify all the hard work the team was doing, without adding more to their already overflowing plates. If we needed to pull a report of what the prior 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year looked like, that would’ve been an extremely manual process with managers having to ping each person on their team for updates and sift through emails."

She started looking for partners in the automation and orchestration space. But she didn’t quickly find what she was looking for.

“I looked at more traditional platforms to address the intake and ticketing problems and legal-specific systems that would generate simple documents or contracts for signature. I was struggling to find one platform that could handle both: the extremely simple requests requiring little human intervention and the complex requests that require multiple layers of approvals and must be drafted by a team member.”

Yu had three additional priorities.

1. She needed a flexible platform that could stand up quickly—a vendor that needed six months to build out a solution wouldn’t cut it.
2. Another important priority was avoiding change management—for example, she needed a platform that could wrap around legacy systems that Instacart’s legal team was already familiar with.
3. And a critical third priority was supporting a “crawl, walk, run” approach that would start by addressing simple processes and wins quickly but have the potential to do much more.

“Instacart has always been a very fast-moving company. It became very clear to me that we needed an orchestration vendor that could adapt and move as quickly as we did,” said Yu. “We wanted to implement something that would be able to continue to grow and adapt with the company. So that’s what brought us to Tonkean.”

The Solution: No-code intake orchestration

Tonkean allowed Instacart's legal ops team a whole new level of dexterity and efficiency. Also: agility.

Instacart was up and running with Tonkean within weeks, orchestrating intake processes integrated with its legacy systems, including its contract management system.

But, importantly, neither Yu nor those on her team who'd helped design the new intake processes knew how to code. Tonkean’s no-code process builder made that design and iteration process simple. They could make changes, within the bounds of IT's guardrails, on their own.

This was huge: while starting quickly was important, Yu says the bigger benefit of partnering with Tonkean was knowing how easy it would be to continue iterating on processes without the intervention of technical resources.

“We did a phased launch where we would introduce the new process to one team at a time, collecting feedback from each team as we added them to the workflow,” said Yu. “And throughout those phases, we were able to assess the feedback, make changes and incorporate them in real-time. We had the flexibility to look at our workflow and say, ‘You know what, this step really doesn’t make sense in practice for the way this team works, let’s fix that,’ And we’re able to make that change in the same week that it was reported.”

Today, Tonkean makes it easier than ever to keep track of moving pieces. Instead of relying on a team member to keep track of different approvals, Tonkean provides Instacart with an overview dashboard of the status of every legal request at any given time. (Plus, Tonkean can also automatically generate documents to speed up the legal intake workflow.) The gains in both performance and accuracy were game-changing.

“With different workflows and approval processes depending on the counterparty type of any contract, it was the responsibility of the legal team member reviewing the contract to manually keep track of the constantly-changing criteria and make sure the right approvals were given in addition to handling the actual legal review,” said Yu. “But now, we are able to collect all of that information at the start and automate the approvals, via email, through Tonkean. Our business counterparts are still approving the deals in the same way they are used to, but we are able to take away a manual step in our legal team’s brains that does not need to be there.”

The Impact: Orchestrating the Simple, Monitoring the Complex

As with most enterprises, some of Instacart’s complex processes need humans to remain closely involved, while others are a natural fit to be automated. Some basic contracts do not deviate from the template that Tonkean can generate instantly.

“As we got more and more visibility into our processes and workload with Tonkean, we’ve been able to look at our dashboard, evaluate all the requests we were handling, and assess where we can make improvements or build out more automation,” said Yu. “With Tonkean, we are able to automate the easy requests so that all it requires is one email to a legal team member to say ‘I just need your stamp of approval on this after Tonkean has already drafted it.’ With one click, it is quickly off their plate.”

Automating those simple contracts with Tonkean's AI-powered intake tools frees up time for the legal team to focus on processes where a human needs to be kept in the loop, and human collaboration is required.

“I have come to terms with the fact that no technology is going to be able to handle certain deals or contracts that are especially complex,” said Yu. “But that is another benefit of Tonkean: we are tracking the work we have automated with the work that is handled by many humans, all within the same ecosystem.”

Yu was likewise able to get Tonkean up and running without disrupting her team. The rest of the business at Instacart reaps the benefits of a smoother process through Tonkean, even though they never need to log in or learn any new way to work. Contract attorneys and contract managers do have the option to review Business Reports directly in Tonkean to see what requests have come in and what needs to be assigned, but many of them choose to continue working in the interfaces they were already familiar with.

“When we receive a new request, we send that via Slack to a channel that includes the entire contract review team. Everyone can see the requests coming in, and tag others as needed to discuss who the best owner is for that request,” said Yu. “Other aspects of the workflow, like approvals and contract discussions, are set to run all through email. Legal teams like email and are used to operating that way. Tonkean allows us to stay within email when we want to.”

The Results: Better Processes Makes Legal Ops A Better Business Partner

The most immediate benefit for Instacart of orchestrating processes with Tonkean has been a drastic decrease in the amount of time it takes to submit requests and receive a response from legal.

Avoiding the risk of an important request going unmanaged in an email inbox is critical for Instacart and an important part of how they think about the return on their investment in Tonkean.

There's also now 100% visibility. Tonkean allows the right people to have a high-level or detailed visibility into the status of each request, and where approvals or follow-up may be needed. This visibility allows legal to review the data and iterate their processes for the business whenever they need to.

“We can determine which buckets of requests need to be handled by a team member, which buckets can be automated by Tonkean, and which buckets can be addressed via self-service resources,” said Yu.

By making Legal more efficient and legal processes easier to follow, Yu says Tonkean has helped her team become better partners to their colleagues in other business units.

When a cross-functional stakeholder wants better visibility into the number of vendors Instacart engages with, or what Instacart is spending on each vendor, Yu’s team can easily access and act on all such data. If a new business unit needs the ability to review or approve a specific type of request, this change can be made quickly to incorporate that business unit into the workflow. And of course, whenever anyone in Instacart needs anything from legal, they can now rest assured their request will be resolved rapidly.

Moreover, Yu’s team can collaborate with other areas of the organization without burdening them or requiring they download new systems. “With Tonkean’s ability to send notifications or gather approvals via email or Slack, we are able to collaborate in a way that is easy for the external team member but allows us to maintain control over who can access information,” said Yu.

“Since launching Tonkean…there’s been a lot of interest to automate other processes…”
– Veronica Yu, Chief of Staff, Legal

The Future is Flexible

Instacart Legal has already expanded its use of Tonkean to other use cases. And moving forward, Yu sees the potential for much wider use of Tonkean, especially for additional workflows on the legal team.

“There’s a lot of manual work that legal still does, just because people are used to doing it that way. Since launching Tonkean and hearing about what we have built for contract review intake, there’s been a lot of interest to automate other processes within the team,” said Yu. “So, I don’t think we’re done yet. Even with the contract review processes already in place, the big benefit of Tonkean has been that it is so flexible we can continue to adapt it. So I think we’re going to iterate on it probably forever.”

Yu credits her close partnership with the solutions team at Tonkean with helping ensure Instacart’s use of the platform was successful. She says with every issue or customization that they required, the Tonkean team was able to find a way to resolve it quickly.

“Tonkean is exactly the type of vendor I love working with. They acknowledged that we had certain requirements to build that were unique to our business and company, and they went above and beyond to make sure they happened,” said Yu. “Every company has different processes, workflows and ways they like to work. Having a system like Tonkean that is truly customizable and flexible allows you to accomplish what is best for your business. So if you want a system that can adapt to how your people work instead of the other way around, that’s Tonkean.”

Learn more about how Tonkean can help your organization improve its processes.

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