All posts by Euan Granger

Better Procurement – Learning from the Private Sector

Who does procurement better – the public or private sector? Is there any reason we all can’t do better together through sharing knowledge and experience? Much depends on the professionals involved.

You could argue that an uneasy relationship exists between procurement in the public and private sectors. On one side, there is full accountability and audit trails, scrutiny over every penny/cent spent and the need for what is, from the outside at least, an almost impenetrable set of regulations and documents that have to be completed.

On the other side, it’s just as accountable and auditable, but there’s more freedom in the process, things happen quicker and there’s more time for the good stuff like contract management. I think it’s fairly obvious which is which…

Accept What We Cannot Change

To stop this becoming a lengthy piece on which is ‘better’, public or private sector procurement, it’s important to separate what could be done better from what we cannot change.

  • Regulation and Legislation

Yes, the public sector is highly constrained by regulations, leaving it more inflexible and giving less freedom in the process to procurement professionals. But beyond getting better at working within the regulations, there’s not much to be done about it. Even post-Brexit, there will still be substantial regulation governing procurement and procurement process, even if it looks slightly different to what it is now.

  • Budgets

Yes, budgets in the public sector are being squeezed. Hard. But no, this is not going to change any time soon. What both the public and private sectors need to do is be savvier with how the available money is spent and how they can maximise what they get from a contract with less money to spend.

  • Transparency

Let’s knock this one on the head straight away. Public sector procurement receives the level of scrutiny it does as it is spending the general public’s money. To ensure everything is above board and audited this needs to continue. And the private sector will only face increased scrutiny in the coming years, so there’s no escaping on either side of the fence.

Lend a Helping Hand

However, there’s nothing to say that the public-private relationship can’t be better. Both sides could teach each other a thing or two about the procurement process and how to make it better or more efficient. After all, at a time of squeezed budgets and regulatory pressure (not to mention Brexit and trade wars), why wouldn’t we all want to work together to make our lives and jobs easier?!

In this article, we’ll be looking at three key areas in which the private sector can help the public sector and at some point in the near future, we’ll look at this from the other side.

Some of this is based on what has been written about both sectors in the press and in thought leadership papers. The rest of my advice, to paraphrase Mary Schmich and Baz Luhrmann, has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now…

  • Negotiation

In the private sector, procurement professionals have the opportunity to negotiate at any stage in the process. Indeed, they may even choose to negotiate at multiple stages in order to get the best deal. Opportunities are more limited in the public sector, meaning more contracts are awarded without negotiation, or negotiation at a stage where the deal is almost done.

However, even these could be maximised to produce a better deal and this is where private sector professionals could help. Who better to assist with a negotiation than someone who is practised, skilled and used to carrying out the process? Swapping notes on good negotiation techniques and where savings have been found in contracts for similar goods or services could provide some much needed wins.

  • Longer Contracts and Relationship Management

You know the score – you spend months painstakingly putting a contract together and awarding it, only to come back to the same contract 18 months later to tender again. The limiting factor here is the length of public sector contracts in many cases, but could this be a valuable knowledge sharing opportunity?

Crafting long-term contracts, aimed at longer than 5 years (for the right goods, services or works), is a skill. Maintaining the right balance between getting a good deal on both sides, opening up avenues for innovation, while at the same time knowing that come year 5 any prices are still competitive, is something that the private sector has greater experience with. By putting heads together, this could also be passed into the public sector.

  • A Strategic, Value-Adding Profession

Are you in a senior management or executive level role in procurement? What do you think your organisation views procurement as – a tender machine for purchasing or a strategic partner for adding value? Some argue that in the public sector, the former is much more common. When there are savings to be made, procurement is the one tasked with delivering, but is left out of the loop when it comes to bringing the value to the top line.

Leaders can help drive a change in this view. If private sector procurement leaders have been able to make this leap already, then using a tried and tested approach may help gain the necessary traction in the public sector.

Share Your Thoughts

These are my thoughts on what the private sector has to offer the public sector in the overall procurement process. None of them represents a quick fix in terms of greater efficiency or costs savings, but done properly, could provide these benefits in the long run.

It would be interesting to hear from professionals on both sides of the fence on this too. Would you be willing to work closely with the public/private sector? How would you facilitate this? Are there other areas you think you could help with, or have greater priority? Let’s get the conversation started – you never know where it’s going to take you and the profession.

The Key Procurement And Technology Trends for 2019

The times, they are a-changing, and so are the markets and environments that procurement operates in. What then are the key trends in procurement and technology you need to watch for in 2019?

View Apart/ Shutterstock

As I am reliably informed by my Christmas-mad colleague, there are only 125 sleeps (as I write) left until Christmas. That means there’s a little over 18 weeks until the year ends, so it’s time to start looking forward to what’s coming in the next 12 months.

2019 is set to be a seismic year around the world. Major changes, such as further geo-political upheaval, the looming spectre of global trade wars and tariffs aplenty, have the potential to disrupt supply chains and set metaphorical trip wires for procurement professionals everywhere. And, as we’ve already heard, it’s rarely been more important to get a solid grips on the key factors in the market and external environment.

So gather round as we gaze into the opaque mists of the future and make some educated insights into the key procurement and technology trends waiting around the corner.

  1. Supplier Management

Let’s start with an oldie, but a goodie. Wait, I hear you cry, supplier management isn’t a new trend! We’ve been talking about this for years. Well, if we’ve talking about it for years, why aren’t we any better at it? And why is it that it’s one of the key areas a large number of procurement teams fall down on?

Like it or not, your suppliers hold the key to all your wildest procurement dreams. Innovation, top and bottom line cost reduction, avoidance and savings, stress-free supply of services and goods and free cake for all! (Ok, maybe not that last one!)

In their Vision 2020 publications, pwc state that the top 25 per cent of procurement functions will have gone beyond incremental improvements and be implementing fundamental change to process and policy alike. This includes how they interact with suppliers and shifting focus from cost and value to Return on Investment (ROI).

These outcomes all hang on better supplier relationship management in order to tease out further innovation from suppliers (who are seen as partners, rather than sponges to wring cash out of) and closer collaboration to source solutions to problems we don’t even know we have yet.

At the heart of this is great communication. Select the right suppliers and talk to them more. You never know, you might just learn something!

  1. Blockchain and Digital Adoption

Unless you’ve been living in a cave on a remote hillside (or perhaps a Faraday cage in your basement), you should have heard by now about blockchain.

From blog articles to webinars, it’s one of the hottest topics in procurement right now, and is likely to still be throughout 2019. Blockchain is and will continue to be a key tool in shaping the transparency of a supply chain. Information is shared and transmitted easily and safely, while the technology allows an “immutable signed and time stamped record of identity, ownership of assets, transactions or contractual commitments”.

This transparency will have the added benefits, and some drawbacks, of making procurement and CPOs more visible in the public environment, say EY. Procurement will wield greater power and have greater opportunity to interact with external stakeholders. But, at the same time, organisational processes and procurement will play out in a public setting like never before.

In line with blockchain’s increasing influence, there is a predicted rise in digital adoption and use of the Cloud. An estimated $1 trillion of IT spend will be moved to the Cloud by 2020, according to Gartner, as organisations look to make their IT services more agile.

  1. Social Value

There is a prevailing opinion amongst the procurement professionals I speak to that 2019 will be the year for social value and sustainability to really take hold. Organisations have begun to realise that cost and quality are only a part of the overall package and not only do they need to be seen to be doing more in the community, but they need to follow through on it.

That goes for the wider supply chain too. Using work practices and value-adding benefits for communities into tenders will become the norm and procurement will no longer be able to award contracts on cost without taking the wider impact into consideration.

  1. Next-Gen Workforce and Automation

Disregard what you’ve heard very recently regarding automation, machine learning and AI as scaremongering. Yes AI will take on tasks and people may have to move to new roles, but it’s not a future that we should be burying our head in the sand about. It’s a natural human reaction to fear change, but procurement needs to muscle up and be brave in order to evolve and survive.

Infosys estimates that AI and procurement automation will eliminate human intervention in 15 per cent of digital spending by 2019. If that’s the case, then procurement needs to embrace the change and develop, train and retain its Next-Generation workforce to meet the demands of new roles where human interaction and input is still key.

  1. Risk

From Brexit to trade wars, risk is going to be possibly the biggest trends for businesses as a whole in 2019. The organisations who will thrive in this unstable environment will be the ones who are best prepared to deal with the unexpected.

Deloitte believe that procurement will become the forecasters of risk in an organisation, raising the profile of the function as it factors total cost of risk and risk mitigation in supply chains into contracts and tenders.

Risk runs throughout the other trends that have been suggested above. Brexit, protectionism and trade wars make supplier and supply chain management all the more important. The increasing need for cyber security as technology advances is something that cannot be ignored.

Procurement is ideally placed to deal with all of these risks, but it needs to put its hand up and be at the front of the queue, or face being left behind and marginalised at a time when the function has a crucial role to play.

Outsourcing versus Insourcing – Where to Play When the Music Stops

In the fourth article in a series charting the key issues in public sector procurement, we examine the difficulties for organisations in deciding whether or not to outsource key strategic services and what this may mean for procurement.

I’ve been told in the past that procurement is a cyclical beast – the chances are high that a decision made today will be revisited in 5-7 years’ time and reversed, only for it to cycle round again at the next strategic business assessment.

One common example is centralised versus decentralised services and the level of autonomy business units are given. I’ve had the opportunity to witness this cyclical decision making first hand and have to say that, as much as it sounds fantastical, there’s a ring of truth to it.

I wasn’t long into my role with the organisation in question when the procurement department was pulled into a meeting with the Procurement Director. The purpose, ostensibly, of the meeting was to discuss the strategic direction of the department. However, the experienced members of the team knew exactly what was coming and they were proved to be correct.

The decision had already been made to centralise the procurement activities to one site (ours), with the Director justifying the move with talk of cost efficiencies, economies of scale and better governance over processes. This all sounded very sensible to me, a relatively green procurement professional. After all, the organisation as a whole had cost savings targets and to me it didn’t make sense to have everyone doing their own thing when it came to procurement.

It wasn’t until I sat down with my more experienced (and some might say cynical) colleagues that I fully understood what was going on. This was a strategic decision made by a new Director looking to put their stamp on the department. Not only this, but the department had only gone through an exercise of decentralisation 6 years before, with the move justified by talk of greater efficiency, more autonomy and procurement better able to service the individual site needs.

It became clear during my conversations with other department members that not only did they think this wouldn’t change the way the business worked (wasting time and money in the process), but that it would be reversed by the next Director in a few years’ time. I’d be lying if I said this whole thing didn’t confuse me, but I was to realise that this was more common that you might think as my time in procurement went on.

The Strategic Hokey Cokey

The example above is meant as an illustration of how strategic decisions can be made and justified no matter which side you fall on. It is neither complaint nor criticism, but an observation from someone who, at the time, had next to no experience in procurement. As time went on, I ended up procuring external services as part of a role, as well as managing an in-house manufacturing process for a procurement department.

The decision of whether to outsource strategic services, or keep the work and skills in house, is one that faces many organisations. Taken as part of the decision making cycle, it can begin to feel a bit like the hokey cokey. Insource this, outsource that, in-out, in-out, shake it all about and, frequently, hope for the best when someone comes asking about business costs and value.

But what is the best value approach when it comes to sourcing key strategic services? In the public sector, an argument could be made for outsourcing for budgetary or expertise reasons. However, the counter-argument relates to potential job losses and the erosion of workers’ skills, losing the option to bring them back in-house in the future.

The strategic services most commonly associated with outsourcing would include HR, Marketing, Finance and even Procurement. But in the public sector would there be an appetite for outsourcing procurement? And what could it mean for this and other services in the long run?

On the Way Out?

Fundamentally, it boils down to the question of whether or not the public sector could or should outsource their procurement function, and what the benefits would be were they to choose to do so.

We’ll come back to the first part of that question shortly. Ascertaining the benefits of outsourcing procurement is tricky, as any benefits tend to be subjective and wouldn’t necessarily apply to all organisations. There has been plenty written, too, on both sides of the debate, including a very interesting discussion on Procurious.

From a wealth of articles on the subject, the most commonly mentioned benefits to outsourcing a procurement function include cost reduction (relating to head count, training and access to resources); accessing expertise in a particular area in the market; a way of complementing existing resources; and the access to extensive networks of knowledge through highly-skilled procurement professionals.

However, on the flip side, there are also a number of negatives raised. Organisations can lose control over day-to-day procurement activities, and through this there is increased risk; there is a potential for the quality of the work to adversely effected; and although procurement has been outsourced, there will still be a requirement to purchase these services and manage the subsequent contract, which may not provide all the time-saving benefits first considered.

Instruct the Experts?

There are a number of organisations in the market that offer procurement as an external service – Capita, GEP and Capgemini to name but a few. The similarities between the services? All of these ‘consulting’ organisations highlight cost savings in their literature and focus on areas such as analytics, research and digital procurement (areas where many organisations lack both expertise and time to carry this out) as a core offering.

From this you would think that a consulting-led service would provide a very attractive option for the public sector. After all, it ticks all the right boxes – improved efficiency, reduced costs and expert-led services. Taken from that point of view, why wouldn’t the public sector choose to instruct the experts, use resources elsewhere and watch the savings roll in?

Apart from being a gross over-simplification of the issue, it doesn’t take into account the wider considerations of skills and training. A decision to outsource in the short-term could lead to a skills shortage in the long-term, and the loss of the opportunity to bring these services back in house without having to set up a new function from scratch (with all the associated costs).

For the public sector, there is an additional consideration – perception. Government, Local Government and Local Authorities have to be particularly careful, perhaps more so than private companies, with public perception and what may be printed in the local and national newspapers. A decision like outsourcing a service, which will be paid for with public money, and for which there may be associated job losses, may not meet the relevant criteria even taking cost savings into account.

The reality is that there isn’t really a right answer for this question and no one correct view in the debate. The right decision now may prove to be the wrong one in hindsight, or due to the cyclical nature of procurement and procurement strategy, may be turned a full 180 degrees a few years down the line.

That said, it’s no time for public procurement professionals to rest on their laurels. There’s plenty to learn and plenty to do – it’s just up to us to make ourselves so invaluable an outsourcing decision couldn’t possibly happen.

Critical Factors When Selecting Your Suppliers

Procurement exists in a dynamic, fast-paced, constantly changing environment. So surely the reasons we use to select our suppliers and supply partners would change over time too? Wouldn’t they?

It’s been over three years since the Procurious network was canvassed on what critical factors they look for in their suppliers. The world has moved on a-pace in the intervening period and it’s interesting to take an inward look to see if procurement has developed at the same pace, particularly in its supplier selection processes.

Gone are the days of the cheapest price (or at least they should be!). Gone, and consigned to a very dark part of history, are the days where supply decisions were made over lunch or in private meetings, and related more to who you knew than what you knew, which golf course or members’ club you were part of. Or even (sharp intake of breath) what you might be offering the buyers in return.

Even the list below, the key factors highlighted last time out, may have been superseded. So what are the new criteria? Or, if they are still the same, why is this the case?

Cost and Quality vs. Social Value and #MeToo?

If we take a look back at the responses from the network in 2015, we find ourselves looking at a list with a number of the usual suspects on it:

  • Cultural Fit – including values
  • Cost – covering price, Total Cost of Opportunity/Ownership
  • Value – value for money and value generation opportunities
  • Experience in the market and current references
  • Flexibility
  • Response to change – in orders and products
  • Quality – covering products and service quality and quality history

In addition to this, some that didn’t make the top 7 as it was included trust and professionalism, strategic process alignment and technical ability. There’s nothing that looks out of place on the list. In fact, they’re all eminently sensible and fair criteria to be considering.

The problem is it that it reflects a very traditional view of procurement.

Given the changing environment that procurement operates in, wouldn’t we expect to see these criteria changing too? In the past couple of years, geo-political instability has dominated the landscape and shows no sign of disappearing soon with Brexit and a potential trade war between USA and the rest of the world just two examples.

But what about the other factors we need to be considering? Social value has jumped to the top of many organisations’ lists, increasing work with SMEs and Social Enterprises. And let’s not forget an increased focus on harassment, discrimination and equal opportunities following #MeToo and campaigns like Procurious’ own ‘Bravo’.

What Does the Network Say?

When asked their opinions on what the critical factors were, the Procurious network highlighted the following:

  • Previous Safety Performance
  • Service Delivery
  • Efficiencies
  • Cultural Fit
  • Price/Cost
  • Flexibility
  • Ethics
  • Quality and Consistency
  • Supply Chain
  • Financial Stability
  • Environmental Policies
  • Communication

I’ve highlighted in bold the criteria that appear in the previous list that also appear in the new one. As you might expect, they are the common criteria that procurement are known for, and may be expected to deliver as standard.

It doesn’t appear that other factors in line with Sustainability, Social Value and Equal Opportunities (to name but a few) are getting much of a look in. However, we’d need a much bigger sample to be sure. And that’s where the wider knowledge base comes in.

Procurement’s Response

Having a trawl through the latest articles on supplier selection and key criteria two things struck me. One, there were very few articles, blogs, thought leadership posts or even research papers from the past couple of years. The most recent one I found was from early 2017 and even using a broad range of search terms, it was difficult to find anything relevant.

The second, and perhaps most surprising/concerning, thing was how few mentioned any different criteria for suppliers. Only one article I could find mentioned Social Responsibility or Environmental Performance/Sustainability. The remainder still focused on the criteria commonly found in a Commercial or Technical/Quality evaluation. The most common criteria still were:

  • Years in business and financial stability
  • Price/Cost
  • Quality and Delivery
  • Reliability
  • Communication
  • Cultural Match

What does this say about procurement? Is the profession still falling back on the old favourites when it comes to supplier selection? Or could it be that traditional “thought leadership” is no longer leading the way, and organisations are working differently without shouting it from the rooftops?

For me, it’s a combination of all of the above. There’s no denying that it’s hard to separate procurement from cost and quality (after all, it’s what we’re there to do). And why wouldn’t professionals use criteria that are both reliable and easy to measure, particularly when time and resources are tight?

Getting our Message Across

Speaking from experience, however, there are areas in which overall value is much more prevalent. In the Scottish public sector, organisations are mandating Community Benefits for contracts above a certain value. These can cover everything from creating apprenticeships to financially supporting community projects.

In addition, Local Authorities have started to mandate evaluation of ‘Fair Work Practices’ in all procurement exercises. Again, this can cover a multitude of elements, such as paying the living wage, no zero-hour contracts, equal opportunities and good training and development. Suppliers are being forced to consider these criteria to the benefit of their employees and the wider society.

There is good work going on in procurement, but maybe we aren’t making the most of communicating our message to the wider market. And if communication is one of the key factors in supplier selection and subsequent relationship management, it’s high time the profession started telling suppliers what is important to us and seeing what they have to offer.

3 Top Tips For Dealing With Legacy Contracts

How sure are you that all your current contracts are still delivering their intended value? Or is the legacy beginning to hold you back?

In the third article in a series charting the key issues in public sector procurement, we examine the challenge of delivering value in long-term contracts.

As we have discussed in previous articles, time is a precious commodity in public sector procurement. The time taken to tender, retender or extend contracts needs to be factored in when making an initial decision on contract length.

Make the contract too short and there’s less scope for realising the value that you have worked into it, or very little incentive for suppliers to invest in the relationship (and potentially offer something of more value, for example, innovative solutions).

However, a contract that is too long has just as many issues. There’s more time for relationships to sour and more time away from the market where new solutions and technology might be providing better services and efficiencies. Finally it’s more time locked into a contract where costs are only likely to be on the rise.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to contract length. A goods contract might benefit from a shorter term as it means new products or solutions can be assessed as the market develops them. There’s also the argument that for less complex goods a strong business relationship isn’t as critical, particularly if you aren’t going to do business with them again in the future.

That’s not to say certain products shouldn’t have longer contracts instead. Where there is high value, or a high level of complexity, a longer contract term may be necessary to ensure continuity of supply, or ensure the stability of a supplier.

A service contract might be better served with a longer contract. There’s more time for both parties to develop their relationship and gives the supplier time to understand the service without looking over their shoulder from Day 1.

But what of the contracts that professionals have no say over their length?

The Legacy Issue

It’s inevitable with the churn of professionals that at some point you will end up in a role where there are contracts that have been put in place by colleagues who have moved to a new role, or left the organisation entirely.

And you’ll certainly not be alone in thinking, “why have they done this?” when you get your hands on the contract specifics. You’ll probably even end up attributing issues on the contract to PBE (Previous Buyer Error) – even if you swore you’d never be one of those people!

In the public sector, the majority of these contracts will be in place for 3-5 years, potentially with an extension period should it be applicable for the contract, good or service. The extension could be up to another two years, meaning there’s a long time between procurement exercises for the product in question.

A hangover from previous public sector practice in procurement is perhaps the willingness to set contract length at 3 years and rarely changing. This might be the norm for frameworks (limited to 4 years at its longest length anyway), but as we have mentioned, there’s scope to make the length shorter where appropriate.

Another consideration for legacy contracts come in the information that is attached to them. It’s likely that, unless it’s been refreshed, most of the information will be out of date. Without the up to date information, you may not be able to see the full picture and it’s something that will have to be done as a priority when it comes to any extension or retender.

Finally, you should always be aware of what Terms & Conditions the contract was issued with and if it complies with all current regulations and legislation. Compliance is key here, so you shouldn’t hesitate to speak to your Legal team. It’s also something to remember when setting up new contracts that they account for all legislation, both current and potentially to come into force during the contract term.

From Legacy to Cutting-Edge

There’s no getting away from the legacy issue. You might put in a terrific, watertight contract now, but in 3-5 years’ time, it could be one of those legacy contracts your colleagues are wrangling with! If there’s no getting away from it then, what is there to do?

Never think you can’t put your own mark on a contract, even if it’s already up and running. Even a contract that’s over halfway through still has another half where you can contract manage and add value, all the while looking at options for the new contract.

So what are my top tips for dealing with the legacy issue? I’ve put some below:

1. It’s never too late to start contract management

Ultimately, preserving or releasing value in a contract comes down to the quality of the contract management. And it’s never too late to do some good contract management. If you work on the basis of any value is good value then even half a contract is enough time to make sure that your organisation is getting something out of this.

2. Use the time to build relationships

If you’re struggling to release any value from a legacy contract, use the remaining time to build up good relationships with the incumbent supplier. You’ll get to know their business and anything you learn can help when it comes to putting together new requirements for the next contract. At the very worst, you’ll get a chance to assess the whole market and see your other supply options!

3. Prepare for the new contract

Don’t leave it too late to start working on the new iteration of the contract (or retender). You might have planned for a good exit, but you need to be sure that any new contract going to do a better job. Use the time wisely and make sure that you put any lessons learned into practice.

Late, Late For An Important Date? Why Time Isn’t On Public Procurement’s Side

Time is fleeting and never more so when a contract deadline is looming large. How can public sector procurement professionals use their time more effectively?

In the second in a series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement, we examine the issue of time and why it must be managed better.

Before we begin, I have a riddle for you:

This thing all things devours;

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stones to meal;

Slays kings, ruins town,

And beats high mountain down

Extract from ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937

Those of you familiar with the great J.R.R. Tolkien will recognise this as one of Gollum’s riddle to Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Hobbit’. The answer? Time, of course.

Time is the one thing none of us can avoid and all wish we had more of. How many times have you wished you had an extra hour before a work deadline? And that’s before we even consider more time at the weekend, or an extra hour in bed!

For public sector procurement professionals, it frequently feels like time is not on our side. An increasing volume of ‘Business as Usual’ work, combined with new ‘one-off’ projects, means it can feel like a juggling act to meet all the relevant deadlines.

In the public sector, these deadlines can sometimes mean the difference between the delivery or not of critical goods or services across a city.

It often feels like we’re like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, constantly running late for an important date. And the more time pressure builds, the more likely it is that mistakes will be made, costing even more time in the long run.

Typos in letters, ambiguity in specifications and issues with evaluation or award criteria – they all have the power to send us back to the drawing board. Getting it right first time is critical as the more time spent doing tendering, the less time there is to actually manage contracts.

When it comes to creating the value and savings required in the public sector, contract management is key. After all, you can agree savings in a pre-contract phase, but without effective contract management, organisations will typically lose 50 per cent of this value in the first year of the contract.

And that is why we need to manage our time more effectively.

More Haste, Less Speed

Before looking at how time might be managed more effectively, it’s worth examining why procurement in the public sector can be so time consuming.

Public sector procurement is a very bureaucratic, very legalistic, very risky – for both buyers and suppliers – and, ultimately, very slow process.

For procurement exercises above the EU Procurement thresholds, and requiring advertising through OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union), it’s not unusual for the process to take up to nine months (and frequently even longer) from identification of need to the award of a contract.

And while that may seem like a complete anachronism to those of you in the private sector (and believe me, it did when I first started in the public sector), there are good reasons for this. The process is aimed at promoting competition and procedural conformity, not necessarily value for money, though this is what most public procurement professionals are aiming for.

Greater competition allows for more open and transparent tendering and contracts, where SMEs, local suppliers and parties that may not ordinarily have access to these markets can get involved. A wider supply base may lead to new ideas, innovations and process improvements while at the same time potentially being a boon to the local economy.

The bulk of this time is taken creating a set of fully auditable documents for any procurement exercise above these thresholds. This includes a sourcing strategy, outlining key decisions and the reasons for them, detailed tender documents, including specifications, selection and award criteria, and a fully tracked evaluation process.

The type of route to market will, of course, be determined by the product, service or public works being procured. The detail of all of these routes is too much to go into here, but you can find a lot of useful information on ‘The Procurement Journey’, if you want to understand the end-to-end process.

There is limited scope for reducing the time taken to complete these processes, so where can time be saved to allow for more contract management? This is where good planning comes in.

Proactive Procurement

Procurement could be accused of operating in a reactive manner and it’s no different in the public sector. However, this can often be attributed to the nature of procurement’s place in the organisation and the changing nature of how organisations operate and procure goods and services.

The increasing number of ‘one-off’ projects, on top of the ‘Business as Usual’ work, can make even the best procurement functions feel like there is a never-ending volume of tenders to complete (referred to as the “tender sausage machine” where I work).

Moving from a reactive to proactive approach can help in this and crucially buy more time for that all important contract management. There are three suggestions below to help make this work, but it’s important to understand the caveats on these at the same time.

Making this a reality takes not only input from procurement, but from all its stakeholders and end users across the organisation. Procurement needs to be seen as a key strategic function and help mould the strategic direction that underpins procurement requirements.

That said, there’s still plenty scope for procurement to make changes and help things run that bit smoother.

  1. Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

This is very simple to say, but very hard to do. Get all your contract details in one place, including the dates of when they need to be retendered or procured and plan accordingly. Have quality project plans available to help understand when the procurement process needs to start and the key dates involved. Most importantly, share these dates with your stakeholders and then stick to them.

  1. Don’t “Boil the Ocean”

Once you know the procurement requirements, assess the market to see if other organisations or Local Authorities are doing the same or have been there before. Ask for documentation – my experience is that people are only too willing to share if they know it will be reciprocated in the future.

Also check out organisations like Scotland Excel, Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation (YPO) and Crown Commercial Services (CCS) for frameworks. If the framework is applicable, that’s half the work done for you and a major time saver.

  1. Kick-off Means Buy In

A kick-off meeting is a good way to get all the appropriate people in the room to discuss the requirements of the contracts and make sure that all the vital details are captured. Getting this done up front not only means you are better prepared, but you also get buy in from stakeholders who feel involved and will be better placed to help push the project along.

These suggestions by no means cover everything that can and probably should be done to make the procurement process more efficient. However, from the point of view of marginal gains, making these adjustments should help increase procurement efficiency and free up time to manage the contracts you’ve put so much effort into creating in the first place.

Public Sector Procurement Talent: Fact V Fiction

The search is on for top talent to fill an increasing number of procurement roles. But is the public sector being beaten to the finish line by its private sector counterparts?

In the first in a series of articles charting the key issues facing public sector procurement, we examine the facts and fictions of the public and private sector battle for talent.

Talent and recruitment – just two of the key issues for CPOs and Heads of Procurement around the world. As the role of procurement expands, managers need to know their teams have the right skills for the job. For many, this means searching for the profession’s top talent, the high achievers. The superstars.

But identification is only half the battle. Actually attracting these stars to your team is another challenge entirely. And this is where many believe that the public sector loses out to its private sector counterpart. But how much truth is there in this?

The Facts

According to the CIPS/Hays Procurement Salary Guide 2017, 70 per cent of managers said they were planning to recruit within the next 12 months. However, 51 per cent also admitted that they faced challenges in finding the right talent in the face of a skills shortage and budget constraints.

Let’s set budgets aside for a moment. There is a distinct set of skills required for success in public sector procurement. Sure basic skills are all transferrable, but public sector professionals need to adapt to a very different, highly political, environment.

Add in the requirement to drive new ideas, use specific IT systems, and operate within the bounds of EU Procurement Regulations and you’re starting to look at quite a bespoke skill set.

Speaking from experience, the majority of these skills can be learned or trained. But with budgets (that word again!) tight and time short, training is becoming an increasingly unaffordable luxury for many in the public sector.

This means public sector hiring managers are chasing the white rabbit – those professionals with all these skills, able to hit the ground running on Day 1.

But in a sellers’ market where there are an increasing number of procurement jobs to be filled, professionals with these skills are in demand. And this comes at a price.

All About the Money, Money?

Money isn’t everything and it can’t buy you happiness (according to Rousseau at least), but it is a key driver for procurement professionals when they look for new roles.

According to the CIPS/Hays Guide, 72 per cent of respondents highlighted salary as the key factor for a new role. This is compared to 41 per cent and 36 per cent for flexible working and non-salary benefits respectively.

The money argument seems to be borne out by the average salaries across the sectors in the UK:

  • Private Sector – £46,825
  • Public Sector – £40,915
  • Charity Sector – £40,379

And the trend continues when the average salaries are broken down by seniority within the public and privates sectors (see below):

The picture doesn’t get any better for the public sector when bonuses are taken into account either. In 2017, an average of 50 per cent of professionals received a bonus in the private sector, versus only 13 per cent in the public sector.

However, the public sector may have the beating of the private sector in one facet – non-financial benefits. Over two-thirds (67 per cent) of public sector professionals have access to flexible working (versus 36 per cent of the private sector), along with greater provision for support for study and career development.

The Permanent vs. Temporary Debate

The other option open to hiring managers is bringing in interim or contract workers. This has proven to be a good way of providing additional resources in a flexible manner for specific projects or time periods. The CIPS/Hays Guide states that 61 per cent of public sector organisations will recruit in this way.

While this suggests that there is an attraction for some professionals in contracting, many looking for new roles want the security and safety of a permanent contract. So how much truth is there in the belief that the public sector isn’t able to offer this type of contract?

While it was certainly more fact than fiction when it came to salaries, there is certainly less evidence for the permanent-temporary contract question. A search across UK job sites for public sector procurement roles shows that actually there are almost twice as many permanent roles advertised as temporary, contractor or interim roles.

So taking this factor out of the equation, what solutions are available to the public sector to meet the recruitment challenge?

Redressing the Balance

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Budget restraints make it nearly impossible to compete on salaries, bonuses and other financial benefits. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is plenty to offer besides salaries that make jobs attractive.

The CIPS/Hays Guide shows that the majority of public sector organisations are making flexible working available to their employees. Having contracts that are as flexible as possible only increases their attractiveness at a time where people (and many organisations) are looking to step away from the traditional desk-bound, 9-5 roles.

Flexible working hours, flexi-time, working from home and contracts allowing greater work-life balance are just some of the non-financial benefits job seekers will look for.

The second area is the attractiveness of the roles. This might seem like a counter-intuitive argument given what’s been said before, but this doesn’t relate to money, contracts, or working hours.

A common (mis)conception of the public sector is that it isn’t as interesting. The truth is far removed from this. From roles that allow procurement professionals to directly impact their cities for the better, to working on major, one-off projects – think the European Championships in Glasgow in 2018, or the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.

And these are just a couple of highlights in the vast array of fascinating projects in the areas of sustainability, technology and services only available in the public sector.

Raising the profile of these roles or projects and their interesting, challenging and diverse nature can only help to attract the superstars.

So here’s my challenge to you in the public sector. What are you going to do to help?