All posts by Mark Roberts

Creating our Vision: Why Procurement Needs an Avenger

Procurement needs a vision to help it overcome the challenges facing it. And this is why Procurement needs to be an Avenger rather than an ageing Godfather to survive.Procurement Vision & Avenger

Since being asked to attend the Big Ideas Summit 2016, I’ve been thinking about my own big ideas. I’ve drawn on my own experience, reviewed the ideas submitted in 2015 and for the 2016 summit, and read a range of materials, including the book ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’ which I would highly recommend to everybody.

Having reflected on all this information, I’ve got a couple of ideas of my own that I look forward to discussing with you all in person next Thursday. Before then, I have one that I want to offer for discussion amongst the Procurious community.

My big idea is simple. Procurement is simply not thinking big enough! As a function, we appear constrained and timid in our outlook, believing ideas that have been circulating over the last decade to be the strategic answers that will propel us forward into the next decade.  Procurement must demonstrate greater ambition towards its future role than it does today. 

We need a Procurement Vision!

it-took-35-hours-every-day-to-transform-paul-bettany-into-the-vision-character-for-the-avengers-sequel

Just as The Vision emerged in The Avengers to defeat Ultron, Procurement needs its own vision to help guide it through the challenges it faces.

Procurement’s vision needs to be ambitious and practical, demonstrating to the senior leaders of an organisation a clear sense of purpose and direction that shows how Procurement will benefit the organisation.

If this vision exists, I believe that initiatives such as SRM, Innovation, Collaboration and Big Data, all areas that have been discussed in countless articles in recent years, will realise their intended benefits, as their aims and objectives will have been clearly explained and understood by all participants to support the most successful possible implementation.

If no vision exists, how can we succeed? It may seem simple, but clearly articulating this vision can prove difficult for organisations. I am shocked when I talk to organisations today to hear that they are unable to tell me their organisational objectives or why they implemented a particular solution. Colour simply drains from the faces of individuals when asking them to try to quantify some form of business benefit achieved from an investment in a particular solution or project.

When I speak at Universities and business schools around the World, the role of Procurement is confused. Students are unclear on what it actually represents, whilst academics provide a wide range of explanations of what Procurement is, usually including it as a minor topic within Supply Chain discussions.

Unless Procurement Leaders, be they Public, Private or in connected areas such as media, show a clear sense of direction and unity on what Procurement is, the function could easily disappear.

Remember the scene from ‘The Godfather Part 3’ where Michael utters what are probably the most memorable lines from that film:

Pull me back in

Michael and the Corleone family have allowed themselves to become constrained by the expectations that others have for them.  Any intent to move forward is being hampered by the legacies and expectations from their past.

Procurement faces a similar challenge. If it lacks a vision on its future direction, it runs the risk of always being portrayed as a back office compliance function, simply ensuring adherence to purchase orders. Please don’t misunderstand me. These are important activities that need to be done properly. My point is that when no vision exists, attempts to implement new strategic initiatives will be thwarted, because organisations may not allow us to move beyond the self-imposed boundaries that Procurement has established for itself.

A limited historic scope for Procurement will not inspire the next generation of potential talents to come and work within our function. When talking about Procurement at Universities and Business Schools, current students already assume a number of our historic activities to have been automated and are certainly not seeking to join organisations if their immediate future is spent ensuring contractual compliance or managing tail-spend.

The next generation is interested in how Procurement shapes Sustainable Sourcing strategies, how Procurement supports top-line growth initiatives and how Procurement provides a platform to a wider career in an organisation.

Creating the Vision

How can we create this vision? A simple idea would be to imagine that Procurement did not yet exist. How would you create it today? What would you want to include in its remit? Where do you believe you should focus your biggest minds, and what could be automated?

Clarifying how Procurement will operate both in the short and longer term within your organisation will start to create a vision behind which your team can unite and move together. This will require Leadership to seek new opportunities for Procurement to drive and manage opportunities. It may require Procurement Leadership to conduct some ‘skunk-work’ initiatives, dedicating resources to ideas that they believe will benefit the organisation in the medium to long term.

I believe that establishing a vision is equally applicable to both Public and Private Sectors. I remember witnessing some of the earliest work on sustainable sourcing, ethical purchasing and talent diversity emerging in the public sector and student unions.

Procurement has the ability to devise a very bright future in terms of areas of responsibility and contribution to organisational growth. Let us ensure that we build the future we want to participate in, rather than face a future whose boundaries and expectations have already been determined for us.

Mark will be discussing procurement vision and clarifying the role of procurement during one of our panel discussions at the Big Ideas Summit on April 21st.

There’s still time for you to get involved with Big Ideas, by visiting www.bigideassummit.com, joining our Procurious group, and Tweeting your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.