Tag Archives: procurement professionals

The Science And The Art Of Procurement

As we move towards a new decade is the emphasis in the procurement world changing – are we going to see a new age, where the Art of Procurement comes to the fore?

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Much of our focus in the last twenty years or so within the procurement profession and within our specific procurement functions has been on what we might call the “Science of Procurement”.

The huge growth in the use of technology has been the most visible part of that developing picture. Over the years, we have moved from the first spend analysis initiatives, laboriously building Excel-based “spend cubes”, through to today’s automated, cloud-based, AI-driven, integrated, holistic (add your own buzz-word here…)  procurement platform. Technology has radically changed procurement activities and procurement roles across virtually all our spheres of activity.

Outside the technology field, we have also seen “science” come to the fore in terms of codifying processes such as Category Management. There may be different models in use, but there is a pretty well-accepted logical methodology behind how organisations approach their management of major spend areas. Professionalisation of the function, logic and analysis has also extended into other areas, with a growth in relevant qualifications, all the way through to procurement and supply chain MBAs and even Doctorates.

But, as we move towards a new decade, perhaps the wind is shifting, and we may see a different focus in the next ten years.  Is the emphasis in the procurement world changing – and are we going to see a new age, where the Art of Procurement comes to the fore, alongside the scientific approaches?  I first saw this term used a few years ago by Philip Ideson, as a title for his website and excellent series of podcasts, and it feels like this may be an idea whose time has come.  

However, we would stress that doesn’t mean forgetting the science and (of course) the technology. After all, we’re only just beginning to see what AI and machine learning might do to revolutionise procurement and supply chain management; the possibilities are endless and hard to predict.

But we are also seeing increasing focus on issues such as;

  • how procurement can successfully influence, engage and collaborate with internal stakeholders to drive value;
  • procurement being asked to support development of unconventional business models that move beyond traditional buyer / seller (partnerships, JVs, large firms running start-up incubators, etc); and  
  • capturing and exploiting innovation from supply markets and individual suppliers becoming a top priority for organisations and therefore procurement functions.

When we look at that sort of activity, we can see that it is very different to the standard procurement processes – spend analysis, competitive sourcing, purchase to pay management. Now those core tasks and issues are not going to go away, and we would not want to suggest procurement leaders take their eyes off those particular balls or stop trying to execute this work as effectively as possible! But adoption of technology, automation, and best practice process is not the ultimate objective; it is a means to an end. 

The emerging strategic priorities for our organisations require different approaches from procurement, different skills sets amongst staff, and critical success factors such as creativity, flexibility, adaptability and even imagination really start to come into play. In addition, our expectations and requirements of technology must evolve as well, to support not just rapid deployment of standard best practices, but the ability to bring our best ideas to life and promote agility.

So, this talk of creativity, agility and innovation all starts sounding and feeling much more like “Art” rather than pure “Science”, and it is interesting to see that technology firm Ivalua has titled the Ivalua Now 2019 conferences this spring (in Chicago and Paris) the “Art of Procurement”.  To support that, the firm hopes to challenge the speakers to go beyond the usual “journey to best in class” descriptions and include their reflections on how procurement is embracing change in their organisations. How will procurement leaders contribute to generating real competitive advantage, to growing business revenues through innovation – supporting the top-line as well as the bottom line, as it were.

I’ve argued elsewhere that actually, if procurement doesn’t change and widen its scope, we in the profession may face existential issues of survival, as technology advances further. So, in our next two articles in this series, we’ll look at case studies that demonstrate the sort of innovative approaches procurement organisations are taking and how considering the Art of Procurement might secure our future. And finally, you can register for the Ivalua Paris event here if you want to participate in what should be a stimulating couple of days, from April 10th-12th.

Ivalua are sponsoring Big Ideas Summit London on March 14th. Sign up now as a digital delegate to follow the day’s action wherever you are in the world. 

My Advice for Finance Professionals (and Others)

My advice for up and coming finance professionals? Don’t get stuck in your silo – get out and collaborate.

When someone asks you for your opinion or advice to pass on to young professionals, it’s often tricky to narrow down your thinking to two or three bullet points. When these professionals working in a different business function, the job gets that little bit harder still.

However, there’s not as much difference between Procurement and Finance professionals in the early stages of their careers. So, based on my own experience, I have put together my top three pieces of advice for new professionals (whether they are in Finance or any other profession).

  1. Avoid a Silo Mentality

Maybe the most important piece of advice I can think of, hence why it’s come first. In the early part of my career, there was nothing more frustrating than trying to explain what procurement did, and why we added value to the business.

We worked closely with other functions, such as Design, Manufacturing, and Finance, but always had the same conversation why we needed to be involved at all. If you’re going to fully understand the business, then you need to get out of your functional silo and meet other people, discuss their roles, and work out how you and they fit together.

The relationship between Finance and Procurement is key to the smooth running of a number of critical operations. From supplier selection and qualification, to invoice payment, these operations will run much more efficiently with better communication and a good relationship.

If you step outside your silo, you’ll probably find that other people are willing to do this too. 

  1. Share your Experience

Procurious founder, Tania Seary, has frequently spoken about the importance for procurement to flex their collective muscle and create a community of practice. The same could be said about creating a community of finance professionals.

Quandl’s tips for being a great analyst highlight spotting patterns and finding out the ‘why’ behind the numbers. A great way of doing this is to get out and talk to people, be it others in your profession, or others around your business. Discussing tools and apps that you and others have found helpful could make all the difference.

The chances are fairly high that someone, somewhere, will have come across a similar situation in the past. They might even have a solution for it too, and they’re probably willing to share their experience and knowledge to help out others.

Your experience is valuable too, no matter the stage of your career. Find time to note down specific issues you have had, who you spoke to, how they helped, and your eventual solution. Share this with your fellow professionals, and you’ll start to build both profile and influence. One of the great ways to do this is via social media.

  1. Leverage Social Media for Your Brand

Social media is just as important for your professional life as it is for your personal life. There are a number of great platforms available, each offering a different way to build your personal brand.

In business now, many people think that if you don’t have your own online profile, you don’t really exist. Both recruiters and employers will use social media to learn more about you as an individual – whether it’s to check your employment history against a CV you have submitted, to understanding what makes you tick as a person via social media posts.

The best thing is, it only takes 10-15 minutes each day to stay up to date.

Telling people what you are doing, reading relevant content from industry publications, listening to a great podcast – all of these can be done on your way to work, or over lunch. Once you’re in a routine, it’s easy to maintain your social media presence during the day.

By doing this, you’re raising your own profile and starting to build influence, as well as gathering knowledge that will help in your day-to-day work.

And whether you are Finance professionals, or Procurement professionals (or others), this will certainly stand you in good stead as your career progresses.

Procurement: The new and improved model?!


Procurement Professionals on LinkedIn

The following article originally appeared on the Procurement Professionals LinkedIn Group.  Join and view other articles here.

In 2011 the Coalition Government launched their ‘new’ Government Construction Strategy with its aim to improve the industry whilst reducing whole life cost and carbon by 20 per cent by 2015.

Procurement: the new and improved model

A major part of the strategy focused on reforming public sector procurement, and in particular trialling a series of new procurement methods to drive these improvements and efficiencies by effecting behavioural and cultural change. The models intended to draw on established best practice and drive an ‘evolutionary, not revolutionary change’ across the public sector. They utilise a range of common principles which emphasise the need for collaborative working and early contractor involvement, where the supply chain responds to an outline client requirement and declared budget rather than a pre-determined design.

The three models are:

  • Cost Led Procurement – During the Cost Led Procurement process, a client sets out their output specification against a challenging cost ceiling based on their own knowledge and experience of costs . They then invite the supply chain to bring their own collaborative understanding to develop an innovative response to the brief. CLP is of particular use in a competitive framework environment where there is opportunity to continually improve on the unit costs of the programme working collaboratively with the supply chain.
  • Integrated Project Insurance – This is the most innovative and new approach. The Integrated Project Insurance (IPI) model offers clients the opportunity to create a holistic and integrated project team (an ‘Alliance Board’) to eliminate the “blame/claim” culture. The innovative “integrated project insurance” package limits the risk for the individual members of the team, fosters joint ownership of the project, and thereby reduces the likelihood of overrunning in terms of cost and time.
  • Two Stage Open Book – This model improves on an established approach often used in a framework environment. At the first stage a client invites prospective integrated teams to bid for a project based on their ability to deliver an outline brief and cost benchmark. The appointed team works alongside the client to build up a proposal after which the construction contract is awarded – this is the second stage.

In 2012 a trial programme for the new models was established which included projects from the Ministry of Justice and the Environment Agency, and more recently the procurement of the Education Funding Authority regional framework. However the trials have so far only focussed on CLP and Two Stage Open Book, as due to the innovative nature of IPI it has taken more effort to initiate a trial project.

Also in line with the development of the new models and in order to bring about further reform, the GCS reinforced the need to improve the public sector procurers skills. It has backed the creation of a Major Projects Leadership Academy run in partnership with the Saïd Oxford Business School and Deloitte, and ‘encouraged’ the dissemination of best practice across central and local government. Finally the GCS also provided an updated version of the Common Minimum Standards for procurement. Although the impact of these initiatives is more difficult to measure.

Despite all of this I still hear from contractors on a regular basis that clients are more concerned with lowest price tendering. Or are too reliant on their advisors producing a design before they procure a contractor and then expecting innovation and value engineering to further reduce their spend. So for me the big question now is – three years on, and (perhaps more importantly) less than twelve months to the next general election, have all of these reforms made any difference in the industry?

Based on the evidence provided in the trial projects the potential benefits of the new procurement models are demonstrable for all parties. However the trials have been restricted to a small number of high value central government projects. And whilst anecdotal evidence suggests that things are improving generally in construction, this is more than likely related to an upturn in the economy as a whole.