Having said all that, I found almost all of the sessions I attended of excellent quality and a really good opportunity to learn. So in a nutshell some interesting learning:
- Eva Wimmers from Deutshe Telecom, in an excellent keynote, reflected on the reality that a short-term focus on paying less is probably detrimental to the procurement 'brand' and improved strategic contribution, particularly in an environment of decreasing volumes. Procurement needs to reposition itself and lead on demand shaping and spend management - what she referred to as moving beyond procurement.
- Eva also told us there's a word in Germany for saving money but hurting the business. Don't ask me what the word is but I think there's a real problem that procurement people sometimes are their own worst enemies in doing just that, regardless of what the word is.
- Another of Eva's gems was that "procurement is only as strong as the relationships with functional colleagues". I think that's very true but there's a real problem with procurement suffering from poor stakeholder engagement and management - the focus on technical know-how, to me, is distracts from the increasingly required soft skills.
- There was a recurring theme from many of the speakers of splitting strategic procurement from operational buying. Their message about devolving to the right level or even outsourcing, effective use of P2P systems and pCards - in theory, that is all very simple but few really spoke of how they'd managed to get operational ownership. There is of course an interesting lesson here for those in the public sector who have been very cynical about the benefits of pCards!
- Another recurring theme was that tools and processes are not the solution to more effective procurement - it is leadership and people. It does strike me that too many organisations focus on the e-enablement investment and insufficient attention is spent on finding and developing CPOs who are leaders and change managers - I suspect many of the exemplars sharing their own experience were too modest to actually position themselves with that label, yet that's what I would say they were.
- That leads to an interesting hypothesis from Jim Carter of NetworkRail who felt that there are different individual personalty profiles for category managers and those who enjoy 'doing the deal' - he may well be right and that you certainly would make an interesting topic to research.
- While various procurement maturity models were depicted, and indeed were dealt with as part of my own PhD, I had never picked up on the parallel with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, so thanks to Jim Carter for lifting the scales from my eyes - a really useful analogy.
- David Atkinson delivered another excellent session on Supplier Relationship Management. David felt there remains a lot of confusion on what SRM actually is and that organisations have a long way to go. He suggested that those organisations which are actually good at it are those which really need to be. I felt so many of David's comments could just as easily have applied to Procurement Risk Management but perhaps they are just so interwoven - maybe I fall into David's pigeon hole of those confused?
- I liked David's suggestion that SRM is about pursuing post-contract value. Perhaps the dominant culture of 'let and forget' and poor contract management prevail because practitioners are too focused on the upstream pre-contract procurement activities and forget there's a lot of value to be extracted later (post contract) in the procurement cycle.
- David also shared quite a nice development model for SRM: value protection > value development > value transformation.
- Later we heard that NetworkRail had introduced two templates which might fit well with David's stance, one for contract management, and the other for contract handover - that's something simple many organisations would benefit from copying.
- Big Data featured in some of the presentations but my own view was that this was a very narrow view of how procurement strategy should embrace digital.
- I was also impressed by Matt Evans from BG - he presented some really great evidence of quantitative results from various initiatives they'd pursued - I'm afraid I just wasn't fast enough in capturing that data. Having said that, to have been in a position to share those results he must first of baselined, something which needs to happen more in the world of procurement improvement.
- Matt Evans also shared lessons from the introduction of internal league tables at BG and that they have acted as a catalyst to purchasing improvement in business units through internal friendly rivalry and competition.
- I was also impressed by the suggestion that, within BG, there is obligatory use of frameworks - I think quite a few in the Cabinet Office, and even PASC, would do well to find out how BG have gained ownership of frameworks while so many in the wider public sector have struggled.
- NetworkRail also appeared to be effectively using frameworks with 80% use of catalogues.
- One final takeaway, I really liked Jim Carter of NetworkRail suggestion that procurement should provide its internal customers with options and let them decide which procurement service provides best value for them.
My suggestion is make every effort to attend the next time (and stay to the end)!