Monday, 23 January 2017

UK Industrial Strategy and more procurement bluster

Today the UK Government released for consultation its new Industrial Strategy.  As has become the norm with this type of business document procurement gets its place in the sun; this time with seven pages.

You can find a summary of the commitments on page 77 of the document but don't be getting too excited; there are only two new commitments, namely, the rollout of a balanced scorecard approach, and the trailing of different aspects of supplier feedback. There are proposals on page 72 on what the Government hopes to do to make use of procurement as a tool for innovation, and to be truthful I quite like the suggestion of 'innovation review points'. But I don't actually see anything which jumps off the laptop at me and shouts "WOW!'. Actually, perhaps it does merit a "wow" but only because of frustration and despondency.

There is almost a necessity for Government's to make a fashion statement creating the illusion they plan to really use procurement. Sadly, then there is a complete lack of accountability and performance management to make sure it is implemented. It takes on the feel of smoke and mirrors and political rhetoric, then, all too often is forgotten.

Perhaps, now is the time for CIPS to grab the bull by the horns and, rather than a submit a politically correct and polite consultation response to shout loudly, "Just Do It".  Even better if CIPS could be part of some sort of performance management structure for the procurement chapter's implementation!

The Government pose the consultation question: 'is there more can be sone through public procurement to support innovation?'  For what it's worth I made recommendations on how procurement could contributed to a manufacturing strategy four years ago, back in February 2013. Perhaps some of those recommendations were too adventurous but of my 18 recommendations, I think one stands out:
Revisit Procuring for the FutureInnovation Nation and the Department of Health's National Innovation Procurement Plan implementation, establish what impeded uptake, what worked and address the lessons learnt - my own impression is that they lacked a supporting change management strategy and the associated resources.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Procurement Fraud on the increase - you are vulnerable too

The 2016/17 Global Fraud and Risk Report by Kroll has just been published and it indicates an increase for 17% to 26% in 'vendor, supplier or procurement fraud'.

We've been discussing procurement fraud for some time and only yesterday Spendmatters' Peter Smith raised the question of why those involved risk their careers and potential jail sentences for such low returns. I think the answer to Peter's question is not only greed but the probability that the perpetrators will not be caught and the easy of completion.

What I have often come across are processes which are so fundamentally weak and lacking in robustness that I remain amazed how organisations are not more aware of the significant risks they face - are they in denial or just unaware?

The reality is that no organisation can have zero risk of supplier, vendor or procurement fraud but all can certainly take steps to reduce vulnerability - you may find my whitepaper of interest.

The publication of Kroll's Report provides an opportunity for those in procurement to highlight this risk, ask how it is being addressed corporately, and take the lead in developing a robust approach. Let's remember that the Bribery Act places a responsibility on organisations to prevent fraud - that's not passive but about being proactive in identifying vulnerabilities and taking steps to reduce the risks.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

NI Executive Daft Procurement Strategy leak

Amongst documents which have come to light as part of the conspiracy to undermine the Northern Ireland Executive was a Strictly Confidential Draft, trail blazing, Procurement Strategy. What will surprise the wider Procurement community is that the Strategy was developed in anticipation of the Brexit result and freedoms from the constraints of EU procurement legislation. The introduction makes the claim that the Strategy is innovative in aiming to both disturb and confuse the market so that the Procurement function can ensure best use of 'relative' power-sharing and be held up as an exemplar across the world - opposition cynics allege this justification was no more than a ruse to secure speaking opportunities at exotic locations!

 The key aspects of the strategy are:
  • Disaggregation of spend so that wider benchmarking of prices is possible and, in parallel, provide an opportunity to improve the negotiation skills of local buyers;
  • A shift from digital procurement solutions to paper-based in the hope that micro-businesses will be able to take on global competitors who have become reliant on bidding through eProcurement solutions;
  • Use of collusive bidding clauses to ensure that market dialogue opportunities are maximised; 
  • A shift to 'highest bid wins' in keeping with the wider NI Executive's Value for Money approach;
  • To take some of the heat out of the heavily criticised RHI, green energy scheme, the feasibility of an Orange Supplier of the Year will be tested - this is not as bizarre as it sounds since, in recent times, the Health Minister issued a diktat that biscuits would be replaced with satsumas for departmental meetings.    
Given that the NI Executive has now crumbled we may never know whether the Strategy would have delivered the anticipated benefits - time will tell though whether others adopt a similar approach.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Pirates of the Specification

Buying ships shouldn't be such a big deal if you've a legacy of being one of the great naval nations of the world; you'd have had experience of buying ships to cope with the ice of the Antarctic and the dealing with the Pirates of the Caribbean. Therefore, for many it will have come as a surprise that £1bn of warships are breaking down in the Gulf since the water is too warm, leaving crews vulnerable!!!

The contractors claim the MOD didn't tell them about that particular potential usage, even though the UK has been engaged in flighting there since 1990, if I am correct, and in truth we could go back centuries. Have the MOD locked themselves into a strategy which requires a portfolio of ships which can only be used in restricted climates?  If that was the case, the old news stories of warships being redeployed from various parts of the globe to potential conflict areas will be no more, for the simple reason they wouldn't work.

Setting that aside, now it looks as if a refit of these particular Destroyers will be necessary.  

I assume the courts will have to decide who picks up the cost but already it looks as though the contractor is trying to escape liability by resorting to the technical specification set out by the MOD - in other words Rolls Royce complied with the letter of the specification so it's not their fault: 
Are the conditions experienced in the Gulf in line with that specification? No, they’re not. So the equipment is having to operate in far more arduous conditions than were initially required (Tomas Leahy of Rolls Royce).
I assume we will hear eventually if the MOD used a solely technical specification, but this must serve as a warning to all those who do that using a solely technical specification shifts the burden of functionality to the buyer. To me there will always be a basic need for technical specifications but they need to be accompanied with functional and performance specifications; and when a service is involved, outcome specifications.  It certainly looks, at face value, as if the MOD set aside the functional and performance aspects, and, if that is the case, why?

But there's another question here, what about all the talk of supplier partnerships and innovation transfer - was that a one-way street from the MOD to the market without reciprocation? The relationship between the MOD and its strategic partners now looks as if it has suffered a major set-back and will take some time to recover.

To me there is one lesson for all procurement professionals here: never resort solely to a tec spec.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Another misreading of relative power in buyer/supplier negotiations

Once more we learn of what looks like another misreading of relative power in buyer/supplier relationships; this time M&S.

There's no need to retell the whole story which was published in today's Sunday Times, but it appears M&S, by pursing a responsible sourcing strategy, reduced its potential supply base and therefore ease of switching suppliers. Then, in response to the weakening exchange rate following the Brexit vote, refused to work with suppliers in addressing their cost increases, but instead said they were going to consolidate the supply base, therefore exerting power over suppliers yet reducing suppliers long-term 'skin in the game'. Then, facing potential loss of supplies (relative supplier power) have now had to backtrack on their earlier assertion and accept supplier price rises.

Not only has M&S lost face in this foray they have needlessly sacrificed supplier goodwill and trust, and quite possibly lost credibility in their narrow interpretation of responsible sourcing.

I do not understand why procurement strategists appear to spend insufficient time thinking through potential scenarios and likely supplier responses; they would benefit a lot from game theory by considering "how might our suppliers respond". M&S don't seem to have thought through potential outcomes prior to pursuing any of the above approaches.  'Power' appears to be viewed solely as one-way and risks dismissed.

As we start 2017 I doubt this will be the only example of misreading power in buyer/supplier relationships - why is that; why are we so poor at learning lessons for others?