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Procurement – the master or the servant?


We’re nearly in 2017 and the debate around whether procurement’s role is the one of a master or a servant – or a business partner continues. And never more so than at ProcureCon 2016. While the event focused on innovation, transformation and soft skills, there was much debate about procurement’s role. Should procurement lead? Should it follow? Is it needed? And could it be replaced by robots?

The uncertainty surrounding procurement’s role got me thinking and, in true consultant style, trying to find an answer. I see many organisations who approach procurement activity in a highly defined way. For example, we often hear “we are a business partner organisation and will develop by bringing more spend under procurement control”. Current solutions appear to be designed for a static world.

But the world isn’t static – far from it. Some of the predictions shared by David Noble, CEO of CIPS, at ProcureCon suggest that by 2030 65% of graduates will be in jobs that don’t currently exist and by 2040 and a $1,000 PC will have the computing power of the entire human species. The world is changing rapidly and procurement must change with it.

I think it’s safe to say that procurement’s role will become increasingly cyclical over the next few years as it first supports implementing new technologies, then goes on to maintain them, seek more technologies and implement them again.

My colleague JJ Van der Meer reflected this view when he spoke at ProcureCon. He introduced the idea of procurement as ‘Entreprocurial’TM which is essentially thinking like entrepreneurs to support the organisation’s direction. Crucially, it’s behaviour not role which makes the difference.

So perhaps our efforts to define a role for procurement are in vain. Rather than pigeonhole the function, think about them as a friend. That friend you can call at midnight when your car breaks down or the person you spend hours surfing the net with to plan next year’s holiday. Another friend who sets the pace by visiting the latest bars or the one who babysits while you go there. Or even the one who is honest enough to tell you that you look like a troll in your latest Instagram selfie. 

Friends fill different needs in our lives and we call upon them for different reasons. Sometimes we duck in and out of each other’s lives and sometimes it’s a constant dialogue. But friendship is about flexibility and that is what procurement should be. Organisations I’ve seen who achieve this are well-established and large – familiarity and scale give them the advantage. They are not a master, a servant or a partner, but a function that re-shapes itself at short notice into what it needs to be. 

Or to steal an old phrase, your “flexible friend”.

Mark Brett

Mark Brett, Sourcing and procurement Connect Email

The Sourcing and procurement team Email SUBMIT RFP+44 (0) 207 333 6185

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