My time at ISM so far has been non-stop, so much so that both Starbucks and the bar are calling my name (which, in advance, will hopefully excuse any typos in this post). It's been a whirlwind catching up with what must have been a hundred people that I've met over the years plus plenty of new faces (and about half a dozen product demonstrations tossed in for good measure). Not to mention attending a handful of breakout sessions (including quite a useful one on sustainability and savings at DHL that I'll profile this week). What are my main impressions so far? I'll be brief, but will plan to revisit each of these in more detail -- and with further explanation in additional posts.
I'd say my first major observation is that ISM appears to be an organization that has emerged from what I'd describe as a period of transition. It knows what it is today and what it wants to be tomorrow, but I'm not sure if it knows how to get there, building an influence base past its existing executive leaders. We are living in an era of golden opportunity for spend / supply management yet I don't believe the stature of ISM and procurement in general has risen anymore in the past 12 months than it has in the previous decade. For example, business unit heads / P&L owners, CFOs, COOs and other non-procurement leaders that care about cost are, for the most part, absent from the event. What can be done to change this? Check back for some thoughts on the subject soon.
Second, a few thoughts on the conference itself -- attendance is definitely down this year. I'd say somewhere between 30-40% by my own estimate. Some in the vendor booth area have said it feels like it's down as much as 50%. Yet many of the companies I speak with seem very engaged in learning more and soaking up not only the breakouts and keynotes, but also some of the vendor info and product demonstrations. Supply risk seems to be an area of particular interest, but no surprise there. Many vendors have definitely gone green, reducing the amount of chotchke (saving money and the environment). Alas, my kids, who love all the junk that I usually bring home, will be the ones who will suffer most.
Third, the quality of the presentations and overall discussion. Part of the challenge of ISM is catering to all levels of procurement. From classic career buyers approaching retirement to rising executives just a decade out of graduate school, ISM's approach to meeting the needs of both is a separate event-within-an-event, the Power Conference, and the regular festivities for the rest of us. Sometimes this works and sometimes it does not (more on this later). As an aside, I would say that the breakout presentations, while for the most part useful, are not any better than those at SIG or IACCM, despite requiring speakers to submit qualifying abstracts and proposals almost a year in advance, in contrast to these other industry events (that limit their applicability to current issues in a number of situations).
One breakout session on negotiation approaches that I attended was run by a dynamic speaker, but it seemed the subject matter was missing out on a number of things you'd take for granted as part of a primer on the subject (e.g., using online technology to facilitate negotiation efforts). Another, however, completely hit the mark. My point here is that ISM's subject matter and speaker execution is just as inconsistent as any other event. At least in my view, the one-year-ahead submission and abstract requirements do nothing for quality control.