Friday Rant: ISM — The Next Year Counts, Big Time

I had a number of conversations with folks at ISM this week -- those inside the organization, those very close to it, those semi-close to it, and those who really know virtually nothing about it. In this last camp, one vendor with a small booth in the exhibit hall this week said "they want to pay more next year to get a speaking slot". Sorry, folks, ISM does not work that way. Indeed, this cross-section of perspectives was fascinating.

But nearly everyone who is close to ISM agrees: this is an important time for the venerable and largest supply management association, which takes a truly mission-driven stance. (Our view of CIPS is that their senior full-time staff takes a more mercantilist view of the "company's" place in the world of procurement -- which of course says nothing for elected leadership). In contrast, I do believe ISM really does prioritize putting members first, aside from needing to make enough money to keep the lights on.

Still, the best of intentions are, well, just intentions. They won't necessarily get you anywhere without the ability to put ideas into practice. And ISM is in a position where it really needs to not only look at how best to implement and drive its mission, but also to find the most effective way of doing so. When Paul Novak retires this year, a chapter in ISM's history will come to a close. ISM's next CEO will inherit an organization that has made strides in diversifying and expanding its portfolio of offerings in recent years (e.g., the ADR acquisition; see previous coverage here and here), bringing an expanded training capability, which seems in line with ISM's mission and role.

But ISM needs to do more to expand its member base and find more influence with a range of those not only getting into procurement, but on the periphery of it. For example, there is not a strong non-profit member organization with a deep focus on education, certification, member activities, training and research in the area of contingent labor and more complex services categories. The current commercial efforts in this area take a more analyst-driven approach to covering the sector -- not a mission-driven one. Could this be a big opportunity for ISM to become more relevant and essential in one of procurement's most rapidly expanding spend areas? You bet.

Moreover, ISM has a big opportunity to take its media and PMI presence up a notch both within procurement but the broader business community. One of the problems, we believe, is that Inside Supply Management (a really solid publication, even if recent issues have been somewhat thin), is really only read by part of the ISM member base. Some articles are accessible to non-members, but they're buried on the ISM website (which is another area in need of attention, although we expect an update soon). ISM could use Inside Supply Management to reach a broader section of non-members just as CIPS uses Supply Management and CPO Agenda to reach a broader community (and make money from providers and recruiters, among others, through its not-so-arms-length relationship with Redactive Media).

Moreover, what about expanding the ISM "Power Conference" to create a CPO Agenda competitor -- in print and beyond? I know it could be done and ISM could do it profitably based on all the providers that would love to hobnob with the executive membership within ISM through events, webinars and general participation in an executive publication (even if it was only quarterly).

The next year for ISM will be a telling time. Its selection of a CEO should be made public relatively soon. And whoever takes over will inherit a group with a great history. But it's one in need of a jumpstart to take its mission-driven objectives to the next level through enhanced member services and member programming. At the same time, ISM will also need an updated external content, thought leadership and marketing program to make the ISM brand ubiquitous in the broader procurement, finance and supply chain world. It's not today, and it should be. Success in this regard will help not only expand its membership but also the visibility of supply management in general.

This sector cannot afford to have a weakening ISM. We need to get behind ISM's new CEO and hope the next decade proves transformative for the one large non-profit member organization focusing exclusively on procurement which cares more about its mission and membership and less about lining its coffers. In the US and globally, we all lose if ISM's stature does not grow.

- Jason Busch

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