Procurement as a Blind Beginner

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Conor Weir, graduate team member at eir, and Anthony Ryan, head of procurement operations at eir.

At eir we have an exciting two-year graduate program with two defined business streams: one stream for graduates of all disciplines who are looking to build a career in business, and a second stream for finance/accounting graduates looking to complete a relevant finance or accounting qualification and pursue a career in finance.

Graduates are funneled through procurement, with most of them having only a vague idea of what procurement does. The procurement team at eir has developed a tactical buyer quick stream approach to indoctrinating the graduates into a meaningful procurement role. The following story is from a recently successful participant with very impressive quantifiable contributions delivered. This is a compelling story that not only validates the eir graduate program but also provides a glimpse into the interesting and challenging world of procurement. — Anthony Ryan, head of procurement operations at eir

When Anthony came and asked me to share my experience in procurement, I was of course only delighted to do so. He said it would be an interesting read as an insight to procurement through the eyes of somebody with no background in the field. Little did he know, I knew far less than he could have imagined himself — everything was new to me! That’s even before I ever set foot in the office, let alone having grounding on what procurement was. In the end, however, I couldn’t believe how much I had learned and developed after working closely with John Purcell, a category manager.

As a bit of background, I was joining eir, Ireland’s largest Telco, as a graduate, meaning I had four rotations within the business and in six month durations. With this story, I hope to share with you the learning journey I have taken in the last six months. This will include what challenges I faced, how I survived in the department and how I see procurement now compared with how I saw it when I started.

This story begins on a September morning in eir Group HQ, sitting in a room of around 20 people I didn’t know, where the fate of my first six months as a professional was about to be unveiled. After five years in college, I had built up a background in finance, statistics, law, economics and marketing, among a few others, so imagine my surprise when on this day I heard:

“Conor, you’ll be going into procurement.”

It was a word I had heard many times before, but what procurement people really did I wasn’t so sure about. So it was time to do some research. Somebody once gave me the following explanation: “They’re the guys that buy the knives and forks for the kitchen.” This wasn’t the most encouraging explanation at the time, so I went further. Did you know that if you Google “procurement” the first definition you’ll see is this:

“The action of obtaining or procuring something” (Google, 2016)

Well that was absolutely no help either. I should say I wasn’t really this naïve. I did have a loose idea about procurement as a buying power within a company, but obviously a day to day understanding of these would be new to me.

I still remember the first day I sat down and spoke with Anthony and Anne Stewart, the CPO, getting the brief on what the six months would have in store and what my role would involve. I gathered that this would be a hands-on role where I would also be representing eir at the frontline of the supplier base. It took me a while to even understand that though, as there was also a fiery round of procurement-related buzzwords being directed at me: “UNSPC, P2P, B2B, BOM, SCU.” As clueless as I was and merely nodding and smiling back at them, I was thrilled with the responsibilities that were being given to me and excited by the challenges ahead.

So once the ball was rolling and some work had to be done, I took my brief and simply concentrated on the raw objectives. As may be obvious to seasoned procurement professionals, I identified these to be cash savings and cost avoidance. I also considered reducing the vendor base as an objective; however, I would only do so where it made sense financially and commercially, and in doing so the avoidance and cash savings would naturally take this into consideration. I also like numbers, so keeping objectives simple and measurable made the most sense to me — particularly given I had only six months in the department.

There were a number of new skills and experiences I had to learn, and even more I had to improve on to adequately adapt into this position. Naturally, experience in tender processes, forming legal documents and analyzing spend would be the cornerstones to where I achieved my objectives.

While eir has such a large network, and with a vast amount of activities, facilities and requirements in play, meant that the scope of goods being procured and the undoubted plethora of services in question made even the basic skills diverse in their application.

Consider that to be successful you must have an array of both hard skills (negotiation, leveraging etc.) and soft skills (illustrative analysis, sourcing etc.) and look to execute them together towards achieving a favorable outcome. Traditionally these are driven to savings and at the same time ensuring quality and coverage in spend.

Obviously there were other challenges such as the general administration, particularly with sourcing tools and approval procedures. However, this stuff comes with practice, and once I was able to find common ground between these procedures and the practicalities of my position, I no longer felt constrained with what I could do with the work on my desk. The only constraint I could see was the scope of works brought to me from the Business.

Now, as this six month period closes, I can reflect on how I have developed as a professional and how I have contributed to the team here in procurement, and to the company that has given me such opportunity. Within the period, I have gone from not knowing what RFP stood for to closing off with total savings to the company of €391,690.14 (€150,344.29 in avoidance and €241,345.86 in cash savings), averaging 6.17% savings per contract executed.

What have I learned about procurement itself as a profession? I think you’d have to be a bit mad. I don’t mean that in any bad way, but it is the only way I can describe it. I don’t think the work and dedication that procurement represents will ever be fully acknowledged, or even understood by everybody. I say this because savings and quality are somewhat hidden behind more traditional metrics such as earnings, profits and the product itself. But I have seen first-hand the lengths that procurement go to help and really contribute to a company.

I endured a testing and uncertain period in this role, but as a whole I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and know I will really benefit from every aspect of what I have learned here in procurement in wherever my career may take.

A special thanks to Anne Stewart for her faith in me, to Anthony Ryan for his constant assistance and reassurance and to all of the team in eir procurement for their continuous and unending help. I would like to extend a particular thanks to John Purcell, for firstly showing me the ropes and teaching me almost everything there was in procurement in such a short period of time. (God bless his patience!) Further to that, he has given me incredible mentorship, encouragement, guidance and what I have to say has been the best possible start to my professional career.

Míle Buíochas agus go n-éirí an t-adh libh go léir!

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