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Knowledge
Bike Racing, State Procurement and Procurement Innovation. Huh?

Today I’m in Norfolk, Virginia, attending the annual conference of the National Association of State Procurement Professionals (NASPO). I’ll be doing some daily blogging from the event and will share some of the lessons learned from these CPOs. Thanks to Bob Gleason, director of Division of Purchases & Supply for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the NASPO leadership for inviting me down to the great city of Norfolk.

As an aside, I flew into Richmond a day early to attend the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Men’s Road World racing championships, and as a cycling fanatic, it was a blast to see this 160 mile bike circuit race event up close and personal. The Wall Street Journal did a great write-up on the event, if you want to get a sense of what it’s all about. The event’s winner, Peter Sagan, is probably my favorite active bike racer, because he’s a bit of a wise guy off the bike, but he’s all business on it, with mind blowing skill and incredible endurance and power.

Procurement is a lot like competitive road cycling. It might seems easy – anyone can buy stuff, right? – but it’s extremely difficult, surprisingly team-based and requires serious commitment. And while the team leaders might get the limelight, it’s the teammates who are unsung heroes.  They are engine rooms of a team, and their legs are the engines.

Procurement can also be an engine room as well, not just in terms of toiling to grind out savings and helping keeping the ship safely and efficiently moving. This idea of procurement as engine room was called out by a 16-year naval officer, and she kicked off the event very well. I’m personally happy to see so many female CPOs at the event. As a Grateful Dead fan, I do believe that, generally, the women are smarter, and I’ve found military veterans do very well in procurement – but that’s a post for another day.

Anyway, I enjoyed the state “roll call” this morning, and I’m struck by level of community and collaboration within the group. Having 50 states working together collaboratively to help their citizens get the most bang from their tax dollars is something that would be nice to see with our US Congress. These states have their work cut out for them: constant stakeholder turnover, political turmoil, internal turnover (20 state-level CPOs have turned over), bureaucracy to unwind, little-to-no budgets in procurement and in the states themselves, poor technology support, massive talent management gaps and on and on.  

Many of these are familiar challenges for the private sector, too. And they stem to challenges with long histories regarding procurement’s role. The procurement function is even older than the bicycle, so innovation, and leadership, is needed here as much as in the bike racing. But it doesn’t eliminate the need for hard work. As professional cyclist, Greg Lemond, quipped, “It doesn’t get any easier – you just go faster.”

But for those who want to innovate, and do so fairly – unlike Lance Armstrong and Volkswagen, which is now atoning for its sins – there’s such a huge opportunity. And innovation is not just about supplier collaboration for new product development – it’s about innovating and improving anywhere and anytime – big or small. "Procurement Innovation" is the theme for the conference, but this too is a post for another day!

Stay tuned for more from the NASPO conference!

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