Being a CPO – five things I’m pleased I did (part 1)

We recently featured a series (which you can find here) about my time as a CPO (in the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, the Department of Social Security and the NatWest Group ) and regrets around things I could have done better. Well, I’m going to stop beating myself up and look at the other side of things – what went well and were the more successful aspects of my time in those roles? Like the failures, perhaps this will provide a few tips or thoughts for those of you still in the hurly-burly of corporate life. So here is the first of five short posts around that theme.

I’m pleased... I never signed off a business case I didn’t feel comfortable with.

I’m thinking particularly technology related cases, and of course with a procurement angle, hence why I was being asked to approve them.

One good example comes to mind – I better not say which role this was however for obvious reasons! I joined the organisation to find a business case in advanced stage of development for a huge ERP investment, across finance, HR, procurement, the lot. Fair enough, the organisation was fairly fragmented so you could see how this might be a good move.

However, the business case for the whole project was based almost entirely on procurement “savings”. They justified the whole investment, which was for tens of millions of pounds, a large chunk of which was consulting and SI work to implement of course. But there wasn’t much tangible in terms of finance or HR benefits, for instance, it was pretty much all on the back of reduced spend through "better procurement”.

It had been developed before I took the job, and my new boss wasn’t very pleased when I wouldn’t sign it. I just could not see how simply putting in an ERP system – there wasn’t even any sourcing or real spend analytics capability with it – was going to magically lead to 5% savings across our entire spend. I pointed out it would need governance, better data, more people in procurement.. and then we might have a chance of the 5%. But the system itself wasn’t magically going to generate that.

But the more general point is that you should be true to yourself and your judgement. For a start, if things go wrong, you will get blamed if you didn’t speak up at the time. “My boss told me to do it” doesn’t cut much ice if you’re in a senior role yourself. And as well as the potential blame aspect, it’s just one of those things about self-respect. Anyway, we went ahead with the investment – which for various reasons, turned out to be totally wasted.

I’d left by then, so didn’t have the satisfaction of saying “told you so”...

First Voice

  1. The Guitar Man:

    LIke you Peter, I’ve been presented with many many ‘business cases’ over the years but too many (in my humble view) have been written to justify the investment rather than to objectively analyse the evidence and quantify the real benefits and efficiencies (always good to round up a Possee to search for a truly objective business case!!!). I certainly recognise the ERP example given that outrageously assume disproportiate levels of procurement savings – particularly if they offer a subordinate procurement function the chance of their ’15 minutes of fame’. CPO is a senior role and to say “I told you so” would give me (and you I suspect) little satisfaction as it would suggest that I had failed in my influencing and negotiation skills.

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