An interview with Professor Cox: procurement guru or provocateur? (Part 1)

As well as featuring in our recent debate, Professor Andrew Cox agreed to talk to me about his latest initiative, the International Institute of Advance Purchasing and Supply (IIAPS), and more generally about how procurement competence; what it means, how it is developed and accredited.  Anyone who knows Cox will know that he is always interesting, often provoking, and occasionally controversial – and so this discussion proved! We’ll start today with some background to IIAPS, then in two more posts move on to his thoughts about accreditation and competence in general, and then his views on more general issues for procurement and procurement people.

So why did he set up IIAPS in the first place?

“I was frustrated after many years teaching the procurement MBA at Birmingham – we just couldn’t reach enough people.  25 / 30 a year maximum; and it’s expensive. I wanted to find a way of working with more people”.

He also increasingly came to believe that ‘business competence’ can only be measured by real assessment of the ability to do the specific job.

“Exams only measure what you have learnt or memorised. And the trick of course is to only learn a subset of the syllabus and work out the smallest possible subset that will get you through”.  (Which we all know is absolutely true!)  “You need activity and task based learning”.

Having obtained some start-up funding, he has developed IIAPS through involving a small number of other academics from around the world as well as consulting firms and large corporates - “you can't just do this with a bunch of academics”. So he has an impressive Advisory Board with CPOs from some large organisations on board; and it is a truly global line-up; PWC, IBM, Bunge, Dell, Infosys, Kraft, Sony....

The three levels of the IIAPS standard are Green, Red and Black – the syllabus is in effect the same for each but participants demonstrate more competence and understanding as they progress through the levels. Learning is through computer-based material, and uses 'simulations' to test students’ competence. At Green and Red level these simulations can be 'vanilla' or bespoke to the organisation; at Black level, they are based on real situations; “students apply and operationalise real life”.

Material is delivered largely through an  e-learning approach, which is also innovative compared to more traditional providers – although Next Level Purchasing for instance have used it for some time.  IIAPS then assesses the individual against a standard; there is no single answer to the 'tasks' posed. The standards are set and monitored by the Advisory Board.

Cox admits that he is chiefly measuring relatively ‘hard’ skills; category management, analysis and so on.  But he’s working with some top procurement practitioners to develop more content in terms of the softer skills. And while it is hard to assess behavioural or negotiation skills, “we can assess not just whether  they know how to write a negotiation plan, but also do they know how to prepare for a difficult supplier or stakeholder meeting”.

From what I’ve seen of the content, it is of very high quality. In terms of development, as well as the ‘soft skills’ element, I suspect the syllabus may need some further work around use of technology given it is such a rapidly developing area for procurement practitioners (as Spend Matters reports on a regular basis).  IIAPS needs to build that in, without becoming a ‘how to use Emptoris /SAP / Bravo’ training course naturally!

But these issues apply even more to CIPS et al, who are up against long lead times for updating their own syllabus given the need to work through classroom based training and education providers.  Indeed, with an e-learning approach, IIAPS should have flexibility and speed to market advantages there.

Overall, I believe the IIAPS proposition will look attractive to many large organisations who take procurement seriously and are looking for that ‘next step’ in terms of developing their staff.

So that’s an overview of IIAPS; tomorrow we’ll have the thoughts of Professor Cox on accreditation and standards in procurement more widely.

Voices (3)

  1. Bernard vanHaeften:

    The majority of employers are looking to recruit staff that have a degree rather than someone who only has CIPS.
    Is IIAPS recognised as a degree (i.e. BA equivalent), if not, how does the institute plan to sell this to potential employers?

  2. bitter and twisted:

    Interesting , but please ask the prof the million dollar question:

    how does a bitter and twisted buyer persuade a prospective employer that their IAPS qualification is at least as valid as CIPS?

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