Jim Rawlings on Contract Management – Interview at the IACCM Forum

At the recent IACCM (International Association for Contract and Commercial Management) Forum, we heard an on-stage interview with Jim Rawlings, the very recently appointed Procurement Director for the Post Office. He has had a long career in the industry, with jobs up to CPO level at Motorola, NatWest, Abbey National, Unisys, Home Office, and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). He is also a graduate of the Professor Cox era Birmingham University Supply Chain MBA.

Most of the interview with him at the IACCM Forum was around MoJ contracting, and the whole prisoner tagging scandal and the consequences (see here if you don’t know what we’re talking about). This was in effect a failure of contract management, which the Department did eventually recognise, accept and has set about putting right.

Rawlings said that in retrospect, one issue was that the department realised that they had spent well below the benchmark for contract management resources. It was also clear that too much responsibility was being passed on to the suppliers to report performance data, which drove their reward; they were in effect “marking their own homework”. There is a fine line between trusting your suppliers and abdicating performance management responsibility.

Other problems included “cultural inertia”, across MoJ, but also across government and probably large private sector firms supplying the public sector too. As well as the underfunding, accountability was an issue – this was seen as a procurement problem, the MoJ business resisted taking responsibility and accountability despite the fact that the contracts were central to their business purpose and objectives.

The second area to address was governance. There was a lot of governance around initial procurement, business case, and funding, but it was much weaker once the department got into contract letting, managing, and checking the performance.

Skills and resources were further areas of concern. In MoJ, as Rawlings put it, “we had a large number of individuals whose LinkedIn pages said "contract management", but their activities did not reflect the job titles”. Also there was often just a lack of people to handle transactional work. The prison food contract for instance covers 200,000 meals a day in prisons – and this is a critical supply chain, there are security and public order issues if goes wrong! Managing contracts like this requires some “softer skills”, like energy, tenacity, initiative, as well as technical skills.

Rawlings was asked to comment on the enablers MoJ had. The public accounts committee “was scary” but the National Audit Office was helpful and their involvement was positive. Rawlings would not be drawn on the Crown Commercial Service involvement much but "their intent was positive". So there was a strong burning platform, and it was essential to get the next bog contracts right - probation outsourcing. Top management support and backing was also vital and indeed support from IACCM in developing competencies was also very useful.

What advice would he give to organisations starting a new contract management (CM) journey? Look for key enablers, and you have to feel that the organisation is behind you. You need to really look at the skills too. Individuals in CM roles sometimes lose motivation in large organisations, they need improved focus and challenge.

In the last 30 years, the ability to acquire useful data has improved, but it is not always used well. You still need people who are interested in the data and can do something with it. Rawlings went on to make an interesting comment about young people - “they will have high expectations in terms of technology for instance. I hope the Millennium Generation will want to work in our areas. But it may be a challenge – we need to grow our own in the procurement and contract management profession, but the industry is still too reliant on middle aged men in dark suits and consultants”!

The final question asked whether contract management could be outsourced. Yes, Rawlings said, but be careful, don't outsource a problem or something you don't understand. And you need to make sure interests are aligned; but he doesn't see that it is impossible.

It would have been good to have had a little more interaction between interviewee and interviewer, to have picked up on points and taken them further, rather than just a set of separate questions and answers. But it is always good to hear from Rawlings, who has both conceptual understanding and practical skills and experience in our field, and there was plenty of good advice and food for thought in the session.

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