What’s Behind Bloom’s Rapid Growth – People, Process and Plans (Part 1)

We interviewed David Shields back in June, just after he joined Bloom Procurement Services as Group Chief Executive. Three months on, and following announcements of several senior hires for the firm, we thought it was time to visit the Bloom HQ in Newcastle and see what they’re up to.

Shields seems to have arrived at Bloom at the right time; the firm is going through a period of very rapid growth, as more and more public sector organisations, not just local authorities, see the benefits in the Bloom model for managing professional services spend through NEPRO. That is good news of course, but we all know that rapid growth brings challenges, and the new top team has been working hard to make sure that processes are effective, efficient, consistent and scalable.

As well as Shields and Amabel Grant, the new CTO, who we know well, we met Richard Beattie during the visit, another recent recruit as COO. Beattie is an experienced procurement man, with a background including Cadbury, Royal Mail and Interserve. As he reminded me, I met him at the Social Enterprise UK reception a while back at 11 Downing Street, when he was leading Interserve’s good work with the social enterprise sector.

Getting such strong people in place is part of Shields’ longer-term strategy – “I’m looking at the future, so we’re over-recruiting really, bringing in excellent people who can help take us forwards”. There is also a new CFO coming onboard soon, and job opportunities have been created at all levels; with a total of 12 staff recruited in Newcastle alone so far this year and plans for around 10 more new recruits.

Those who know Shields and remember his achievements at OGC Buying Solutions won’t be surprised to learn that his focus to date has been very much on improving Bloom’s operations. Whilst he is a more than adequate strategist, Shields is an exceptional operational leader, with a real understanding of detailed process design, building operating models and organisations to deliver the desired outcomes to customers. So, it is no shock to learn he and the team have been mapping the end-to-end Bloom process in detail, getting clarity on how every stage contributes to clients, suppliers and Bloom itself.

That has led to some significant improvements in process in terms of the time taken to execute some key activities, for instance, as Shields says, “if everything is being done within a client’s own rules, why should a direct contract award process take more than a day”?

Bloom operates the NEPRO professional services framework on behalf of NEPO – the North East Procurement Organisation. Shields has emphasised that Newcastle is the organisation’s HQ and the operational centre for Bloom, with a new office on the quayside providing stunning views over the Tyne to the Baltic and the Sage arts centres in Gateshead. “We want to reinforce our commitment to the north-east and will build the vast majority of our operational capability within the region”, Shields explained.

He is also keen to stress the Bloom public sector ethos (despite the fact this is a private business). “We’re not looking to make huge margins and we are committed to having a positive impact on both public sector clients and the supply market – helping local north-eastern firms extend their reach around the UK for instance”.

Bloom is “here to deliver services efficiently and effectively for the public sector”, and one topic we discussed was the value in the data that Bloom obtains – value both for clients and perhaps more widely for the public sector.  Bloom now sources thousands of professional services contracts each year, so “we have data on the types of projects clients buy, market trends, cost information obviously, but also regional and time variations. That data can drive better value and outcomes, as can our tools such as standard specifications for different project types”.

The professional services spend category is so vital for the public sector these days and represents considerable spend via activities that can have great importance for the organisation and service user. Taking advantage of data to improve value and performance is therefore a major opportunity; we’ll come back to that in part 2, along with more on the plans and progress that Bloom is making.

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