Supplier Relationship Management – our review of Jonathan O’Brien’s new book

Jonathan O’Brien has accomplished a rare feat of authoring three important books in our industry with the publication of “Supplier Relationship Management – Unlocking the hidden value in your supply base”. This impressive work, covering every aspect of SRM (as we will call it from now), adds to his Category Management and Negotiation previous volumes. All three are very good and cover core procurement areas of interest, making this a trilogy of important books for the profession.

This is another admirable achievement for the author, an experienced procurement writer, trainer and practitioner, and a founder of the Positive Purchasing training and advisory firm. It is a very complete and exhaustive book, covering pretty much everything and anything you could think of in the field of SRM. And (unlike his Negotiation book), I found nothing that I fundamentally disagreed with from a professional point of view. This deserves to become THE standard book on this topic - for the moment at least, and probably for many years to come.

O’Brien starts with a first chapter headed – “What we need from our suppliers is...” That is a good place to start. And after some scene setting, there is a strong chapter on segmenting the supply base, with excellent advice to anyone undertaking this for the first time. We then move onto several chapters around performance measurement and management, which go into real detail and provide useful templates and models.

Indeed, this element could stand on its own as a reference book for supplier (and arguably contract) performance management. So don’t be fooled into thinking the book has a narrow purist SRM focus – it actually ranges widely and pretty deeply across all the post-contract award activities that we would normally consider in both contract and suppler management.

The book then runs through supplier management (including risk), contract management, relationship management, supply chain management, and through to collaborative relationships and innovation. Obviously, and even though the book is a hefty 400 pages, some topics cannot be fully explored – 15 pages on risk cannot compete with Dr Dick Russill’s entire book on the subject, for instance. But all these topics are covered thoroughly and with case studies from the author’s career and more widely, and many useful charts or templates such as a “possible agenda for supplier review meetings” and a “Supplier relationship charter template.”

I liked the chapter on Innovation, a topic I’ve been talking about recently myself. For example, the thinking around the matrix describing how innovation is offered and the motivation to make it happen (page 346) was new to me, interesting and made me think – just what you want from any book of this nature.

But you don’t just read book reviews for the positives, so what about our criticisms? They are pretty minor, to be fair. I would argue that some of what is included under supplier performance management is technically more about contract management, and “Contract Management” itself is formally presented in just one chapter, almost as a subset of SRM. I might argue it is almost the other way around – or how about a fourth book on Contract Management? The topics could have been positioned a little differently from how they are represented here, at least.

I reviewed a pdf copy of the book, so I haven’t seen the final layout. I hope some final formatting and editing has been done, because in pdf form I found the layout a little dense in places for comfortable reading, with some very long paragraphs and pages of text that weren’t very appealing to the eye. I did find in a few areas that there was a tendency for long-windedness too – it is a substantial work at 400 pages, and I felt it might have been an even better book with some tough editing down to something a little shorter.

Finally, I was surprised that the work of State of Flux was not mentioned at all. There are many references throughout the book, but the annual SRM reports put together by Alan Day’s firm have become essential reading in the field. Perhaps O’Brien’s firm, Positive Purchasing, see State of Flux as competitors, but in some places I’m sure a reference to those SRM reports would have been relevant and illuminating.

All in all though, this is a book that every senior procurement practitioner, and everyone involved with the management of strategically important suppliers, should have on their real or virtual bookshelf. I don’t know how O’Brien has managed to write this so quickly after his last work, but congratulations to him for another impressive achievement. It’s a (comfortably) four star review from me, and we intend to come back and look at some of the content in more detail in the future as well.

Postscript - having now seen the listing, I am a little surprised by the price! £49.99  or even £44.99 discounted on Amazon seems steep for a paperback, even one as good as this. But I suppose the logic is that readers will be buying it in the main with their company's money, so perhaps price sensitivity is not very strong.

First Voice

  1. Gordon Murray:

    £50 for a paperback seems very high which may well have a binding that isn’t fit for multiple users. Do you think its added value is worth it for those digging that deep into their own pockets? £50 would probably exhaust the average allowance a part-time student would get on a course funded by their employers.

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