Friday Rant: ISM — Turning a Super Tanker Takes Time, But Things are Moving Nicely

I wish I would have been able to spend more time at ISM this past week, but due to a speaking/meeting schedule that took me back and forth between ISM and SAP Sapphire, my time at ISM was limited to attending only a handful of sessions, a number of one-on-one meetings, one keynote session and hanging out on the vendor floor. Yet from my time at the event and talking to a number of fellow members of ISM as well as employees, it seems that ISM has reacted to past criticism (e.g., too close an affiliation with one consulting firm) and responded with offering an even greater number of sessions with advisers from other firms, small and large -- not to mention countless practitioners. Yes, the infamous "Power Conference" track still exists in a hush-hush manner (which reminds me a bit of the "Global Services" level standing one can earn with United not officially recognized until recently), but in general, ISM is listening to those around it, its influence remains solid, and it may actually be growing in the procurement market. Consider the following examples:

  • Among attendees and other practitioners I've spoken with recently, I've heard the PMI referenced more and more. As the economy has rebounded, more procurement managers are actually using the PMI as a gauge to forecast supply availability, commodity prices, etc. (ironically, in the past, only a select few procurement managers really used the index which they contributed to by filling out a response form for each month). Spend Matters believes ISM should do more to educate their member base on using the PMI as well as Bureau of Labor Statistics (e.g., PPI) indices in their own forecasting, commodity and supplier management efforts. Still, things are looking better than before in terms of usage and uptake. Even though the PMI is still largely a great marketing tool for ISM and a tool for financial market watchers and economists, general awareness about how it works is rising among the ISM member base.
  • The ISM risk track, covering a topic that is truly on the minds of nearly all senior procurement, finance and operations executives recently, appeared to do quite well at the event. I personally collected over 30 business cards from ISM members at two sessions I spoke at who were interested in joining the group. ISM's continued support of the group and its initiatives represents a timely response to putting support behind a topic to get out in front of what their membership is most concerned with -- and is extremely curious about getting an education on.
  • While I don't have the latest on uptick in CPSM certification holders, there certainly did seem to be more CPSM attachments to conference badges for holders than last year. Still, I will admit I did hear grumblings from one person about the college/university degree requirements.
  • I got very solid feedback this year from vendors and services providers taking space on the ISM floor. In years past, many told me they felt their money was wasted because of limited opening hours and limited traffic. But this year, the floor seemed busier than when I was there before, which was for only one of the openings after lunch on Monday. The networking amongst providers was also alive and well, but a number I spoke with also suggested they received material leads from attendees and had planned follow-up discussions already. This is a material change in feedback about the vendor showcase than year's past.

Clearly, changing anything at ISM is like navigating a super tanker out on open waters. Even a shift of a few degrees takes time to execute. But once the giant mass is in motion, it tends to get a lot of support and thrust behind it. ISM is definitely turning in the right direction at the moment. Let's hope they continue to listen to members, conference attendees and the vendor/service provider community about the best ways they can serve their constituents. ISM Orlando was most certainly a success and I look forward to the Baltimore show next year (despite the super cheesy plug for it before Arianna Huffington's keynote).

Jason Busch

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