Spend Matters Goes to War: Calling For The Drone Strike Against Poorly-Managed Categories

Last week on Spend Matters, I started a new type of column that I hope will become a regular feature. Stepping away from primarily looking at technology and solutions to addressing procurement needs in my regular daily columns -- the ones we post during the evening hours for the UK and Europe -- I also want to take the time to look, sometimes humorously and always seriously, at other areas of procurement, especially category-centric strategies. Last week, I turned my initial lens in this area to IT spend in the first installment of an essay titled Why CIOs Hate Procurement And Other VMO Tales. In the coming months on Spend Matters, I'll try on a regular basis -- and will invite others -- to offer similar commentary across a range of categories, especially those on the periphery of traditional procurement management and influence.

I think a healthy dose of humor and daylight can be a powerful tool in calling attention to less-than-perfect procurement management practices occurring throughout the decentralized tentacles of the business. How sourcing decisions are made; how suppliers are managed (or not); the often cozy relationships between executives at vendors and within the business; the metrics to which suppliers are held accountable; the way in which internal managers and the third-party firms they hire manipulate information and KPIs to suit their needs -- these and many, many other questions and answers I hope will prove equally useful and entertaining to explore for Spend Matters readers.

I plan to tackle many of the usual category subjects in this analysis. IT, HR (including benefits and services procurement), broad indirect, MRO, travel, legal, consulting/professional services, outsourcing and many, many other run-of-the-mill categories with significant decentralized stakeholder influence and/or control are all ideal suspects to explore. If you have stories in these areas (especially juicy, salacious ones) to share -- off-the-record, of course -- please reach out to me: jbusch (at) spendmatters (dot) com. I would love to hear your examples of spend in these areas that is less-than-perfectly managed (as well as any true best practices you've seen). Direct spend is interesting as well, especially in cases where we can learn from examples (e.g., incumbency relationships spanning three generations of buyers -- yes, we've seen this!)

Yet at the end of the buying day, procurement, well, procures a lot of things (or should be buying a lot of things, in cases where the business still controls decisions). In certain cases, what they buy itself is inherently humorous. Years ago, I worked on an idea with a colleague and former boss who will go unnamed (unless she wants me to "out" her in the comments section) to come up with a list of esoteric and humorous items that we've seen procurement organizations buy over the years. The original plan was to create a comic strip about this together. Alas, we both got too busy to pursue the idea.

These categories are all true, mind you (she's been a sourcing consultant/partner for over 20 years and I've been exposed to a few categories in my day as well). I list some of these truly...bizarre...procurement categories below as well as some of the background core category questions associated with them (we'll expound further in columns to follow):

  • Mice (what is the difference between cheap and expensive mice, what about the country of origin, what about auto-classification challenges -- i.e., computer mice versus the furry thing)
  • Bull semen (what is the quality control process, is it humane, is it "sole source," etc.)
  • Stool specimen collection kits (enough said)
  • Goose herding services (how can we ensure that the geese are not injured, what about the executives who like seeing them on their walks around the corporate park at lunch -- what do we say to them?)

Of course we could think of dozens more absurd spend areas and the market and demand drivers that can influence sourcing decisions. But you get the point.

So join us as Spend Matters goes to war in a new regular series of columns, calling in the procurement drone strike against often poorly managed categories (typical and even the esoteric). We'll share all the dirty details, including the stories behind the battle scars of those who've already fought the good fight. We'll even include those who paid the ultimate price and were relegated to buying goose herding services for the rest of their professional buying careers.

- Jason Busch

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