What Procurement Conference Should You Attend in 2013? ISM Review

PRO Subscribers can access this two-part series covering my unchained opinions of the following purchasing and sourcing-focused events: Procurement Leaders, Sourcing Interests Group (SIG), Shared Services Link, ProcureCon and eWorld on Spend Matters PRO:

What Procurement Events Should You Attend in 2013? (Part 1)

What Procurement Events Should You Attend in 2013? (Part 2)

Below, we feature an excerpt of the series (with a complete reviews of ISM).

The Spend Matters team spends quite a bit of time at events and conferences. We speak at them, attend them (to learn and network) and occasionally even hold them for members of our community. Across the team, we'll probably go to some 50+ events throughout the year in some capacity. It's probably our biggest investment of time aside from standard research and writing.

Each member of the team has different views on their experiences at these events and whether or not the time investment makes them worth it. I, for one, really think Procurement Leaders puts on the best shows in the business. Others on the team find their content inconsistent, personality snooty and overall approach too continental (i.e., not yet fully adapted for the North American market). Yet even PL detractors on our team admit that the overall "class" and networking caliber of the affairs makes them worth it. When it comes to procurement events, to each his own!

This column does not pretend to be a research brief (or the collection of opinions of the Spend Matters PRO team). It represents my personal opinions about what events work and are worth the time to attend or participate in. We encourage Spend Matters PRO members to share their thoughts as well so we can include additional commentary from those making the same investment of time (and dollars) to network with their peers and hopefully learn something important at the same time.

Given the fact I've been asked now three times in the past week by a mix of vendors, practitioners and consultants where they should spend their time next year, here's my candid, off the cuff take on various conference organizers and shows. Unlike nearly all of our analysis on Spend Matters PRO, this is not researched or reasoned. It's opinion, pure and simple.

ISM – Let's be candid. ISM events are generally inferior in terms of content consistency. The great irony of this is the approach they take to evaluate potential presentations and speakers nearly a year in advance! It clearly doesn't work, as the amount of duds and dogs that work their way on stage who would never pass muster at Procurement Leaders, SIG, ProcureCon or other shows is more than material. Yes, there are some great talks. But overall, the ISM conference brand is the most inconsistent of all in learning and speaking quality.

But no one goes to ISM for the content – at least that's the view of many of my friends. It's about the networking. Or is it? Here, the irony continues as well. If you're a vendor, it's odd if you don't have a booth (which are cheap by events standards). But the general level of attendees and ISM members represent old-school buyers (card carrying NAPM members) rather than the future of the procurement and supply chain profession.

Yes, there are exceptions, but the general attendee would sooner put more emphasis on putting a purchasing certification on their business card or at the introductory slide or end of a presentation than focusing on substance, merit, academic, intellectual or professional expertise. Moreover, the "Power Conference" within a conference at ISM for executives has served to alienate many professionals over the years – especially those who would rather talk to smart people regardless of their title or level.

We're confident that ISM is going to shake up their events in the future as they reexamine their overall mission and goal. ISM's new leader, Tom Derry, is full of piss and vinegar. Our gut after interviewing him is quite positive (see interview series: here, here and here). But until ISM changes the tune of their big event, it's our personal feeling that the only reason to prioritize this show over others is because you either want to check the box and send someone on the team and/or you want to catch up with the same folks you see year after year at the show.

The final word: ISM needs to remake its conference, from how it selects speakers to how it separates executives who attend the "Power Conference" show-within-a-show. The old model has failed to keep up with competitive events/conferences and represents a less rational investment of time than other shows. We applaud ISM's efforts to focus on smaller conferences (e.g., Risk Management, Services Procurement) and believe a more bottoms-up approach might be the secret sauce to evolving the mother ship conference as well.

1 = low (worst)
5 = high (best)

Marketing Investment Score (for providers): 3
Content quality (for practitioners): 2
General networking: 3
Consistency: 3

2013 Call: Support Tom Derry as he attempts to steer the ISM super tanker in a new direction. Attend the event (or send someone on your team) as a vote of confidence on the steps ISM is taking to change -- not because you just want to check the box and keep what you've done in the past. We need a stronger ISM for the sake of the procurement profession. Join the new ISM leadership in this mission and support them. Voice your concerns as we do and get involved. ISM is definitely listening and has the interests of its members (if not the profession) at heart. We'll be going, despite the low scores we give the event on a comparative basis.

- Jason Busch

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Voices (2)

  1. Eric:

    Indeed right on the mark for the ISM, I call my local chapter “the bitty old wives club” who pass offer titles round and round for over a decade now, and the only reason any of us bother is HR knows the ISM cert more then any other.

  2. Tom Youngs:

    I agree wholeheartedly with this ISM review. Many years ago this was the conference to attend. However, after going to three or four very lackluster ones I stopped attending. I loathed the "cliqueness" of the board attendees as they moved around in a pack in their blue sport coats. I felt like I was only there to pay and help defray the costs for the clique to attend. I did write a letter regarding this to ISM but nothing ever changed.

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