Becoming a Procurement Person – Ellen Davis explains her move from HR

We’re half way through David Smith’s year as CIPS President, amazingly, and we hope to get his perspective soon on how his Presidential theme is working out. You may remember he is promoting the idea of encouraging young – and not so young – people to join the procurement profession. That is both about explaining what a great career it offers, and also helping people get a foot on the ladder through apprenticeships and the like.

Ellen Davis of UKHO

So when a mutual friend told me of a lady who made a very conscious mid-career choice to move into procurement -  from Human Resources no less - I thought it would be worth talking to her. What is her perspective on our profession, why did she take the decision, and how she was finding the brave new world of procurement?

Her name is Ellen Davis, and she leads the procurement function at the UK Hydrographic Office in Taunton, Somerset, in the South-West of England.  The UKHO “provides nautical charts and navigational services of the world’s oceans and ports to support world shipping, including the Royal Navy”.

It’s an organisation going through huge change, as its core business for the last 200 years, providing very high quality navigational charts of the seas, is moving from a predominantly paper series of charts and products  to a digital one, with changing production methods and new competitive challenges rapidly arising.

Davis was originally an HR manager in the MOD and moved to the UKHO 13 years ago. She worked on career development issues, and she says that she felt “I should think about my own career in the same way that I was advising others to do!”

Then, in around 2008, she saw a piece written by Amyas Morse in an MOD staff publication – Morse, who now heads up the National Audit Office, was then Commercial Director for the MOD. He explained that procurement in the MOD needed more “managers not technicians”, and outlined what a great career and profession one might have in MOD commercial / procurement. He must have been very persuasive, because Davis decided to make that move. She signed up for the MCIPS programme in 2009, paying for the first year of education herself, and before she actually had a job in the function – very brave!

Move on three years, and not only has she passed all her exams first time on her path to MCIPS, but she is now Head of Procurement in UKHO. She worked with an interim head for a year, an experienced procurement professional who acted as a mentor, and now heads  a transformed procurement team and has recently also taken ownership of delivering an on demand digital print capability for her business.

“We’re becoming less transactional – we’ve introduced category management, nearly all of the team are now CIPS qualified, and we want to be seen as leaders in the public sector”, she explains.

The function achieved a 7% saving last year across the total organisational third party spend, and some of the savings have been invested in new projects.

“But I have found the public sector procurement constraints frustrating at times”, Davis says. “We can’t just ‘do deals’ even where we see real opportunities; we have to stick with the processes”. (Welcome to the world of public procurement, Ellen!)

More tomorrow....


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