Buying Professional Services – Bloom’s Event Heralds Procurement as a Force for Change

Bloom, who help the public sector buy and manage professional services better (and operate the NEPRO Specialist Professional Services neutral vendor solution on behalf of NEPO, the north-east procurement organisation) hosted its second annual conference in London on Thursday – and we were there!

We’ve said it before, but The Old County Hall is a well positioned and delightful place to hold a conference: large, airy, but managed to be intimate, with great views and really good food too.

The theme for the event was ‘Procurement as a Force for Change,’ covering current professional services procurement trends and real-life customer experiences. With 70 attendees, both customers and those simply interested in improved buying professional services, we thought it a good turnout considering it is purely public sector, and management consulting focused, and another successful event in Manchester had just taken place in October.

The morning started with a welcome from Adam Jacobs, Bloom's Executive Chairman. Bloom demonstrate a genuine understanding of the public sector; he talked about the strain it is feeling while supporting a greater agenda than ever before, and how Bloom hopes to help alleviate that strain. This would come not just from a reduction in transactional processes, but by focusing on outcomes, by doing things differently. And doing things differently requires imagination, creativity and change.

He also asked for delegates’ opinions and recommendations for their technology roadmap for advancing NEPRO; the good thing about the Bloom conference was the eagerness of the hosts to seek as much input and learnings from the attendees as the attendees did of them. So it was a very collaborative day, witnessed by the amount of networking going on.

Rob Levene, Bloom’s Managing Director, followed, explaining: the massively grown number of projects now going through the system as organisations recognise a greater need for spend control; the growth in  early market engagement; the accelerated speed to market the firm has achieved in the past year (days from request received to project start date - down from 52 days to 33) – it’s all going in the right direction. He also talked about changes in the market, such as the increased need for subject matter experts, and more desire for outcome-driven thinking.

He was joined by Paul Mander, Head of Client Services, who talked about the growth Bloom has seen in client numbers from all sectors but with particular focus on number of local authorities, rising from 62 in 2016 to 102 in 2017. This is pretty impressive growth but there is also traction in supporting the wider public sector, especially as market forces shape demand, like construction needs as universities develop campuses to compete for more students, or the need for updated ICT systems as organisations recognise a need to be more fit-for-purpose.

The other nice thing about the Bloom event was their slightly different approach. The whole day’s style was geared around a relaxed, engaging, and fun interaction with the audience. And none better to deliver that kind of speech than our own Peter Smith, who gave the keynote: Why procurement is a force for change (good change that is!)

Peter has a knack of chatting to his audience like it was over a pint down the pub (borne out of years of experience!), while getting across some serious and thought-provoking points. So his talk was funny, and enlightening, but I won’t spoil it for you – you can read all about it later this week. Suffice to say he highlighted the growing importance of consulting as a category, an area he finds fascinating, hence the subject of his book: Buying Professional Services: How to get value for money from consultants and other professional services providers.

Anyway – he delivered a witty and memorable presentation, upstaged only (just by an iota though Peter!) by Messrs Knowd and Levene in their tragi-comedy: “The spec that went wrong – how not to procure professional services”  We’ll cover that later too, alongside the case studies from two local authorities.

In the afternoon, Sarah Burns, Head of Digital for Bloom, led a very interactive session looking at the latest Pro-vide (Bloom's technology platform) developments and some of the potential areas for the future. Delegates discussed which features might be of most interest to them, and that input should form part of the firm's tech roadmap. One area of interest was raised by our friend Terry Brewer, who made the case for incorporating more social value into contracts in this area – and, yes, that is on Bloom's agenda.

Then Steven Sinclair, the "grandfather" of Bloom (as Adam Jacobs put it) and Head of Procurement for NEPO, talked about the next iteration - NEPRO 3.0. It is a couple of years away but there are already thoughts about what might be included in that. He is happy to see others developing similar models, as it validates the concept, but of course NEPO wants to retain market leadership. Feedback from delegates at this session and the parallel recent event in Manchester is useful, and suggests for instance that cost savings is not the main benefit; users appreciate speed, flexibility, the ability to bring in new suppliers. (Sinclair is happy to receive any further thoughts on the framework as they plan the next phase.)

Finally, Adam Jacobs closed the event and thanked everyone - there had been a great atmosphere, he said, which was true. He also raised the social value issue and hopes to see more smaller and local suppliers who are on the platform winning work in the coming months. Bloom can help to avoid re-invention of the wheel - capturing commonality across projects, for instance in the GDPR area where everybody currently is going through the same processes (and probably engaging consultants to do so). Collaboration between user organisations is part of that same picture. Bloom can also help procurement position itself strategically within the organisation - that is perhaps a good thought to finish on, but we'll be back, as I say, with more detailed reports shortly.

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