Interview with Malcolm Harrison, CIPS New CEO (Part 3 – Future of Procurement)

In part 1 of our interview with the relatively new CIPS CEO, Malcolm Harrison, we looked at a number of issues, including the commercial focus of the Institute. In part 2, it was largely issues around governance. So, in this final part, we picked up on his thoughts around the future of procurement and the role of CIPS within that.

You’ve said that a high priority for you is how CIPS can be more relevant to members, and to their employers of course – so what is your agenda here? How do you go about that?

We’ve got to understand what matters for the profession, those who work in it and their employers. One key aspect is technology, and its impact on the profession.  Another is the risk agenda – in the widest sense, including all those CSR issues like modern slavery where we have already put a lot of effort.  Then in some organisations, I feel there is still an excessive focus on savings rather than value, and we need to support members as they make the value argument. So, three major agendas there.

It’s tricky to build technology content into the CIPS qualifications and syllabus though, isn’t it, because things change so quickly? By the time the syllabus is agreed, and material developed, it would be out of date!

Yes, it probably fits better into the wider “knowledge” agenda for us rather than the academic syllabus. But even that brings issues – I feel the “knowledge” that we promote has to be beyond reproach and that’s not easy in itself. But we do need to reflect the big changes driven by technology. Blockchain will have application in complex supply chins, RPA (robotic process automation) is impacting the transactional work that traditionally sat in the procurement and supply management function, artificial intelligence will inform sourcing decisions … we have to help our members through this.

So, will AI wipe out procurement?

My view is there will always be events that happen that haven’t happened before – we will still need people to make those judgements based on new facts and situations. But one of my concerns is this: How do we ensure we develop judgement skills in the profession, given the business environment is increasingly process- and compliance-driven, and more work is “outsourced” to technology? That’s particularly true in certain industries and sectors. We need people with judgement, who can understand the complexities, work where we don’t have 100% clarity, handle ambiguity … that’s a real challenge for the profession.

What about the famous “seat at the table”? Is that one of your goals – seeing procurement leaders sitting on the Board?

My view is that CIPS can focus on helping to develop people who have the right breadth of skills and experience, who can deal with complex and strategic issues, and who are confident in taking judgements and making decisions. Some of those people will move through into general management and board-level jobs. I don’t think the “seat at the table” is an objective in itself really – it should be one of the natural outcomes if we can move the profession forwards.

We ran out of time at this point – I would have liked to ask Harrison about the “Chartered Member” status and a couple of other issues, but I should say I found him very open, particularly in talking about the commercial side of things and the governance issues.  He is not a revolutionary by nature, which is probably just as well given the CIPS history, culture and environment, but he is clearly open to change and to listening to people perhaps more actively than some of his predecessors.

This will be one of my last articles about CIPS for Spend Matters, but I’m sure at some point I will have the chance to report further (even if it is just on LinkedIn) on how some of the issues we discussed develop. Many thanks to Malcolm Harrison – and good luck to him! It’s a great job, but not without some tough challenges.

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  1. Michael Angel:

    Very good interview there. I would raise the following issues in part numbers:

    Part 1
    In relation to CIPS being a competitive advantage. Whilst Malcolm does champion the standard, do organisations really value what CIPS stands for and the excellence it drives? I will see functions that aspire to obtain CIPS accreditations that demonstrate their levels of excellence (though an expensive badge of honour for sure!) and whilst as a procurement professional I support that, is the support for it strong outside of the function? Are the standards aligned, because I’ve often experienced they are not. Trying to sell the value of procurement as well as standards that enable that through CIPS is quite a challenge. Also I would add some functions let themselves down when wanting CIPS qualified professionals and yet with recruitment will weigh heavily on the side of experience which keeps that experience vs academic debate rolling on.

    There is certainly more to be done with alliances. Thought your point on SM being seen as a competitor was interesting. Procurement shouldn’t be a profession that fears knowledge, even if in the event it highlights weaknesses within CIPS. I think such alliances would actually do a lot to show forward thinking and dynamism if there is willingness to do and think about things differently.

    Part 2
    I do wonder if CIPS see IOSCM as a partner or a competitor? As whilst I think it’s fantastic that CIPS is being more universally recognised as the standard in Procurement and Supply Chain qualifications, in terms of other countries and the qualifications they recognise, will CIPS be looking to collaborate?

    I think they should do away with the President role and have local Advocate roles. One of the things I enjoyed when waiting for the new President to be announced was the theme/goal they wanted to drive in their 12 month stint. I think Advocate would be appropriate in having a wide range of annual themes as opposed to one (of course ensuring it aligns with CIPS).

    Part 3
    Members I have spoken with find CIPS don’t do enough for their members and have become too commercially focused. If I am honest, I find that half of one and six dozen of the other. I think there needs to be a drive for members to become more engaged and active in CIPS activities and also CIPS need to be shown driving that too. I have a set up a Network in my neck of the woods (which has generated interest from other regions looking to set up something similar despite active branches in their areas) and it’s tough selling procurement to procurement professionals! Communication and engagement I feel would go a long way to igniting that passion.

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