Peter Smith at eWorld – How Procurement Can Be a Force for Change

eWorld is fast approaching – February 28th to be exact. And among the prestigious speakers and stimulating topics, this year we are treated to a session by that little-known man of procurement wisdom – our very own Peter Smith.

As you may know, Peter has a great number of years of experience in leading procurement teams in both the public and private sectors. He has travelled through all kinds of procurement scenarios under all kinds of guises, and has amassed a deep understanding of procurement-related issues, behaviours, challenges and forces for change.

So his considered topic is Can procurement be a force for good?

I caught up with him to quiz the man himself in – yes you guessed it – a pub, over a pint of Rebellion Smuggler, and asked him:

Why this subject? And what exactly do you mean by a “force for good?”

“I’ll be considering Procurement as a force for change – positive change,” he said. “It’s a topic that builds on something I spoke about at a recent professional services procurement event – the Bloom customer conference. It seemed to go down really well, people were interested, even enthused, and it provoked some interesting questions too. So I thought it would be good to revisit this topic and address it to a wider and more diverse audience, adding some of the thoughts that came out of the original discussion.”

Why now? Are the issues so different now?

“Yes, they are. Procurement has changed and evolved since my early days, and all the issues that surround it. It used to be that the procurement professional was concerned with two main priorities:

  • Keeping our businesses running - buying the things that the factory or the government office needed
  • The other was savings or cost management

When I started out there was little consideration given to environmental issues, or modern slavery or supporting minority businesses. Frankly, they were things we didn’t really think about; they just weren’t on our radar. But things have changed hugely, not just in the public sector but in the private sector too. We’ve also seen the growth of the charity sector for instance, taking procurement seriously and wanting to do the right thing – especially given the nature of that industry.

Procurement now has to take into account so many considerations – outside of its more traditional concerns."

Is there too much expected of Procurement?

"Yes – it certainly feels like we are expecting procurement to be a force for change and do more than just buying at a good price. The question is – how easy is it for Procurement to do that? And that’s the crux of my session.

If we look at all the angles Procurement has to take into account (especially but not exclusively public sector buyers) – like the environment, quality, equality, tax evasion, child labour, supporting SMEs and more  – it’s a big agenda! And it’s not easy to combine all that with the core purposes around value for money, and supply risk, and the things we know we have to do."

What do you hope to achieve through this session?

"My aim is to give practitioners, and leaders, an overview of, let’s say, the ‘less-traditional’ ways in which procurement can make a difference, and add value, and be a force for change!

The session will throw up some thought-provoking questions about what they are doing currently and how they could do more, or maybe even do less, to achieve the right outcomes. But the cornerstone is: how do we be that force for change without completely overloading ourselves? We’ll be talking about that too, how we must, at the same time, try to not do too much!"

And does that play into how Procurement works with other functions?

"Absolutely – it’s all about ‘alignment’ with wider business strategy and other functions – we’ll certainly be getting into that. It shouldn’t be up to procurement to decide, for example, if the organisation is going to suddenly put a lot of time and effort into modern slavery issues -- that’s a business decision. We have to recognise how our role fits into these types of decision.

But one thing is for sure – these issues are more prevalent now than ever before. Consumer citizen awareness is growing, especially around global warming, recycling, plastics and polluting the world. Some are regulated, like modern slavery, some are not, some ought to be!

The whole question of data protection and data management, for example, is another area we are becoming more concerned about in our supply chains, and inevitably that is becoming a big issue for procurement. Hence GDPR and how that will play into the procurement-sphere.”

Non-awareness, non-consideration, really isn’t an option any more. The whole spectrum of corporate social responsibility is growing year by year and Procurement is being tasked with a key role in it. It’s a complex set of expectations, so Peter will be asking whether they are reasonable for the profession, and will be looking at some good examples of success. I’m sure he’ll also have some cautionary tales to impart too!

Please join us at eWorld, 28th February, QEII Centre, Westminster, to simply listen, or take part in the discussion and add your own thoughts to the mix. We’d love to have your input about how Procurement can be a force for ‘good’ change.

You can register here for free.

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