ProcureCon Berlin – Round-up of Procurement Event

Berlin is a good city for conferences. A really interesting place but not so amazing that half your audience disappears off after the first two hours, never to be seen again. And very reasonable in terms of costs - a pint and an excellent pizza for around £12 quid last night, a decent hotel room for £50.

CAkes procruconA good choice for ProcureCon Europe then, and the Palace Hotel was a very good venue, comfortable meeting facilities, good food (see picture of cakes...) and service. But what about the event? Did delegates feel it was worth the two or three days of their time? Yes, definitely so, seemed to be the general answer.

I think it was Richard Beaumont - who was a brilliant chair for days 2 and 3 - who observed that senior procurement people seem to be much more open than a few years ago. I agree, which makes for more useful discussion, and the format, with plenty of "round tables" and good time allowed for questions after presentations did support that well.

The presenters as always ranged from the OK (actually no-one who was a “bad presenter”, but one or two who didn't have much that was different to tell us) to the excellent. Meeting John Henke was a personal pleasure, and amongst the highlights, the CPOs from MTS, M&S, Diageo, Nestlé, Kimberley Clark, and QinetiQ all had interesting stories to share.

We will dig into some of the key presentations next week, but what general themes can we draw out? Here are some immediate thoughts, composed in flight at 10pm last night over Northern France, so I hope they make some sense!

- Supplier Relationship Management has reached that stage of maturity where even the people who aren't doing it, know they should be. No one argues against it any more. And the focus is becoming more strongly on capturing supplier innovation. Whilst not everyone is very far along that road, a number of firms have already got quite robust strategies in place to address the topic – I was pleasantly surprised.

- That also indicates a maturing attitude to value as the centre of the procurement mission. No surprise or real argument there, but again just a greater sense of common understanding. Yet one central problem remains - measurement and justification of procurement must go way beyond simply savings, but few have cracked this yet.

- Talent shortages, development and management are occupying the thoughts and perhaps the sleepless nights of many CPOs. There were some good ideas around but this was one area where I came away slightly disappointed. It strikes me as an area where some creativity would not go amiss and I didn't hear much that really hit that button.

- Technology doesn't get discussed that much. The solution providers attending are on best behaviour, so for instance although SAP as sponsors got a speaking slot, they sent their own CPO, rather than a sales person. Which was good in a way, but generally there isn’t as much technology focus as we might expect. I mentioned market informed sourcing (optimisation) during one round table, but no-one spoke up, even though I believe a couple of the firms there were indeed users. Perhaps this is seen as one of those real competitive advantage areas that delegates won't discuss openly!

- However, one of the best received sessions was from BP talking about their dashboard, pulling together spend analytics and other information. That reception suggests to me that ProcureCon could go a touch more techie in future maybe and get a good response. Not too much mind you, and it needs to be genuinely novel I'd suggest to resonate.

- The cultural issues for large international organisations are fascinating, and I think individually as well everyone got something out of the mix of people at the event, from Russia, Morocco, Finland, Ireland, Austria... The list seemed endless. Michael Gates from Said Business School was another highlight, talking about those cultural issues. One parochial thought though - one of my new friends pointed out how few big firm CPOs there are in the UK now compared to 20 years ago. The big firms have their CPOs everywhere and anywhere, from Luxembourg to Shanghai, and even the second level people, whether regional or category leaders, may well not be in the UK.

Finally, too many procurement leaders still don't know about Spend Matters! If you are a reader and enjoy what we do, please, tell your friends and colleagues. Much appreciated... and well done to everyone at ProcureCon itself for another successful and worthwhile event. (And more detailed reviews to follow next week).

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