The Internet Is Changing the Position of the Professions – and that Means Procurement Too

There was a very sad story in the paper yesterday, about a young woman who died of a rare form of cancer. She had an operation in 2011 but continued to suffer severe pain, and although she diagnosed the problem via the Internet, doctors did not take her seriously and told her to "stop Googling your symptoms."  Eventually, she was admitted to hospital but sadly died 10 days later.

Why are we telling you this? Because it is an indication of how even the most revered and traditional "professions" are seeing their protected positions threatened. If we can diagnose our health issues online, and artificial intelligence and machine learning are only going to make this more feasible over time, and then we can also order pharmaceuticals online perhaps, why do we need doctors? Now we're overstating the case to make a point, and clearly we're not going to crowd source a heart operation any time soon.

But there is a change here that is only starting to gather momentum, and it does have a relevance to procurement. When CIPS (the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply) says it wants procurement professionals to be "licensed," with a view that in some sense only those folk will be "allowed" to buy, it quotes doctors as another profession that has that sort of restriction. But as we've seen, that is breaking down even for that profession. The digital and internet revolutions are not over, they are only just getting into second gear, and many traditional roles and professions are going to need to change.

So, however much we might like to, I just cannot see that we will be able to build a wall around procurement with a big "Keep Out" sign on top.  The organisations that succeed in the future will be those that call on all the resources and ideas that are available to them, internally and indeed externally. They will develop broad and deep commercial capability throughout, not just concentrated in one department or with people who have a particular certificate.

For instance, whilst the UK government is putting impressive amounts of money into building its central procurement capability (though Crown Commercial Service), it is also very sensibly investing in the Commissioning Academy, with hundreds of non-procurement managers from around the public sector being trained in a broad set of commercial skills. (That is one very big tick in the positive column for both ex Minister Francis Maude and CCS boss Sally Collier, by the way). In the private sector, the trend is similar, with procurement and other stakeholders working together to drive commercial benefits.

I still don't feel CIPS and its membership has had a full debate about this issue. I do know some people for whom I have a lot of respect in the profession and the higher echelons of CIPS who support the ‘licence to practice’ idea; I also know others who think it is crazy. But I am as sure as I can be that it just won't work - you can't beat progress, and you can't (and shouldn't) stop people googling their symptoms.

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Voices (3)

  1. Bitter and twisted:

    Youre all very generous

    Licencing = CIPS gravy train

  2. Ken Cole:

    Excellent piece Peter. I am glad that I am not the only person in CIPS that has serious concerns about moving towards a licence to practice. We also need to recognise that CIPS is not recognised in a lot of organisations in the UK and that aspects of our profession form key parts of others e.g logistics.

  3. DrGordy:

    I think you are spot on Peter. Some time ago I wrote a blog on CIPS approach to Chartered Status – continue to receive emails and linkedin messages from respected professionals who are angry with CIPS approach and questioned whether they should even continue paying their basic subscriptions – the implementation appears to have the opposite from the intention with some members. CIPS seriously need to review their stance and we need to see a new membership survey and congress debate as a matter of urgency.

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