University procurement – moving beyond a cost reduction role

I’m speaking this week at the London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC) Conference, held at the University of London’s Senate House.

LUPC is one of four University buying consortiums supporting England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and has grown steadily over the last few years, providing services not just to Universities to also to a range of interesting organisations who share some of the same needs for often quite specialist goods and services – such as Art Galleries and Museums.

It’s a fascinating but challenging sector for procurement people. There are some similarities with Health, where in order to be successful, procurement have to work with and persuade senior clinicians (surgeons and so on) as well as more conventional managers and budget holders.

In the University sector, as well as the odd medical doctor, there are many other professionals – Professors and the like – who may have their own budgets and their own strong ideas about what they want to buy and from whom.  (My late Father in Law was Professor of Ship Design at UCL, London in his final role, and I would not have fancied trying to tell him from where he should buy specialist equipment)!  There is also the usual set of managers in finance, property, HR and other functions who are stakeholders and have to be on board with what Procurement is trying to do.

We also commented a short while back on the potential for transformational change in the whole sector as new ways of learning might make more students question the whole conventional model of a university education, particularly as the experience becomes more expensive for the student, certainly in the UK.

I’m sitting on a panel discussion at the conference as well as speaking, so it was interesting to see one of the questions that has already been submitted.  “How can procurement professionals enhance student experience”?

That’s a short but profound question. If Universities are going to face challenges from on-line learning, lectures broadcast live on the Internet from Harvard and so on, how can procurement actually help make their organisations a more attractive place for students?  Really, it is the parallel of a private sector procurement executive turning their focus from bottom line improvement to top line – driving supplier innovation that means the firm sells more soup, mortgages or cars perhaps, rather than simply looking to cut costs.

It’s not something I’ve considered really in the University context – so I better start thinking before the session on Thursday!

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