What’s Behind Bloom’s Rapid Growth – People, Process and Plans (Part 2)

In part 1, we looked at what David Shields, the recently appointed Chief Executive of Bloom Procurement Services, is doing to improve the way in which the organisation delivers the NEPRO professional services framework on behalf of NEPO (the North East Procurement Organisation).

Significant growth has come in the past year or so from organisations and sectors outside the Bloom heartland of local authorities. So, Bloom has now structured its operations around both client sectors and category expertise. “Sectors like education, health, local government are quite different in terms of funding flows and requirements, so we need to recognise that”, explains Shields. Equally, the firm wants to develop deep category expertise in the various areas within professional services.

The value from being close to the client sectors comes in Bloom’s ability to influence requirements and specifications and map those to the market – which leads to better outcomes and value. “We are in effect helping major clients develop their category strategies, so our client services team are primarily procurement people. We do want to have different capabilities internally, but those technical procurement skills are important”. It sounds perhaps a bit of a cliché, but Shields is sincere when he says that Bloom is “not here to sell – we’re here to give clients solutions”.

In terms of process, client onboarding is one aspect that Shields emphasises – “not many buying organisations do this comprehensively, so following client consultation, we have designed an on-boarding process to help optimise client experience - and we’ve also used this process to assist existing clients”. Bloom takes care to explain processes, ensure initial projects are effectively managed and encourage feedback from clients, as well as focusing on the systems side of onboarding the organisation.

Along with Amabel Grant and Fiona Carpenter, two more recent recruits with very strong track records in public sector procurement technology and data, Shields is focusing on new systems and processes for Bloom. A key driver for that is the need to manage and make use of the data that is gathered through the procurement and contract management process. That enables Bloom to give clients detailed information about their professional services spend, dig down into the detail, and make recommendations to drive better outcomes and value.

That seems pretty standard; but the most interesting possibilities come from analysing data across clients and projects. That enables Bloom to make comparisons – for instance, to indicate a “benchmark” day rate for certain types of work or assess whether different approaches (from “direct award” to competitive processes of various types) achieve better results.

That took us into an interesting discussion. Bloom’s mission is to help clients get better value – but what happens if a client wants to make a direct award to a supplier, while Bloom think a better result would be obtained from a competitive process?

“We will talk to the client. That’s where data can be so useful. We might be able to point out that the benchmark for this work is lower than they are proposing to pay, or that there are other suppliers with more closely matched skills and experience. But ultimately it is the client’s decision, assuming they are working within their own financial and procurement rules”.

Getting involved early is key – “it’s tricky if the supplier has already been told the budget by the client”!  But in a couple of cases, Shields has actually written to the client.  “I’ve pointed out that they are not following the procurement process we would recommend – we respect their decision but want to log that view”. The client’s own procurement people can often be allies in those sorts of discussion with budget holders of course. And the better the data, the more convincing those discussion are likely to be.

We moved on to talk with Shields and Amabel Grant about the specific technology picture. Bloom carried out surveys and user groups to help develop the strategy, and realised that their current platform, Pro-vide “was not scalable enough and had some gaps in its capability”.  In addition, “our reporting to clients wasn’t bad but was not as good as it could have been” and “suppliers felt the process of dealing with us was OK in parts, but not easy enough at every stage”.

So, a significant programme of improvement is well under way, including building “service packages” within the system, the introduction of DocuSign for online contract signature, the use of Alteryx, an analytics platform, to pull together data from various sources, and major improvements to Pro-vide. For instance, there will be a quarterly development and release cycle for the system, which starts on the 1st November. “This means that we’ll group together updates and system changes to go live on Pro-vide at set points during the year” (See more on this here).  Grant has also been considering options for eSourcing technology and is currently in the process of finalising the choice in terms of which providers Bloom will use.

All this tech work is underpinned by greater clarity on data standards, to drive better and faster use of data and promote the ability to turn that into actionable intelligence. “We want to gather information only once”, Grant says, which will be a great benefit to buyers and to suppliers (who get frustrated as we all know with providing similar information to many different public sector clients).

The team are obviously moving at quite a pace here. Shields certainly doesn’t seem to have slowed down since his OGC days; perhaps it is his long-distance cycling exploits that give him such energy and focus!  The senior team looks impressive as well – so in the final article of this series, we’ll step back and put Bloom into a wider context in the light of their continued growth and increased reach across the public sector.

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