04 October 2007 | Paul Snell
The true measure of success in procurement should be how close it is to the centre of the organisation.
Sir Leigh Lewis, permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, and Lloyd Cromwell Griffiths, director of flight operations at British Airways, expressed the need for the role of purchasing to be understood by all departments.
Addressing a CIPS Fellows event in London last month, Sir Leigh said: "Procurement must be at the heart of your business. If it is left as some semi-detached function you will fail. It is not some sort of bolt-on that lies in a darkened corner." He said the company should engage with purchasing at the start of any process. "You must have the advice of the procurement function at the point of knowing what you intend and how you are going to deliver something."
Cromwell Griffiths added procurement needs strong, but detached, interaction with suppliers. "We have grown away from cosy relationships built up over the past 30 to 40 years," he said. "We learnt that a good relationship must be a robust relationship."
Sir Leigh described the recent procurement capability review at the department as "enormously helpful". He said the scrutiny of his department's procurement strength had been useful, as he does not have a background in procurement.
"To some extent I have to take on trust the knowledge and experience that the procurement team provides on how we are performing. An outside perspective was enormously helpful."
Buyers were also told that new economies were not about to replace traditional markets. "They will only succeed if we buy their products and services," said Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office.