Procurement's got talent

10 May 2009

11 May 2009 | Jake Kanter

A radical cost-cutting programme at ITV has thrust buyers into starring roles. Jake Kanter speaks to the main players and hears about backing from the FD

ITV's London headquarters on the South Bank is awash with television personalities. Stars such as Ant & Dec and Joan Collins can be seen roaming the building.

But it is not just famous names attracting attention. Since joining ITV last November, group procurement director Angela Porter has rewritten the broadcaster's buying policy, transformed its purchasing set-up and plans to lead the department into the frontline of the company's cost reduction efforts.

A crucial part of this project has been boosting collaboration with the production teams managing the company's biggest shows.

She has placed category managers to work directly with production managers. It means the department has a hand in all the big shows, including Hell's Kitchen and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!

In addition, procurement has established cross-functional "value teams" to identify where category savings can be made.

This model will also be used across the other categories at ITV, including property and facilities.

Paul Williams, head of sourcing, non-technology, at ITV says this change means purchasing is less "reactive" and more strategic.

"We're getting ahead of the game. Now we have access to production schedules, we can sit down and see something's going to start shooting in August and we can begin our involvement in February. It's not so much fire-fighting, it's fire prevention," he explains.

Significantly, procurement has also won the support of the board. In an internal announcement, group finance director Ian Griffiths said the purchasing policy will provide clarity at a time when ITV must be "careful" about its expenditure.

Porter is happy to admit that fostering relationships with the "talent" can sometimes be "difficult" - a point she says external auditors also made in ITV's business-wide efficiency review last year.

The former BBC buyer visited her old colleagues in White City last week to learn more about how the rival broadcaster's purchasing department has developed over the years. Beverley Tew, the BBC's director of procurement and revenue management, has experienced similar difficulties when building collaborative partnerships with production units.

She argues purchasing can make a positive impact when there is pressure to reduce costs across a business.

"If production has money being taken away from them and we can help make that cash go further, we become a valued partner."

Tew says procurement at ITV has "a lot" of work ahead, but the message from Porter is "so far, so good".

The ITV team has faced "push back" while getting the procurement policy agreed but it has worked with the business to resolve issues.

"My engagement with the senior team in production was really refreshing," Porter says. "They have worked well with procurement. There seems to be a recognition in the business that we need to do these things to grow the company again."

Feedback from ITV's senior production staff supports this sentiment. In documents shown to SM, Roger Pearce, technical director at ITV Sport, says procurement can offer crucial support on complex productions that require engagement with a number of suppliers.

"Procurement is the kingpin in the process that enables us to focus on what we really need and ensuring that we get value for money," he says.

Summing up the task stretching ahead of procurement, Williams says: "We're working with highly creative people, and it's our job to be even more creative."

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