News focus: Is this your time to shine?

9 April 2010

13 April 2010 | Allie Anderson

The tough economic climate has put purchasers in the spotlight. But should you use this time to boost productivity or widen your remit? Allie Anderson reports

We hear a lot about the impact of the global recession on procurement. As organisations have made cutbacks and strived to become more efficient (and, in some cases, simply survive), the spotlight has shone ever brighter on buyers – and that doesn’t look set to change.

The profession as a whole has been forced to show itself off, not only for what it can do, but how well it can do it.

Our latest SM100 poll found that as signs of global economic recovery emerge, buyers expect they will continue to take on further duties. A total of 82 per cent said they expected their job responsibilities to increase as we emerge from recession.

Opinion was divided, however, on whether this was a blessing or a curse. While many said that alongside increased responsibility comes a better profile, some indicated that higher expectations of individuals as a result of reduced headcounts and recruitment freezes can damage morale. One buyer says anonymously: “It’s the old saying of ‘we must work smarter not harder’ and therefore we need to think of a new approach of how to manage our workload and [procurement’s] future role within the company.”

Others said purchasers should capitalise on the opportunity to demonstrate their worth. One way to do this is to gain control of more spend areas, suggested Carly Wedderburn, senior procurement officer at Torbay Council, where procurement is “ready and willing for the challenge”.

She tells SM: “We are always looking for ways to raise our profile and the recession is no exception. We proactively seek spend areas in which we can make a difference in terms of efficiency savings in order to have some good news to tell the organisation on the other side of the recession.”

According to one buyer, the increase in responsibility is wide ranging and covers “non-procurement related spend which has traditionally been either off limits or of limited interest”. Others suggested risk assessment as an area of extended remit.

Many respondents warned that, while increased responsibility has provided opportunities for greater control and higher status, procurement must not rest on its laurels. Gareth Hughes, head of non-inventory purchasing at Bupa, says: “The tougher economic climate has helped with engagement and penetration, which in turn has led to some success stories [but] we shouldn’t take this for granted.”

Patrick Law, managing director of recruitment firm Hays Procurement says that rather than seeking candidates with a wider range of skills, recruiters are now looking  for procurement professionals who can perform their current roles at a higher level.

He adds that communication and interpersonal skills make a candidate stand out from the crowd more than anything else. For consultant Alex Strange, the ability to engage with stakeholders to boost productivity, rather than assuming more responsibility, is the key to success. He was among the 17 per cent of poll respondents who said they expected their duties to stay the same.

Chris Graves, account director at Atkins Global, agrees. “Surely we are not just about generating savings. We should be using this new-found status to ensure we truly integrate procurement strategies with organisational strategies that the company may adopt in the future,” he says.

CIPS CEO David Noble adds: “The poll shows clearly how vital professional procurement practice is in this post-recession landscape and how business looks to the profession for solutions. Purchasers should grab this opportunity and share their plans with the remainder of the management team so everyone understands the true value of procurement.

“Also, businesses should understand that reducing the procurement and supply workforce would be counterproductive as more creative and innovative solutions are needed now more than ever.”

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