Paul Alexander will be teaching procurement, supply chain and operations management at the University of Portsmouth © Helen Yates/University of Portsmouth
Paul Alexander will be teaching procurement, supply chain and operations management at the University of Portsmouth © Helen Yates/University of Portsmouth

Procurement 'in danger of being left behind'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
4 October 2019

Procurement professionals risk being left behind and dismissed as “order placers” and “invoice clearers” if they don’t move away from a process-focused role.

Paul Alexander, who has just left his role as head of indirect procurement, EMEA, at BP to become a teaching fellow at the University of Portsmouth, said processes were being systematised and “you don’t need someone to run a process”.

Speaking to SM he said: “We need to be talking about adoption of procurement’s offer, not having to follow procurement’s process. We’ve got it the wrong way round.

“We are in danger of being left behind as a bunch of buyers, order placers, invoice clearers and inventory managers and I think there’s so much more opportunity than that.”

Alexander said compliance with procurement processes was pushed strongly by consulting firms in the 90s, but technology has changed the conversation.

“If not now, then soon, I think there is huge question about what procurement exists for,” he said. “Does it default to being the person you go to to place an order or is it really an influential driver of competitive advantage? I think it can and should be the latter but it rarely is.

“The old adage that procurement is the function that can say no but can’t say yes, there’s still a lot in that.”

Alexander said he saw his new role, in which he will be teaching procurement, supply chain and operations management, as helping to bridge the gap between education and industry.

“Corporate structures, supplier relationships, supply chain management, sourcing, negotiation, operations management – the great pillars of what procurement and supply chain management are about – the boundaries between them is becoming very fuzzy,” he said.

“The capabilities and organsation design are now moving quickly. There is a gap and a problem where education can help do things better.”

Alexander said soft skills such as listening and collaboration were needed more in procurement but the traditional role of dealmaker, though still essential to organisations, did not emphasise them. “Put simply, your ability to trade people off against each other and get a lower price, those days are diminishing,” he said, adding it was important to know when to collaborate and when to strike a deal.

Alexander, who was previously head of procurement for British Airways, said the key lesson from his industry career was the importance of an inspired team.

“Most procurement functions labour under fairly deficient systems and processes that are rarely fit for purpose – it’s great people that get you over all of that,” he said.

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