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Procurement’s Objective: Zero Visibility


31-Jan-12 16:08

There is near-perpetual talk in the purchasing world of ‘raising procurement’s profile’. Indeed, only yesterday my colleague Maggie Slowik blogged about CPOs’ determination to market their function in 2012.

 

But should we bother?

 

There are certain professionals that are only noticed when something goes wrong. For the rest of the time, they are taken for granted or just routinely ignored. Those activities which are operational in nature tend to fall into this category.

 

When the computer crashes, it is time to shout at IT support down the phone. But, IT’s advice can be highly prized when developing new solutions to old problems.

 

In many respects, procurement work will inevitably fall into the ‘forgotten’ category. That most of procurement’s work revolves around risk management and continuity of supply belies the organisational perspective on purchasing’s value.

 

Invariably there will be some area of procurement, however, that will be more pressing on stakeholders’ minds. This is most noticeable in areas like category management, where a central buyer co-ordinates the needs of many departments.

 

But not all areas of procurement have this ‘top of mind’ status. The temptation of many buyers is to claim this high profile by insisting that their work is worthy of this attention because of its strategic value.

 

I have written about strategy inflation before, where buyers declare that their relationships and activities are ‘high level’ and therefore should play a central role within business planning.

 

Most of the time though procurement’s role is simply to source the solutions to the companies’ needs. That it should aim to do this in as quiet and efficient way possible is no disgrace.

 

It is part of human nature to receive more credit and recognition for what we do. It would be nice to receive, as do musicians at the end of a performance, a standing ovation for a well crafted purchase order. But it would also be nice to own a pair of magic slippers. Sadly, neither is likely.

 

Procurement will never receive a central role within an organisation for its operational role. Pretending otherwise is perhaps delusionary and probably leading to derisory rebuffs in the future.

 

Taking pride in a job well done on the requisition and efficient management of standard goods is perhaps as much as operational procurers can hope for. But by recognising this fact, purchasing can focus on raising its profile for its strategic work. This is the area that the function can really make a case and demonstrate its value.

 

However, unless you have something really serious to shout about, maybe it is best to keep quiet. To quote Lincoln: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”


Jonathan Webb Jonathan Webb is Research Manager at Procurement Leaders. Jon specialises in third-party risk, category management and strategy research and draws on experience working for, among others, PwC and international think-tank Transparency International. Follow Jon on Twitter: @j_p_webb

 
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