World Procurement Congress: 'Disrupt or be disrupted'

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“If your horse is dead, dismount.”


Sound advice from Walter Charles, CPO of Biogen, who wrapped up his afternoon presentation on day two of the 2018 World Procurement Congress (WPC) by inviting attendees to reflect on that statement.


Although Charles was merely recounting advice his grandmother had given him when he was young, the phrase seemed to encapsulate something of the theme of WPC. With business changing so fast, the old ways of doing things no longer suffice. Procurement chiefs must embrace new ideas, new technologies and new models of execution to deliver the value they are being asked to contribute to their organisations.


Charles talked about “busted frameworks” – procurement processes that no longer work as they once did following the onset of digitalisation. He urged the audience to identify processes within their own functions that were "busted" and change them.


Take requests for proposals (RFPs), for example. Buyers typically start with a long list of bidders, which they trim to a manageable number before eventually settling on one that will become their supplier. While whittling their lists down to a few potential partners, however, buyers risk discounting potential sources of value. With the tools now available to analyse data on a scale that wasn’t possible ten – even five – years ago, any number bids can be given the same level of consideration, Charles said. This potentially opens up greater savings, new innovations and other sources of value.


“In the age of big data and analytics, the RFP down-select model is a busted framework,” he said.


Whether in the context of leadership, organisational design, team structures or digital technology the importance of doing things differently was echoed throughout the Congress.


Staying with technology, Jessi Baker, designer, technologist and founder of blockchain startup Provenance, reminded attendees during a panel debate that embracing new ways of doing business was a practice, not a theory.


She explained that some of her enterprise clients, while enthusiastic about the prospect of experimenting with blockchain, often come unstuck because they want immediate value from the technology; they want to measure its use against operational key performance indicators from day one. That, she said, is not possible. Blockchain remains an experimental technology and procurement executives should treat it as such.


Some of her customers, however, have put that theory into practice. And, as attendees learned, leaders should apply the experimental mindset in all situations, according to former airline pilot and error management expert Matt Lindley, who shared his insights into leadership and mitigating the risk of mistakes within teams.


If that sounds like Lindley was attempting to tell attendees how to stop their staff from making mistakes, he wasn’t. His ideas were bolder than that. He advocated a corporate culture in which people are encouraged to report their mistakes – big or small. In the aviation industry, mistakes can have catastrophic consequences. Yet, Lindley instructed, an error must always be seen as a "golden opportunity to learn", so long as the intention of whoever made the mistake was not to break the rules.


That may sound simple enough, but in large organisations where people are rewarded for high performance and face demanding targets and rigid processes, this idea represents a significant change. But that’s the point. For any business leader, embracing change means adapting yourself and your organisation to the modern age. As Biogen’s Charles said, leaders face a choice – “disrupt or be disrupted.”


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.

Harry John
Posted by Harry John

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