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PROCUREMENT PUDDING (IT’S A TRIFLE COMPLICATED)

Nothing says Procurement quite like a classic trifle; it’s intricate, it’s complicated, but if you get it right… everyone wants a piece of it!

As the holidays descend upon us, it’s time to start winding down the gears to relax and – inevitably – reflect on the year that was!

Time with family and friends for me is synonymous with food! Because I almost always spend this time of year in the southern hemisphere, it’s a summer menu. It’s more about prawns and pavlova than pork and pancetta (although the latter does make it onto table anyway!) But, of course, that other p … the “p” we all love – procurement – is never far from mind and always on the menu for discussion!

During the year I have been fortunate to speak to procurement and supply chain audiences around the world about the trends we are seeing on Procurious and the impending impact of Industry 4.0 on our profession. In order to provide a framework for thinking through all the challenges and opportunities, I have been sharing a rather quirky analogy by comparing the well-loved English pudding – the trifle – to procurement and supply chain today. Putting up a giant image of a pudding on the big screen at a conference is also a great way to get your audience’s attention!

For the uninitiated, constructing an English trifle involves carefully layering sponge, jelly, custard, fruit, cream, and often garnishing with a heavy sprinkling of nuts.

Yet each layer remains distinct, and that’s how I think of procurement today – a series of self-supporting layers that feed into and out of each other. To manage our roles, we need to understand the strengths and weaknesses or the “setting points”, of those layers if we’re to stay ahead.

Let’s think through some of those layers

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Navigating the Nuts

Let’s start with the top layer of nuts. A generous sprinkling of the unexpected! This is how I think about the Black Swan events that seem to occur with alarming regularity these days. We need to be thinking about these unthinkables – hurricanes like Harvey that de-commission whole cities, man-made catastrophes like the Tianjin port disaster, not to mention recent terrorist attacks. If we can’t predict them, we can at least prepare for the unexpected, take pre-emptive action against disasters that could destroy our supply chains and analyse areas of high-risk.

Geopolitical jelly

Brexit is just one example of how our supply chain forward planning can become somewhat suspended by macroeconomic and geopolitical changes. In Europe, the UK’s decision to activate Brexit is having clear ramifications including a rise in nationalism that’s reflected across Europe. Currency fluctuation and workforce migration also impact procurement and supply chain. The costs to import goods within supply chains will increase; there could be a loss in freedom of movement both in goods and services for UK and EU businesses, and procurement talent could also be considerably affected if the talent pool is reduced.

The Fruits of Progress

We all have front row seats at the parade of new and exciting technologies that are driving the 4th industrial revolution. The rise of the Internet of Things, robotics, blockchain and artificial intelligence will create what we are calling Procurement 4.0.

Cognitive procurement & supply chains are the most exciting developments to happen during my 20-year career. These innovations will enthuse a whole new generation of procurement professionals to join our ranks, but we need to be flexible, agile and able to foster a culture of continuous invention to stay on the leading edge and avoid extinction.

The Foundation Layer

Finally there’s the layer in which we hold the power: Procurement.

Procurement is the sponge at the bottom of the trifle. No matter how many unstable layers of fruit and jelly and custard are piled on top of us, we remain intact. We successfully juggle with the events and changes over which our stakeholders and suppliers have only limited control.

Fortunately, social media helps. I don’t know about you, but when my phone is pinging through the night with texts and emails from the other side of the globe, I’m often tempted to turn it off. But I don’t, because for all the downsides of being constantly online, the benefits of being connected are immense.

Three out of four of our respondents to our Gen Next Survey believed that being well-connected online actually improved on-the-job performance. By using resources like Procurious, not only can we maintain the layers of our trifle by staying aware of these constant changes, but we can also gain access to an enormous diversity of ideas and enthuse the next generation of procurement talent.

The Cream of Procurement Talent

To meet the challenge posed by the top layers of the trifle – unthinkable events, geopolitical earthquakes and disruptive technology – attracting the best and brightest to the profession is vital to our success.

To do that, we need to think hard about how we are bringing on Generation Next, and giving them every opportunity so their impact is not just local, but global.

While we’re talking about talent, here’s another “unthinkable” to ponder – our Gen Next survey also discovered that over 70% of our 500+ survey takers intend to leave their organisation within the next five years. How can we respond to this? The worst thing to do is to keep up the pretense that every member of your team will be sitting at the same desk in ten years’ time. Instead, it’s time to throw away the retention plan and accept the reality that today’s workforce is increasingly mobile.

But this doesn’t mean giving up on developing your team. If you’re known as a supportive manager who gives others the opportunity to go on to a stellar career, you’ll become a talent magnet in the profession. Just image the level of superstar talent that you’ll attract if you develop a reputation as someone who produces future CPOs!

Cutting Through The Complexity

Change management is such an integral part of every senior procurement professionals’ role, and often involves driving change within your organisation and amongst suppliers on a global scale.

The good news is that we’re exactly the right people for the job. Procurement’s position as the conduit of supplier intelligence, our ever-growing level of influence in our organisations, and our keenly-honed negotiation and communication skills make us natural change-management gurus.

Remember that trifle?

The challenge for today’s procurement leaders to deftly cut through all those quivering layers of economic, social, political and technological complexity to serve up a slice of procurement solutions in such a way that your audience will devour your change agenda with gusto! 

Bon Appétit! 

 

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