The Accidental Procurement Manager

24 January 2018

Interesting discussion with a prospective client last week. They are a mid-market business with a handful of people in IT, who have outsourced some of their infrastructure to a hosting company. Their contract is up for renewal, and they need to find an alternative supplier, but they are struggling to find a suitable supplier and balance this against their incumbent who is perceived to be under-performing. Not an unreasonable set of requirements, but triggered a thought process in my mind regarding procurement as a skill set.

In many mid-market clients of a similar size, there will be a reasonable amount of IT spend and usually a handful of technically skilled people managing the IT infrastructure of that company. The majority of these staff will have a technical background, usually either having joined when the company was formed or recruited into the team. Fundamentally these guys are technically, not commercially, focused. And they were hired to deliver IT, not procurement, skills.

So when a new project requires the purchasing of some technology stuff, or an existing contract requires a renewal, who leads the project to purchase? This is the point at which a technical member of staff “accidentally” becomes a procurement manager, a skill set that is not necessarily a natural fit.

This Accidental Procurement Manager, as borrowed from a friend of mine who makes the same point regarding the Accidental Sales Manager, is clearly a risk to the business. Despite my constant rantings regarding the risk of not having good technical skills when procuring IT and Telecoms services, the converse is clearly also true. Procurement is a set of processes and experience that delivers business benefits in a different way to technical skills. To be successful you really need a combination of both.

Technical professionals from the IT department usually have a series of specific personality traits. They are problem solvers, analytical thinkers, but because of the pressures they are generally under when there is a technical problem they will very quickly identify the swiftest route to solving the problem and execute upon that quickly. In this context, sometimes a detailed review of the options, pro’s and con’s being documented and developed in an auditable fashion, is not a priority or a skill that is used. If your world is on fire, you need to put it out quickly and not necessarily methodically.

This clearly a polar opposite to a lengthy procurement process. If you are spending a reasonable amount of money, you need to consider all the options methodically and usually document the options for broader committee agreement and sign off before you execute. This can take months of frustrating iterative discussions, engaging and understanding broader stakeholder agendas, reviewing company financial reports and taking references. The devil is in the detail, there is lots of detail, and the decision you make is likely to be in place for a number of years so a formal documented audit of the decision making process is likely to be needed.

Instinctively, IT guys are likely to choose a supplier who has the sexiest technical solution, or whichever is the quickest and easiest solution to the problem. This does not necessarily agree with the right supplier for the longer term. The Accidental Procurement Manager therefore presents a risk to a company, which fundamentally could bring significant problems longer term re: supplier suitability to delivering a critical problem.

I am of course making some gross generalisations here regarding personality traits of IT guys. Many of the professional IT Procurement Consultants in the industry are ex-IT Managers and have made the transition to a different way of working. By doing this however, they have given themselves time to consider the broader implications of an IT Procurement function, and extracted themselves away from the firefighting of day to day IT delivery and management.

If you are an Accidental Procurement Manager and want to use external resource to help with buying a third party service, please reach out. I am one of those lucky guys who escaped from being on-call overnight and still having to function the next day, to working with lots of different clients to help shape their requirements and engage the market to select the right supplier through a formal process. It may sound boring and bureaucratic, but if it does, you are better off getting some help!

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