Monthly Archives: August 2011

Good Public Procurement Recommendations from the McClelland Report, Part II

It may have been written five years ago, but the recommendations from the McClelland Report, which inspired Scotland Public Procurement to new levels of efficiency and performance, are as poignant today as they were then. These recommendations include:

  • The procurement leadership role should extend to those activities associated with functional excellence including staff communications, education and training, staff development, career paths, job gradings, salary scales and where appropriate workload balancing.
    Procurement leadership is more than negotiations and contracts. Good procurement is also about good people.
  • A public sector-wide Procurement Policy Handbook should be established offering a standard and well-documented approach to be utilized across all of the public sector.

    It must also cover ethics as well as procedures.
  • Each organization within the Public Sector should review its procurement organization to establish the adequacy or otherwise of the resources including skill levels dedicated to the procurement activity.

    The team must be appropriately skilled.
  • Work should be undertaken to establish how a complete, cross-public sector career path or ladder can be established which will facilitate career management and employee development and retention.
    Talent wants a career path.
  • Every public-sector organization should have a formal programme of procurement internal efficiency measurement and management.
    Improvement requires a baseline.
  • Absolute information and performance data should be exchanged and shared across the public sector in a formally co-ordinated procurement benchmarking programme.
    A little data goes a long way. Let the teams challenge each other for better performance based on the metrics.

What’s the Big Idea?

Seriously, what it is? Inquiring (not enquiring) minds want to know. Because, as far as many of us can tell, there aren’t any big ideas any more. As Neal Gabler said in the New York Times article on the elusive big idea, we live in a society that no longer thinks big. And that’s bad. Why? In many fields of technology, there have been no big ideas for decades. Sure, we see new and better devices every year and sure the iPad just came out, but, let’s face it, the iPad is a netbook with a touchscreen. A netbook is just a miniaturized laptop, and a laptop is just a miniaturized portable computer, and portable computers have been around for over 30 years. (Yes, you read that right, over thirty years, with the first portable computer manufactured in 1979.) And touch-screens have been around almost as long (with the first commercial touchscreen computer released back in 1983). Apple just took the technology to the next generation, while making sure it was easier to use than all of its competitors products. But, contrary to their marketing, there is no new “big idea” in the iPad.

The cloud? Well, I hate to burst your bubble (actually, not true, I love to burst that bubble), but the cloud is just a return to the fundamental concept of mainframe computing with dumb terminals — one big shared computer that services a whole bunch of users who are remote and don’t want, or need, to know how the big computer works. Except this time the big computer is a whole bunch of smaller computers networked together and, since the network is very big (and, in fact, global), the computers can reside anywhere. I could go on, but, even in computing theory, almost everything traces back fifteen to thirty years (or more).

I’m almost ready to agree with the author of a recent Forbes opinion article on the New York Times article that asked why did big ideas die when he said that we live in a post-idea society where people don’t think at all. With exceptions fewer and further between by the day, most people don’t think [deep] anymore.

Why is this? As Gabler says, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them.

Who’s to blame? Gabler blames the usual suspects — the web, Twitter, and everything else that, instead of facilitating a lively intellectual life, instead drowns us in information. And while some of these suspects, like Twitter, are indeed a problem, the reality is that they are a symptom and not the root cause.

The problem lies with Wall Street and VCs. They’ve convinced the business world that nothing matters beyond the current quarter and any idea that can’t be brought to market overnight isn’t worth it. We did not come further in the last 100 years than in all of human history by only focussing on products that could get to market quickly. (We have to remember that the first cross-Atlantic transmission did not occur until 1902. This transmission, and all major computational and communication advances since, did not happen in a quarter. Most of the advancements took years of research and decades to perfect.) If you’re trying to change a market — to go from a Model-T to a Jaguar — that takes years, but VCs won’t support anything that can’t be done in more than a few months. As a result all we get are small incremental improvements, with significantly diminishing returns as time goes on, as no one is investing to take the big leap forward.

And, despite claims to the contrary, we haven’t really reinvented the organization (as telecommuting and outsourcing have been common for at least a couple of decades), education, health care, or ownership. We’ve simply redefined management and, in some cases, who foots the bill. I’d like to see some fundamentally new big ideas, but these are looking more unlikely by the day.

Good Public Procurement Recommendations from the McClelland Report, Part I

It may have been written five years ago, but the recommendations from the McClelland Report, which inspired Scotland Public Procurement to new levels of efficiency and performance, are as poignant today as they were then. These recommendations include:

  • The optimum reporting line for the Head of Procurement is directly to the Chief Executive but at a minimum he or she should report to an Officer or Executive who reports to the Chief Executive. The Procurement Function should not have a less senior reporting line than this minimum.
    Procurement must have visibility at the highest level.
  • Contractual commitments on behalf of all organizations should be executed by a “Procurement Officer”. The Procurement Officer should have the sole authority to make these legal commitments on behalf of the organization.
    Large procurements must go through the Procurement function.
  • Procurement activities and transactions should be conducted by the appropriate staffed and skilled procurement function and its procurement officers. It should not be undertaken by non-procurement staff located either in central structures or employed in other (e.g. operational) sub-sections of the organization.
    Procurement must be done by procurement personnel with the skills.
  • In some cases internal business practices inadvertently facilitate the ease of unofficial buying. All organizations should review controls and practices with this in mind.
    Processes must be reviewed to insure that they do not facilitate maverick buying.
  • Where the procurement of low-value goods or services creates anomalies in administration cost versus value procured, then alternative methods such as payment on receipt should be developed and introduced within the principles of full procurement and financial controls.
    A buy that costs money is not a good buy. A buy should reduce costs.
  • A business conduct guideline document should be developed and issued for all of the Public Sector.
    Standard procurement processes should be developed, clearly documented, and distributed.

Where’s Our McClelland Report?

Given the combination of expenditure levels, complexity, vulnerability and criticality to operations, it should be expected that extremely high priority be given to procurement by the most senior levels of management and others responsible for governance within public sector undertakings.

In addition, it is obvious that those involved in the day-to-day conduct of procurement operations have an important and highly professional role to perform. The procurement function and its organisation should be regarded as one of the most important in the undertaking and its status should rank with that of other professional functions such as finance. Indeed, given its dynamism, variability and external perspective, not only should those involved have the backing of professional training and accreditation they should preferably have interpersonal skills which support their externally facing roles as the delegated legal and commercial representatives of their organisations as they place business with suppliers. Also, there is a growing requirement for knowledge of and ability to satisfy legal and other corporate and social responsibilities such as sustainability.

I believe that one of the keys to progress is the definition and pursuit of a vision of the ideal model for procurement including its optimum characteristics

Truer words, as penned by John F. McClelland in his 2006 Review of Public Procurement in Scotland (known as the McClelland Report), could not be said.

But what I can’t understand, is how these words, spoken for over a decade, by Procurement visionaries, were taken as inspirational by the Scottish people and turned into the success story recounted in the recent CPO Agenda Executive Debate. As per Cuts from the Centre,
which documents the success of the Public Procurement Reform Board ( PPRB ) in Scotland (which is centralizing Procurement in the Public Sector), which was formed in recognition of the importance of procurement by the administration in response to the McClelland Report, In the first two years of the programme, as independently reported by Audit Scotland, there was £327 million attributed to the program itself, and there were further efficiency savings, in
terms of the way we would understand efficiencies, reported through efficient government returns of about £200 million. Given that public sector spending on goods and services across Scotland amounts to about £9 Billion, that’s a saving of over 5%, which isn’t bad at all for a new program in the private sector (which is getting compliance of almost 90% without a mandate).

The public procurement world needs more success stories like this. How do we get them?

Is “Low-Cost Country” Inflation Driving Manufacturing OnShore?

There’s a lot of noise out there about how inflation may be forcing manufacturing back on-shore (to South America, Mexico, and even the Good Ol’ USA), but how much of it is noise and how much of it is (about to become) reality. Leaders want to know, and so does the Hackett Group.

As a result, the Hackett Group has just launched a new complimentary study designed to assess whether inflationary pressures are driving manufacturing out of China, India, and other low-cost countries. It is trying to answer the relevant questions, which include:

  • What impact are rapidly changing cost drivers having on manufacturers?
  • What strategies are manufacturers using to offset these costs?
  • Are manufacturers bringing production closer to customer markets?
  • What are the critical success factors for optimizing the supply chain footprint?

The study is open until September 16 (2011) and all participants will receive a free copy of the research report and an invitation to the presentation of key research findings. As always, responses from individual participants will remain completely confidential and will be used only in combination with those of other study respondents to develop a composite picture.

The study on Optimizing the Supply Chain can be found at this link.