Consortiums, better known as Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs), will be one of your biggest organizational conundrums of the year. Regardless of whether your organization is currently using a GPO or not, this will be the year that you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them.
Backing up, a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) is an entity that is created to leverage the purchasing power of a group of businesses to obtain price reductions from vendors based on the collective buying power of the GPO members. The idea is that the GPO is able to leverage economies of scale, in the form of more volume and more efficiencies, then the members can individually achieve on their own.
For example, a supplier might offer price reductions at 1,000 units, 10,000 units, and 100,000 units and offer 2%, 3%, and 6% discounts at each price level. On its own, an organization that only buys 20,000 units would only be able to obtain the 3% discount but if it banded with five other organizations that required a similar amount of units, each organization could obtain the 6% discount. In addition, if only one contract needed to be negotiated and cut, each organization could reduce the amount of negotiation and administration overhead required to negotiate the contract and save even more.
From this perspective, given the rapidly rising costs and the increasing difficulty in negotiating discounts, GPOs look like a dream come true and a way to cut costs across the board.
But this comes at a costs. First of all, the GPO has to be funded — so, either the organization has to pay a fixed membership cost every year or a percentage of each transaction. Secondly, the GPO has to be managed just like every business processing outsourcing (BPO) provider. This isn’t always easy because not only does the organization have to manage the relationship and insure that the GPO is working on categories that are important to the organization, but it has to make sure that the GPO is taking the organization’s needs into account.
And now we get to the double edged sword. The best deals materialize when the combined volume allows a supplier to hit peak production (which allows them to produce the product at the lowest possible cost) and offer their customers the lowest possible cost. However, getting to peak production often requires combining the needs of a dozen or so different organizations, each of which has its own viewpoints and goals for each category. In other words, while you might prefer Supplier A’s products, because your Engineering department feels that they are of superior quality, the other GPO participants might prefer Supplier X — the least favoured supplier of your organization.
And this is why GPOs are quickly going to become the “you can’t live with them” (because you will always be fighting your coopetition to get your needs addressed first) but “you can’t live without them” (because, with costs skyrocketing, you won’t find any savings in your low-volume or indirect categories without them).
There’s a reason we call them “consortiums”, and that’s because “consortium” is derived from the word “consort” which is the action of habitually associating with someone or something that is done with the disapproval of others. And consortiums breed disapproval. But this is the year of damnation, so jump right in. You will regret it. But what choice do you have?