Putting the CURE back in Procurement

As procurement professionals, we have a unique perspective on how things work in an organization. Not how we expect them to work, not how they have been processes mapped or documented, but what actually takes place on a daily basis.

This is especially true in organizations with a procure-to-pay or source-to-settle solution in place. Each time procurement is engaged to manage a category of spend, we work with historical spend, read the expiring contract, meet with incumbent supplier(s) and interview prospective new suppliers. We meet with requisitioners, buyers, inventory managers and accounts payable. During this extensive process, we are bound to uncover examples of inefficient processes, poor communication and even troublesome people.

While these discoveries will not always lead to more savings or increased spend under management, they do provide us with an opportunity to improve the operational health of the enterprise and protect it against risk.

In that spirit, it is time to put the ‘cure’ back in procurement.

Any time we take a non-ideal situation and make it better, we certainly create value, but we also form bonds of trust with others. Helping internal stakeholders see procurement as problem solvers rather than penny pinchers or helping suppliers see us as a conduit for solutions rather than a barrier to – well, everything – increases our clout more than any additional percentage of savings ever could.

There is another reason why we should make an effort to cure the ills we discover: consider it the procurement ‘Hippocratic oath.’ The Hippocratic oath has its roots in ancient Greek medical texts and contains guiding principles for doctors and others in the medical profession that are still held as ideals today. One of the ethical guidelines contained in the modern version of the oath is “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.”[i]

Luckily for us, both procurement and spend are more cyclical and enduring than human life. As a result, today’s cure IS tomorrow’s preventative medicine. Just as we would consider it unethical for a doctor to disregard a symptom because it isn’t related to his or her area of practice, I doubt the C-suite would have much patience for a procurement team that did not attempt to improve a problem because it had no possibility of contributing to their performance metrics.

At a detailed level, procurement is tasked with managing enterprise spend. But the reason we are given that opportunity is because the leadership team understands the connection between spend management and operational health. Increasing operational health is a better way to think of our role. Any malady that procurement uncovers in the process of our other responsibilities should be taken as seriously as if it were our direct task, providing any cure we are able to apply.

[i] “Hippocratic Oath,” Wikipedia, Accessed April 22, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocratic_Oath.

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