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Beware the buyer on the run

14 March 2012

I spent several pleasant hours in the company of Noel Clancy earlier this week. Noel is CEO of Shepherd FM and is one of a breed who cares passionately about training his employees to do a job well, and this was the general topic that formed the basis of our conversation.

However, among the many tangents that the conversation disappeared down was the role of procurement and the common perception that buyers don't value quality service. This is a fashionable topic, ‘procurement’ now being the perceived industry villain who can be blamed for all ills.

Procurement has become an easy target. In many cases it has become a lazy excuse for poor service. The truth is that procurement professionals are only working in the best interests of their employers. It was pointed out at a recent conference I was at that if procurement doesn’t understand the services, or the way that they are being measured, then that at least in part is the fault of the service providers who are not supplying the right information.

Noel Clancy clearly believes that the role of procurement is often to seek best price in the short term, and not necessarily long-term value. This will adversely effect the quality of service provided and also the clients core output. There is a small, but growing, segment of the procurement world that is inhabited by transient consultants. Buyers are often in a very difficult space. Buy cheap and they can become the fall guys - think long term and they won't always be around to see the merits of their forward thinking, claims Clancy. He goes on, the quality of the resulting service, which you could view as the consequences of 'shorting', are sometimes of no concern to the procurement consultant as his behaviour is being driven a different way from above. Why can't procurement teams bonuses be index linked to output? Silo procurement is the worst offender where buyers do the deal and run.

Clancy used the following example to demonstrate this – ‘How to negotiate with a dentist’. For all that this clip was undoubtedly created as no more than a joke and not as a management training tool, it does make the point pretty well if used in a FM context.

Before I get complaints from procurement consultants, my opinion is not that they are all bad. It is that if all parties are to benefit from the arrangement then it is far more likely to happen if ‘Procurement’ has some responsibility for the outcomes.

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