Past experiences with procurement have not always left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, so imagine my surprise to be sat writing an article extolling the virtues of excellent strategic supply chain practice. It all started when our client asked us to make efficiencies of 18 per cent.
I met our new supply chain category manager, Steve Fozard, and instead of telling me what needed to be done he suggested we meet with
our suppliers and ask them for help. That was a good start.
When we met with suppliers, Steve went to great lengths to stress we needed them to help us identify efficiencies that could result from improving processes or innovation. This was instead of trying to get the 1 or 2 per cent saving available by attacking their margin.
However the real breakthrough came when we concluded the meeting and reflected on what we should do next. Steve suggested we host a Dragons’ Den-type event and I immediately spotted its potential. Within 48 hours we had booked a room, invited suppliers and stakeholders and produced an evaluation template. And only two weeks later we had our first six suppliers in to pitch their ideas and products to us. A further 14 Dragons’ Dens later and we have never looked back.
At the very first event we identified a solution that has helped us to transform the way we work. By building off-site we have managed to deliver significant commercial benefits, allied to improvements in safety, quality and sustainability performance. Our very first installation was to produce an off-site booster pump station in Slaidburn. We have subsequently delivered a further six second-generation booster stations, with an additional 18 to come.
As well as the more complex mechanical and electrical solutions we have identified several civil engineering-type solutions. A good example is where we have elected to use high-density polyethylene combined-sewer-overflow chamber solutions, with the option to go to a preinstalled mechanical screen at a later time should we wish. Conventional solutions would have required a large amount of concrete work on site, whereas the new solution allows for quicker install times, reduced concrete pours, improved quality and lower overall project costs. It also pleases customers because of the reduced disruption to local businesses.
Suggestions I would make to any procurement exponents seeking to influence colleagues, is to spend a lot of time listening. And do not think that you have to have all the answers. Be ready to admit you don’t know everything and seek expert advice. You may be pleasantly surprised when you ask colleagues for their help. I have yet to meet someone who is unwilling to allow others to help them achieve what they want. And I learned to stop worrying and let procurement do their job.
What procurement can offer
1. Do more listening and less talking if you want to influence your stakeholders
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or expert input, colleagues will welcome it; they don’t expect you to have all the answers
3. Understand the needs of your internal customer then work out how you can help them achieve it
4. Don’t be afraid to approach suppliers for their advice and ideas to save money on processes or make innovative improvements – better that than an attack on their margin
5. Try to come up with ideas that will please the ultimate end-customer of your business
☛ Nick Websdell is business strategy and compliance manager at Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions