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Procurement v operations: The road to peace

Words: Mert Erkan
Most procurement professionals will readily admit that the challenges they face getting buy-in from operations executives are wide and far-reaching.

In the firefighting world of operations, whether it’s IT, facilities management or logistics, procurement is often seen as an unnecessary bureaucracy and a non-value add function that only serves to create barriers and slow processes down.

So what steps can procurement take to convince operations of the potential value they can bring to the team and the wider organisation?

1. Walk in their shoes

One of the most important steps the procurement team can take is to arrange site visits and spend more time with the operations teams. Immersing yourself in their work is crucial to understand their critical requirements, the daily challenges they face and to assess the performance of existing suppliers. Speaking the same language will enhance communication and enable you to learn from them, as they are likely to have significant knowledge on issues such as the impact of lead times on speed to market or previous learnings from past supplier transitions. 

Daily firefighting means it’s not unusual for operations executives to lose sight of the overall commercial impact of the current supplier set-up. This can be used as an opportunity to bring together bottom-up strategic commercial analysis.

2. Know the market better than your colleagues

Make sure you know suppliers, their capabilities and emerging new trends better than the operations teams. This will put you in a unique position – anything less is likely to lose you credibility. Having gathered knowledge of the challenges faced by the operations teams, probe incumbent and prospective suppliers on how to overcome these issues, innovate, and deliver continuous quality and cost improvements. If your operations executives insist that only one supplier can do the job, facilitate meetings with other potential suppliers who might also be able to fulfil your requirements to encourage a broader and effective view of the supply chain.  

3. Shine a light on your commercial capability

Daily firefighting means it’s not unusual for operations executives to lose sight of the overall commercial impact of the current supplier set-up. In such cases, use it as an opportunity to bring together bottom-up strategic commercial analysis as part of your continuous supplier relationship management process – identify opportunities, support them with benchmarks and highlight these to the operations teams so that incumbent and prospective suppliers can be assessed on capability, as well as risks and commercials. Analytics can put you in a valuable position so, if necessary, use technology to help you with complex analytical exercises. This rounded approach is the only way to ensure positive feedback from decision-makers.

Make sure you know suppliers, their capabilities and emerging new trends better than the operations teams.

In addition, leverage your commercial understanding during supplier meetings and negotiations. The art of negotiation is procurement’s strength and the people around you may not have the same skillset as you in this area.

4. Work together as one team for the same goals

Finally, be flexible and continually remind your operations colleagues, through words and actions that you are there to support them and help them achieve their objectives. Don’t give up on this.

If you follow the above steps then it’s very likely that you will soon be seen as a valued member of the team – assuming you’re not already there.

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