Procurement should focus on relationship management to add value to organisations, rather than purely buying.
Nikki Rowbottom, head of supply chain management at the British Library, said there had been a focus on procurement rather than contract management within the public sector over the last decade.
She said: “You have to buy stuff to make your business work but you don’t necessarily have to manage the contract. The majority of contracts tend to muddle along OK but when things go wrong, it’s just horrendous.
“Organisations don’t tend to invest in the life cycle of a contract. They invest in the procurement and once you’ve got a supplier in place, they’re expected to get on and not cause any problems.”
Prior to joining the library in 2016, Rowbottom had spent time at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, where she explored how supplier relationships could be managed more effectively.
“Procurement has generally improved because there’s been so much focus on it but there hasn’t been as much emphasis on contract management. I think contract management is actually more important than the procurement itself.
“Once a contract is in place, if you let it run and forget all about it, it’s going to go to hell in a handcart. You can’t run it properly or manage that supplier if you’re not spending time and investing in it.”
When Rowbottom joined the British Library as head of procurement, the buying team had secured major contracts with large suppliers but it wasn’t leveraging those relationships. Over the last three years, she has worked with the team to develop relationships with key suppliers through a contract management system, while regularly meeting with customers to gauge their needs. The move culminated with rebranding to the British Library’s ‘supply chain management’ team in August 2019.
“I don’t like the term procurement, because it’s too flat. It doesn’t reflect the full remit of what a modern procurement officer or buyer does, or what that role is. For me, procurement and contract management is all about relationship management. We rebranded from procurement to supply chain management to reflect the breadth of what we do now.
“Changing the name reflects the need to manage contracts better but we’re also building better relationships with our suppliers, with our projects and our portfolios, before they need procurement support. It means we’re involved early and understand what they’re trying to achieve and how they’re trying to achieve it.”
Rowbottom added public sector buying is mandated in terms of processes, but the skill comes from “building the relationship and making sure you can draw out what the customers actually need, rather than what they want”.
“It also means leveraging emotional intelligence with your suppliers and the wider supply chain to make sure that they can deliver what you want,” Rowbottom said.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re not just seen as the team that buys stuff. We want to be seen as a team adds value that you come to because we can do something to help.”
☛ Rowbottom will be discussing how to integrate social value and CSR into contracts at the CIPS UK Conference 2019 in London on 31 October-1 November.
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