Posted by  Paul Cook  Published on  10 Sep 2014
  • Procurement Strategy

A misconception that procurement seems to be perpetually fighting against, is this notion of procurement as geeks; obsessed with details and unconscious to the bigger picture.

However, most ambitious supply-facing executives are seeking to recruit and develop savvy individuals with the capacity to have a cross-functional influence; the wit of sales and the clinical focus of finance.

Why? Because they need individuals who can make their case to the business, so this is the accepted wisdom. But maybe it’s too narrow, too image-obsessed. What it took to be star of procurement 20, 10, even five years ago isn't the same as today - should we instead be looking for different, more data-oriented, skillsets in different places?

One role we’ve seen crop up at some corporates is the procurement marketer - a person dedicated to communicating what procurement does internally, and occasionally externally. Why then wouldn’t there be room for talent in the organization to focus on showing the argument for procurement using facts and data?

In fact, its interesting, given the consistent reference to the ‘soft skills’ that procurement doesn’t have, that there’s willingness to invest in developing those, yet the a cursory glance of US and UK job boards shows that supply-focused data analysts in corporates are both relatively rare, often commodity focused and not exactly senior.

All of which makes sense on one level, though when you consider the resources spent on leveraging software platforms and consultants hired to help formulate strategy, maybe the trust that this type of skillset could offer real value hasn’t been earned yet.

Perhaps we need to come at it from the CFO or the COO perspective: procurement teams might be making a case for greater control of a particular area of spend, or pointing to supplier risks created by extending payment terms, but without substance to the claim, their counterparts will feel less inclined to believe them. They want stats they can understand - not talk of invoice cycle time or RFPs.

Category teams do analysis every day and they can be very effective at it, but dedicated resources would point towards an engagement with wider data sets, greater capability to build a function-wide data strategy and look at more effective ways of capturing internal and supply chain data, and a way of getting more out of the available technology and processes like scorecarding.

Ultimately, these individuals could bring a skillset that’s external to procurement and use it to enhance category teams’ abilities.

Of course, it’s all well and good to talk about hiring very specific skillsets and there’s no question that procurement still has ground to make up on other functions in terms of attracting top talent. But when it comes to offering a unique challenge and an opportunity to influence decision making, there are favourable aspects. Especially when you consider the number of bright, analytical minds wasted in organizations that would be able to turn their expertise to interpreting the data that procurement has access to – there’s a lot of potential if businesses can get creative with their hiring.

The need for soft skills is clearly part of many functions’ growth plans, but let’s not forget hard skills: the temptation is to look for technology to provide the answers when it comes to data, but there’s an awful lot of potential for teams willing to invest in this skillset.