Wednesday 29 October 2014

Let me Google that for you; do you really know what you’re buying?

By Scott Farrance

In an industry now underpinned by the Internet, itself an unstoppable and unavoidable force of human engineering (thanks Sir Tim Berners-Lee) it has become very easy to find out almost anything.  However, this ‘world at your fingertips’ working style which has been created has some drawbacks.

In days gone by, without Google, Wikipedia or (please note other search engines, unreliable encyclopedias and online directories are available) Buyers and Category Managers had to really know their commodities. Without a search engine, how did new people actually find anything out? A new Procurement Professional couldn't simply arrive half way up the company ladder, what did they know about buying drugs for the NHS or Piling Works to install overhead lines on the West Coast Mainline? They couldn't just Google GlaxoSmithKline and find out what they stock, and what is readily available, you had to learn your commodity along with the procurement process.

Peter Smith of Spend Matters mentioned in a Real World Sourcing Series presentation that career progression is not as linear as it used to be. In the past, you would start out as an admin/procurement assistant, learning not only best practice but also about the commodity you were buying, and work your way up the food chain. By the time you reached Category Manager, you had years of experience buying the goods, you knew your Supply Chain, you knew how much goods should cost, fabrication and delivery times, and what to expect in terms of Supplier Performance.

The rise of the internet and people who profess to be ‘experts in everything’ has contributed to the change in the way Procurement Professionals learn and progress. A few clicks on your internal drive, and you have Contracts and Supplier Management records at your fingertips. One click on a recognisable browser shortcut and you can find almost anything you need to about your Suppliers; contact details, depot locations, staffing numbers, audited accounts, stock market news if they’re big enough. You can get all of this without talking to an in-the-know colleague or the Supplier. That’s a powerful tool you’ve got there.

The flip side to this (of course there’s a negative) is that you will find people who don’t actually know that much (anyone can use Google, come on!) in positions of power and authority. They could find themselves with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of sign off and the ability to agree contracts with little or no prior experience in the industry or sector. Would you be happy hiring or working with someone like this? There will be those of a highly analytical mindset who can digest all records of spend, performance and industry details to make an informed decision going forward, but there are those who your Suppliers will spot a mile off, and also the opportunity to make a quick buck. No matter how clever you've made yourself seem, when it comes to sitting round that negotiating table, you’ll be rumbled by Suppliers desperate to make as much money as possible in what are still hard times.

So, we can agree that the internet is a great tool, but one which must be used carefully and proportionately.  Our Marketing Manager Sarah Clarke, referenced this is an earlier blog and I’m sure most of you will agree that it makes a great addition to your daily working process. But relying on it to educate yourself in both how to do your job and what you should expect is a trap door I’m sure many people have fallen through and will continue to do. And it asks the question; even in the 21st Century with all these tools at your disposal, is there really any substitute for experience?

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