Thought for the day:Spanners in the procurement works

Outsourcing and communications expert Martyn Hart looks at a hot issue of the day.I've been speaking at a few conferences about...

Outsourcing and communications expert Martyn Hart looks at a hot issue of the day.I've been speaking at a few conferences about programme management in government and at one I came across an old colleague, Steve - quite a surprise, as I haven't seen him for seven years. But more surprising was that procurement had become his big bugbear.

Over a few pints of Guinness he revealed all. It seems his major IT programme had been totally ruined by his procurement group.

"I had a great solution, to be delivered on time, to my budget, which the users actually agreed on the benefits. But 'they' made me go out to full tender, and soon we had used all the time up and a company I'd never heard of won the contract because they were ridiculously cheap," he complained.

"However, they haven't delivered everything that the users wanted, so the pilot is months late, doesn't work and I've run out of budget!

"Now procurement are not interested, and what really upsets me [and he used more succinct words] is that in their report to department heads they counted this project as proof of their successes because of the money they saved!"

From what Steve is saying, it seems that it's quite difficult to get procurement departments that are self-standing to actually have an investment in the project that's being procured. Is this peculiar to government? I don't think so.

It's like the old central personnel departments, which drafted unsuitable people into units because of their own criteria rather than those of the operating units.

I actually worked in one of these companies and it seemed as if personnel ran it rather than management. These days, the personnel department tends to be a line management function, even outsourced in many companies, so could this be a future for procurement?

Other criticisms are that because separate procurement units don't understand what is being procured they can't make realistic decisions. For example, potential suppliers may be dropped because they can't accept certain legal parts of the invitation to tender (ITT), which are only parts of the procurement boilerplate and are not relevant to the project or only make things much more complicated.

So what's the answer? Fortunately, a great procurement unit supported me when I was in government, but we were on the same team. But if it's remote, what can you do? Involve them early I'd say, but stick out for what you think is important not what they say. Unfortunately government politics may dictate all and it might not be so easy.

And Steve? Well he seems to have accepted that this is how things work. Maybe he only wanted someone to talk to. But is he alone?

What are your procurement nightmares? >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if you answer is not for publication.

Martyn Hart is chairman of the National Outsourcing Association and practice director at Mantix, a consultancy that delivers value from complex programmes.

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