A call to action: Moving procurement past its pre-pandemic mindset
A year ago, we were in the midst of an international emergency. Little did we know then that a year later we’d still be maneuvering through that same emergency. While we may not know what our world will look like a year from now, we know it won’t look the same as it did in early 2020; nor should it. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that seemingly impossible change is possible when the disruption is significant enough and the consequences are high enough.
The pandemic has been filled with hard lessons, but it has also presented procurement an opportunity to demonstrate its tremendous value. It catapulted the profession into the spotlight, while laying the groundwork for transformational change long overdue in many government operations.
Moving past our challenges and toward new opportunities
Government is slow to change. It is often burdened by politics and competing interests leading to numerous rules, regulations and practices that are not always conducive to effective and efficient business. And we continue to see many entities who are content with the status quo or who struggle to re-define procurement practices in their entities. Some may also be tempted to return to the comforts of their pre-COVID-19 procurement operations as we start to settle back in and look to the future— viewing the changes made in 2020 as necessary, but only temporary. While in some cases that may be true, there are many changes that warrant a deeper-dive analysis. The disruption of 2020 forced change and progress in areas perhaps long overdue.
The pandemic was the great equalizer, requiring all entities to quickly pivot to creative solutions, to analyze current practices and to make necessary adjustments to operations. Those grounded in public procurement best practices adjusted and adapted more rapidly than those shackled by tactically focused operations. We see many within our professional community constantly striving to improve service to the community. These professionals and entities serve as role models, encouraging others in procurement to consider the possibilities of improving their operations. In fact, we just spent the month of March celebrating procurement professionals for all their hard work and dedication during 2020. However, we must now challenge ourselves to not waste the incredible opportunity before us. We must not regress into the comfort of familiar practices and policies that no longer serve the entity or the community. We must continue our evolution, moving forward from the disruptive, unsettling change of 2020.
As we transition our operations, re-open businesses, regain freedoms and re-establish operations, we are framing what our next normal will be in 2021. Let’s appreciate the empowerment of this past year. 2020 created an environment where procurement was required to be creative and agile, as we experienced the power of collaboration and transformation.
Reflecting on the lessons learned
There have been many discussions about the impact of the pandemic on government operations and on the workforce environment, and several themes have emerged which present tremendous opportunity for public procurement to create meaningful, long-lasting change that can benefit all stakeholders. Through our collective experience comes collective opportunity. It is time for us to push the boundaries of our procurement practices. This is the time for all of us to:
- Create greater agility in the procurement function. While vital to protecting the integrity of the procurement process and the interests of the taxpaying community, as well as establishing justice for all those engaged in the procurement process, have our policies and procedures become too rigid? Are they effective or do they detract from the opportunity for increased value? Do they impair our ability to effectively meet stakeholder’s needs? If we fail to critically analyze our procurement function, sourcing methods and business operation for opportunities to be more open and collaborative, we will miss opportunities for better solutions, increased value and stronger relationships.
- Remove obstacles hindering competition. Politicians, executives, end users and even procurement can introduce obstacles into the competitive process. Excessive requirements can deter or limit the ability for small, disadvantaged businesses to compete. While procurement professionals scrambled for constrained commodities, suppliers leveraged greater control over who they chose to do business with, driving their limited supply toward entities with better business practices and fewer burdens in the sourcing process.
- Leverage technology to the greatest extent possible. Pivoting the work environment highlighted how critical technology is to our continuity of operations. We learned how difficult it can be to do our work and make decisions for our entities without the right data and technology to support operations.
- Create greater diversity in our supplier base. As businesses in our communities closed and our supplier options became scarce, we discovered that we needed greater diversity in our supplier base. As new suppliers entered the market to meet critical demands, procurement professionals found new and creative ways to work together to vet them and to create new processes to address unique challenges. As we look ahead, we must identify opportunities to remove hurdles for small businesses, precluding them from engaging with government. We must strive to have an inclusive supplier base reflective of all types of businesses in our communities.
There’s incredible strength in numbers
We have an opportunity to leverage our collective strength to advocate for opportunities introduced by the pandemic. Together, we can turn our lessons learned into meaningful change, as we shape the next generation of procurement operations. Recognizing the cracks that existed in our operations before COVID-19, procurement professionals are uniquely positioned to advocate for processes, policies and systems that best serve all our stakeholders. We must continue to advance our profession’s best practices. We must balance our aversion to risk and our focus on compliance with new ways of doing business and solving problems. And, with a unified voice, we must speak up and speak out against practices that impose value-diminishing restrictions and limit diversity and inclusion.
We need to look for ways to be more effective and efficient, not to prepare for the next emergency, but to be more effective day to day. For example, we can:
- Establish supplier engagement strategies that are mutually beneficial and that provide for greater diversity in the supplier base.
- Consider new staffing strategies that better leverage critical internal resources, by augmenting internal staff with external resources.
- Implement technology that enables greater efficiency, securing critical data for decision making and streamlines processes impacting resources.
Our opportunities are endless, so we must be diligent in tearing down silos and removing roadblocks in government entities that stifle creativity and that limit procurement’s ability to be agile and collaborative. We must continue to leverage the power of our profession to support entities in their pursuit of change and developing environments that promote—and prefer—better ways of doing business. We are more empowered than ever to improve our level of service to our end users, to uplift our supplier community, to support the goals of our leaders, and to exceed constituents’ expectations of “what is possible” in government. Let us not regress back to life a year ago, but instead envision, create and celebrate an even better procurement profession in the years ahead.
Marcheta Gillespie, FNIGP, CPPO, NIGP-CPP, C.P.M., CPPB, CPM, is president of NIGP Code & Consulting, procurement trainer/instructor for Periscope Holdings.