Reflections on Strategic Procurement at Unimarket Annual User Conference

Last month, I was honored to deliver the keynote address on change management and decision making to the Unimarket Fourth Annual User Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a wonderful event, well-orchestrated and efficient — I’d expect nothing less from procurement professionals.

That, as it turns out, is an important statement: I expect nothing less than efficiency from procurement professionals. It is the set of basic skills in procurement that we have come to see as the norm. Of course the event was well planned. Of course it came in under budget. Of course it was staffed appropriately. Anything short of these things would, by definition, equate to an unprofessional execution of a core competency.

The case that Unimarket carries forward through the procurement industry is one I think is worth reflection: From buyers to strategic sourcing to finance, there is no department better positioned for reducing costs quickly than procurement.

Why, then, is it so rare to see procurement rise beyond a tactical role, to a strategic one? Because procurement needs to tell a better story.

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of institutional strategy. If you’re in procurement, do you understand the connection between your tactical role and the broader operation of the academic and business model at your institution? Strategic procurement officers do.
  2. Cultivate a culture of influencing up. If you’re in procurement, do you understand how to genuinely support each department through your unique skills, and demonstrate that support to senior leadership? Strategic procurement officers do.
  3. Deliver insight that hides between tactics and strategy. If you’re in procurement, have you developed the threshold skill of connecting tactics to the strategic plan, delivering key hidden insights to senior leadership in a way that affects change? Strategic procurement officers have.

This is a great group of people, well-positioned to deliver substantial change to their institutions. Unimarket is in an interesting role, both as a vendor to this critical group, and as an advocate for better, smarter procurement. They’re uniquely positioned to help procurement officers in this march to craft procurement as a strategic role.

Next year, let’s keep things simple and hold the conference on Unimarket’s home turf: New Zealand. … Oh, yes: I’m available!

— Howard 


Photo: Daniel Perry — Unimarket