5 Trends Higher Education Procurement Officers Need to Succeed Today
JAGGAER InsideSpend Thought Leadership Series
In this series, we profile leaders in the procurement industry. We hope their insights and experiences inspire you to achieve greatness in procurement.
A conversation with Paul Harris and Ian Robbins of E&I Consulting Group
JAGGAER recently chatted with Paul Harris and Ian Robbins of E&I Consulting Group at its REV2018 Conference about the procurement challenges and trends facing higher education. These two definitely know a thing or two about the subject—having spent much of their career as procurement leaders in the industry.
Paul and Ian identified five critical areas of focus for procurement leaders, if they are to thrive and grow:
- Technology optimization;
- Talent management;
- Value generation;
- Data Analytics; and
- Customer engagement.
Challenges Facing Procurement Today
Q: What unique challenges do procurement officers in higher education face?
First of all, higher education is a very decentralized environment with a stakeholder base comprised of academics and researchers. Each have their own needs and are primarily focused on how they can best meet their individual needs. Academic institutions also are often behind the technology curve and are slow to buy in to automated processes especially if they don’t see a direct benefit from them. This poses a very big challenge to procurement because your goal is to ensure stakeholders are purchasing in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Q: So, how do you get around these challenges?
The most important thing to do is to get buy-in from your stakeholders. The best thing to do is make them part of the process by listening to their needs and understanding what they really need; and then guide them in a manner that is beneficial to them individually and in the best interest for the institution as a whole.
Whether that be new technology, additional or fewer staff—it’s important that processes make sense to stakeholders. When you set them up for success and truly meet their needs, you will get buy-in for new processes and technology.
Q: What does technology optimization mean to procurement in higher education?
It means, “Are stakeholders using technology today in the most effective way within the institution?” If you’re still invoicing manually, you’re way behind the times. There is technology available to you to create efficiencies to free up staff whose time could be spent on more strategic tasks. Whether it’s leveraging an eProcurement catalog environment, electronic sourcing, contract management or total supply management—there are technologies available to automate many of these functions.
Q: What if an institution is starting at ground zero with respect to technology optimization?
It’s important to create a long-term strategy—analyze where that institution is today as it relates to technology, determine where they want to be, and then create a clear road map on how to get there.
Spend Analytics is a great place to start. This allows you to see immediately where spend is going and who your suppliers are. Spend Analytics can kick out instantaneous savings—once you have eyes on the data, you can take actionable steps to create impact.
During this entire process, change management is critical. There is a fear of change among higher education. So the best approach is crawl, then walk, then run.
Q: What responsibility does the centralized procurement organization bear as it relates to the introduction of technology?
The procurement department cannot merely introduce new technology and expect stakeholders to adopt and use it for the benefit of the organization as a whole. The fact of the matter is, much of the technology procured by institutions sit on the shelf, mainly out of fear—fear that they bought the wrong technology or fear that researchers are not going to agree to the technology.
2. Talent Management
Q: How does talent management play into the procurement organization?
People are your most precious commodity. You have to look at how you manage your staff, growth plans, and succession strategy. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure staff are taking the steps to grow within their profession, getting the education and certifications they need to succeed.
Q: Tell me about value generation within procurement?
Procurement is not just about saving the institution money—it’s also about the efficiencies and quality improvements you’re creating. Ask yourself: are you setting up the institution for success? Today, procurement has the opportunity to generate real revenue for the organization through contract management. Procurement leaders need to get educated and creative on how to do that.
Q: How can procurement leaders leverage data analytics more strategically within their department?
Many institutions today are using the same supplier for the same products, but they are being charged multiple rates. Nobody is minding the store, so to speak. Having the tools to analyze product categories and knowing where money is being spent from a supplier base is critical.
Utilizing technology to collect and analyze this data opens up tremendous opportunities. Often 70% of the spend is relegated to the top 200 suppliers. With Spend Analytics, you have visibility into this data in order to take action.
Again, engaging stakeholders is key—you can’t leverage Spend Analytics successfully without it. When you involve them in the conversation and make them part of the process, it’s much easier to implement.
Q: If you were a procurement director at a college and wanted to move down the path of technology, what is the first thing you do?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Assistance may come from an industry conference, like JAGGAER’s REV event, the National Association of Procurement conference, or simply calling a peer who has some experience implementing technology and asking for their advice. Higher education is one big family. It’s easy to call on a sister school and learn from what they’ve done to be successful. This shortens the learning curve.
Paul Harris is a Senior Consultant at E&I Consulting Group.
In this role, he brings more than 30 years of demonstrated success in the areas of process improvement, contract management, policy and procedure review, procure-to-pay implementation, and the management of organizational change.
Ian Robbins is a Senior Consultant at E&I Consulting Group.
Having completed 14 years of service in the United States Army, Ian has since served as the Director of Procurement Services at the University of Montana and Chief Procurement Officer at Florida State University.