Three challenges for public sector procurement professionals

By Ian Nethercott, MCIPS, Supply Chain Director, Probrand
For public sector procurement professionals, who are always under pressure to deliver both efficiency and value, buying IT comes with its challenges. D...

For public sector procurement professionals, who are always under pressure to deliver both efficiency and value, buying IT comes with its challenges. 

Digital marketplaces have emerged as one solution to help streamline purchasing and overcome barriers such as prescriptive procurement protocols, disjointed systems and a lack of visibility. But not all of these marketplaces and platforms are created equal – or abide by the same rules. 

In a process-driven world, how can buyers ensure they’re procuring the right product at the best price – all while complying with the expected level of governance?

  1. Disjointed systems (and pesky protocols)

Public sector healthcare organisations, for example, often have their own in-house procurement systems – designed to provide a clear path to purchase. This may sound helpful but in practice it can be extremely limiting, especially when it comes to enabling a comprehensive search of products and prices. 

Failure to find the right product is hugely frustrating and will ultimately push buyers to other paths. Some buyers will settle for the next best thing (which may not have the right functionality for the task) or pay over the odds for something that does far more than they need. If neither of these is an option, buyers are forced to go off-piste and seek out alternative non-specialist platforms, which means they almost certainly won’t get the right product. For example, a hospital buyer might purchase a TV instead of a large format digital display, or a regular keyboard instead of the one with an anti-microbial finish. 

Integrating and configuring multiple systems can help. Crucially, this doesn’t mean getting rid of what’s already in place, but adding to it. The ability to integrate ERP and procurement systems, for example, means that buyers automatically get increased choice, specialist support when needed and can avoid duplicated efforts. Additionally, governance protocols can be automated, providing procurement with a digital audit trail for all company purchases. This gives procurement professionals the reassurances they need, while allowing buyers to operate freely within a safe environment, where all activity is tracked.

  1. The pain of manual systems 

We’re all guilty of sticking with what we know, but legacy and manual systems still create one of the biggest obstacles in the path of buyers. 

Take signing off a purchase order as an example. This should be straightforward but too often it can take up to two weeks or longer because of inefficiencies, frequently coupled with a complicated sign-off process. 

Organisations may have a ‘delegation of authority’ in place which gives certain personnel different levels of spending power. For example, if you’re spending £5k or under, X person will be able to sign it off whereas, if it’s more significant, you may need someone more senior to approve the purchase.  

Where this is a manual process, procurement need to hunt down the right person to get a physical signature. Trying to do this in a large and busy hospital environment can lead to delays and even  more serious consequences for departments waiting on a vital piece of technology.

Automating these processes means the approval-giver can sign off on a purchase in a matter of seconds – whether via a digital signature or a similar one-button system which gives the green light. 

Not only does this remove the paper trail and save time, it enables more flexibility. If one person is absent or goes on holiday, they can grant sign-off privileges to a colleague, via the system. Meanwhile, the buyer will be informed that the purchase is being approved by someone else. 

  1. Lack of visibility 

Finally, framework agreements – which allow buyers to order from multiple suppliers without having to go through the full tender process – can be extremely complex, especially when it comes to pricing. Take the Crown Commercial Service as an example. While it will have a list of approved suppliers broken down into different lots, it doesn’t have framework pricing in place. This can result in added layers of confusion, especially if buyers end up not having access to the right information and so don’t know what they’re eligible for. A pre-approved platform or marketplace removes this hurdle and allows buyers to order anything they need instantly, without fuss.  

Procurement professionals will always need to stay on top of new and emerging technologies, and there are certainly many coming their way. Tailored purchasing platforms are becoming an increasingly popular solution. Not only do they provide safeguards at an incredibly granular level, they also positively impact people and processes to save organisations time and money. 

For more information on procurement, supply chain and logistics topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Supply Chain Digital magazine.

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