Bringing ProcureCon Canada to life
We caught up with Alex Chard and Frank Musero from Worldwide Business Research (WBR), a business events firm which organizes ProcureCon Canada, to find out what goes into an event of this scale.
What is the aim of ProcureCon Canada?
Frank Musero: We’re aiming to bring together leading practitioners and senior level procurement professionals from Canada’s largest companies for two days of learning, networking and strategy sharing.
Alex Chard: It’s a one-stop shop for procurement professionals across the Canadian market. The idea is not only to bring peers together to address the challenges they face day in, day out, but also to provide them a forum where they can air their grievances, and share different ideas, best practices and lessons learned.”
What was the key focus in organizing this event?
Alex Chard: First things first, make it Canadian-driven and Canadian-led. The idea is to really engage the Canadian market and the people doing the work on the ground. All of the major companies that are based here in Canada, whether Canadian companies or multinationals that work here, as long as we’re bringing those players in, we can really find success.
What challenges were involved?
Frank Musero: The biggest challenge is trying to figure out the topics that are more important to the practitioners, because when we build an event, we build it eight months before the event starts, so we need to plan to make sure that the topics will be relevant eight months in the future and not just when we're doing our research.
Alex Chard: For me, the biggest challenge was probably identifying the right players here in Canada. Oftentimes, individuals can be a little siloed within their industries or markets, or even their geographies. So really trying to engage them and bring them in was probably the biggest challenge – but that wasn’t a big hurdle to jump over. There’s quite a bit of recognition for ProcureCon here in Canada which really helped.
Why was it important to get the right speakers on board?
Frank Musero: This is the one time of year that all of these practitioners can be in the same room together and learn from leading minds. It is good to have a variety of industries here because these people don't interact with each other on a daily basis – some are competitors, some are in industries that may not interact day to day. Having that variety of companies allows them to share and exchange ideas.
What have been some hot topics at this year’s event?
Alex Chard: One is talent: that seems to be a big issue, especially when it comes to succession planning and ensuring you have continuity. Often, with new employees taking on roles and the old guard starting to retire, you lose a lot of that knowledge base that perhaps hasn’t been digitized, for example, or isn’t in a format that is readily available to new employees.
Another key topic is change management: really driving that internally and ensuring that you have buy-in at all levels of the organization in order to ensure that you’re making headway.
One of the biggest challenges that we have seen has been about supplier diversity. We had two conversations about that at this event: companies are trying to build out supplier diversity programs where previously they may not have considered that as an important aspect in their supply chain.
How has the event grown since it started?
Frank Musero: This is the sixth year we’ve done ProcureCon Canada and we have doubled the attendance from when we started – it has grown leaps and bounds as more people know about us.
Alex Chard: One of the big things we’ve noticed is not only the breadth of the audience, but breadth in terms of industries represented: we’re seeing more heavy industry, mining, oil and gas as well as a broader geographic spread across Canada.
Does this reflect the increasing importance of procurement?
Frank Musero: One of our speakers said that procurement has changed more in the past five years than the last 100, and it’s totally true. Some of the sessions we hold today weren’t even a concept five years ago when we started this event. Procurement has moved from a tactical purchasing operation to really being a strategic part of the organization.
Why attend ProcureCon Canada?
Frank Musero: Across the 10 events in our portfolio, ProcureCon is one of the only events that is peer-led. You’re hearing from other practitioners that have shared the same problems you have, and they’re on stage talking about those problems and how they’ve solved them. You can then come back with a nugget of good advice which you can implement back in the office.
How can attendees make the most of ProcureCon?
Alex Chard: Engage. Be engaged. Participate. If you are sharing ideas and asking panelists questions, you’ll walk away with a ton more information that you would otherwise. Being a wallflower at these events does not serve you at all. Learn from your peers and make some friends. You can call them up when you go home and really try to understand how they can help you out. It’s about building a community at the end of the day.
Frank Musero: Our mobile app has the most up-to-date agenda and lists all speakers and attendees who you can message. The best way to take advantage of that is onsite: build your custom agenda, look at who is here… take advantage of everything in that app because that will help you customize your experience and make the most of the event.
ProcureCon Canada is definitely going to be bigger next year.
Will Public Procurement Budgets Increase in 2021?
Procurement is more than just a private enterprise. COVID-19 reminded us that sourcing materials is an essential part of the government’s role. Throughout 2022, tiny departments sourced massive amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical supplies, and emergency vaccines and testing kits. Even non-procurement professionals were pulled into the fray, as frantic timelines demanded nothing less.
According to Celeste Frye, co-founder and CEO of Public Works Partners, the crisis brought procurement to the attention of skilled employees who had never considered it. As non-procurement personnel stepped up to help their coworkers, many found that they’d stumbled upon a critical and rewarding job. “Existing public employees have seen the essential nature of the work”, Frye said. “[They’ve] gained some critical skills and possibly [grown] interested in pursuing procurement as a longer-term career”.
Small, Local Suppliers Take Charge
Frye, whose firm helps organisations engage stakeholders and develop long-term procurement strategies, thinks it well worth the effort to open one’s mind to new opportunities. Cooperative contracts, for instance, can help public departments and municipalities save money, time, and effort. By joining together with other towns or cities in the region, public procurement teams aggregate their purchasing power and can drive better deals.
These cooperative contracts have the added benefit of advancing equity. Smaller suppliers that struggle to compete with established firms for government contracts can act as subcontractors, helping big suppliers fulfil bits of the project. Once they get their foot in the door, small, local, and disadvantaged suppliers can then leverage that government relationship to take on additional projects.
Especially as governments start to pay attention to procurement resilience, public procurement departments must expand their requests for proposals (RFPs) to take into account innovative solutions and diverse suppliers. According to Frye, Public Works Partners—a certified female-owned firm—has benefitted from local and state requirements that specify diversity.
Post-Pandemic Funding Swells Procurement Budgets
And the pandemic won’t be the end of it. City governments need to build sustainable energy infrastructure such as solar panels, charging stations, and recycling plants, ensure that masks and medicines are never in short supply, and source new technologies to keep up with cloud and cybersecurity concerns.
Public procurement budgets will likely increase to match demand. As Peter Ware, Partner and Head of Government at Browne Jacobson, explained, “in a non-pandemic world, the [U.K.] government spends on average around £290 billion on outsourced services, goods, and works...anywhere between 10% and 14% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Post-pandemic, city procurement will only increase as national governments provide local divisions with emergency funding.
And in truth, government employees might jump at the opportunity. Frye noted that public procurement could give immediate feedback on new programmes: “[Procurement] is where new laws and policies ‘hit the road’ and are implemented”, she said. “Professionals in these fields get the satisfaction of creating real change and seeing quantifiable outcomes of their work”.