Other side of the coin | AUA Blog

Paul Revell
Head of Procurement
York St. John University

Seeing the other side of the coin

Though I’ve been a procurement professional for more years than I sometimes care to remember, it is only relatively recently that I have found myself with responsibility for procurement within Higher Education.  My background has been a mixture of public and private sector work and it has been my intention to take the best of that knowledge and apply it to my university role.

Procurement professionals in any environment can find themselves unfairly labelled as being the traffic wardens of Finance.  Everybody recognises that they’re there to enforce the rules but in all honesty, they might rather sidestep them if they could.  I have some sympathy for my counterparts, who are characterised as such, but there rests upon them a responsibility to inform their colleagues what good procurement is for and what it can do for them.

Get the basics right

The fundamentals of procurement are ensuring that the right amount of the right things are bought in a timely fashion, at the best price possible and end up precisely where they are needed.  To make those kinds of assessments, you’ll need to have a really good impression of what is happening now on campus and what is happening soon.

Hiding behind a well drafted procurement policy will only get you so far.  This is especially true if that policy is a document tucked away in a small corner of a subsection of your intranet site.  Having a coherent procurement strategy is a step forward, but again if you’re not getting out from behind your pulpit/desk to preach the good word – then the message will fall on deaf ears.

So what is procurement for?

If the procurement function in your university exists to act as a brake when somebody tries to purchase too much stationery, then it suffers from a lack of imagination and a lack of engagement with the wider institution.  It still surprises me when I encounter buyers and procurement managers who are not actively involved in shaping and defining the strategic direction of their universities.  To get an invite to the upper end of the top table will require tenacity, self-promotion and some well-honed soft skills.  Mere technical proficiency alone is not enough.

Negotiation: Not just with suppliers when you’re chasing down deals, but with colleagues when you’re bargaining with them for their investment of time and convincing them to feel comfortable putting their precious budgets in your hands.

Education: If I don’t make the effort to convey to colleagues how ethical supply chain management, sustainable purchasing and transparency in trading all lead to greater value for money and the delivery of enhanced services; they will not see how better procurement supports better student outcomes.

Representation:  Be loud and proud because universities are full of open minded thinkers.  If you have an idea for how things can be improved, budgets can be stretched further and student fees can be invested better, get out around campus and engage.  People will listen.

Paul Revell is the Head of Procurement for York St John University, a leading education, training and research institution at the heart of the city of York for over 175 years.  If you’d like to discuss the above topics further, feel free to get in touch at p.revell@yorksj.ac.uk

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