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September 27, 2010

PROCUREMENT – FRIEND OR FOE 2:Why collaboration holds the key to a brighter future

Is there are way for meetings and events professionals to work in harmony with procurement teams for the benefit of everyone involved? Ian Whiteling finds out if there really is a light at the end of the procurement tunnel.

By treating corporate events purely as a commodity, procurement teams are failing to appreciate that getting more from meetings and conferences is about more than just saving money. As such, the continuation and proliferation of this approach could ultimately affect the quality and effectiveness of corporate meetings. However, by working together with professional meetings planners and agencies, could this age of procurement not only generate value and improve quality, but also help to spread the understanding of the importance of corporate events?

“I believe companies should have procurement in place,” says Deborah Sexton, president and chief executive of the Professional Convention Management Association. “For a long time in many corporations travel costs were totally out of control, with no knowledge of what was being spent and by whom. That is where procurement comes in and why it’s helpful to a major organisation.”

Aileen Reuter, marketing director at Grass Roots EventCom, also sees the good points of global procurement.

“It can deliver terrific cost, time and process benefits,” she says. “It offers a new level of visibility and overall actionable management information.”

Don’t fool yourself
However, Reuter quickly adds that no one should kid themselves into thinking such an approach is easy to implement.

“What on paper looks simple, in reality becomes highly complex when you enter into cross border/cross region programmes,” she says. “What works in the US may not work in the UK, while what works in the UK may not necessarily work in the central Europe or Asia, and so on.”

This means that time spent on strategic planning with key stakeholders is essential.

“Recognising that this is more than a process change for people in markets and is closer to a cultural shift is really important,” Reuter explains. “It requires early buy-in and constant ongoing communications. Without such you will encounter hostile stakeholders en route, unengaged bookers and little success.

“Key to compliance is engagement, giving users ‘controlled freedom’ within defined boundaries. In doing this you can achieve the desired time, process and substantial cost savings, backed with evidence from solid management information.”

So it seems there is a light at the end of the procurement tunnel.

“Yes,” agrees Reuter, “procurement people are not the enemy. We need to work with them. It is about continuing to try to understand their needs and explaining our own, and how to achieve a win-win-win partnership where procurement, the stakeholder and the planner or agency reap benefits. We also need to keep encouraging them to engage with stakeholders and show the value through testimonials.”

Staying positive
Although the benefits to all parties seems clear, achieving them appears to present a major challenge to meetings and events professionals, and a change in how they operate. What’s more, the benefits of taking this more collaborative approach needs to be communicated effectively to all stakeholders.

“It’s vital to go into the conversations in a positive way, talking about how both meetings and procurement should work hand in hand to execute on the goals and objectives of that corporation,” says Sexton. “By going in with a positive attitude and a plan that says here’s what we do and here’s how we can work actively together, the relationship becomes a partnership, rather than adversarial.”

Sexton believes that cross training can really help the collaboration process as it gives each party an appreciation of the others’ perspectives.

“I think someone who’s heading up procurement should wear the shoes of the person who’s putting on a major convention that’s delivering a message or a culture that has to be put across,” she says. “By cross training, both will be more successful and embrace each other’s activities in a more positive way.

“In the very beginning, Deloitte Touche did that, and it was one of the most successful implementations.”

Proving value
One thing seems likely: procurement is here to stay. This adds another burden to the meetings and events professional. However, it should be seen as another chance to prove the value of corporate meetings and events.

“Global procurement is growing year-on-year,” says Reuter. “Now procurement has a voice within the senior leaders of business, this will not disappear. We know consolidate spend management works when you apply the right business model and tools.”

The challenge for meetings professionals, therefore, is to support procurement teams to achieve their goals, while working will all stakeholders to help them understand that squeezing the maximum value from corporate events is about more than simply cutting costs.

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