The Emperor’s new clothes. Or what does it take to become efficient in procurement.

new emperors clothes

I was listening the other day about the junior doctors’ strike and new contracts in UK. Some time ago I spent two half days at school admission appeal hearings. Everyone is giving their own reasons for rejections, lack of development, lack of motivation to work… While everything ends up with a magic word RESOURCES. Lack of resources. And somehow, at that moment, it starts sounding more like excuses rather than real reasons. Many years ago, we had a discussion with my ex-colleagues in Ireland. We were discussing an article, which was analysing most inventive “real life” survivors. We came up with few conclusions, but the most important was: a will. A will and effort to manage available resources in a best possible way. That is why I would like to ask: what is it that people are actually lacking? Imagination? Inventiveness? Attitude? Or just resources?

Do you know the feeling of wanting to change the world? I do. And, on top of other things, I like to consider myself procurement specialist. Therefore, after hearing, that someone is lacking resources, I decided to have a teeny tiny look (just taking a glance, really) of how they are managing their current resources. We have changed quite a few schools recently – I had some insights from my own experience and this subject was a bit painful for me before. I chose to have a closer look at school uniform prices. I took a secondary school blazer as an example. What was I looking for? Information, to start with. Some insights about efficiency. Patterns, maybe. Attitudes – for sure.

How did I do it? I analysed more than thirty (30) schools, six different suppliers. It was not that difficult and took me just a couple of hours – all the information is available publicly. Please see the graph below shortly indicating the results:

schools 1

I would like to state in advance, that I have no intentions to judge or jump into conclusions. There were few suppliers like the “Y supplier”, quite a few similar to “X” and “Z”. For me, this exercise was a discovery. Again, no conclusions, just questions:

  • How different do the blazers have to be in specifications, to have 151% price difference? That is, buying from the same supplier?
  • How different do they have to be in quality, to justify the difference? By the way, my experience, so far, shows: expensive supplier blazer – worn for 4 months, fixed twice (yup, i can sew – not just write); cheap supplier blazer – worn for 3 months, everything’s fine so far.
  • How efficient is Heatherton School or Claire’s Court school purchasing, if they manage to pay £56 or £50 more than what other school is paying, while buying from the same supplier and seeing all the prices publicly? How difficult is it to check the efficiency and realise, that actually, compared to the market, they could potentially be saving up to 74%? (To be completely honest, people from High Crest Academy, would say that it is overspending. Or resource wasting – you choose. By 288%).
  • If they know about it – what is their attitude towards the pupil’s parents?
  • What are they teaching their kids in terms of value of the products?
  • Where do the kids work and apply the same principles after leaving such schools? NHS? Education? Banking? Who knows?

I understand differences in models, in sizes. I mean – I get it. But three times the difference? I actually found schools, whose full recommended uniform set costs £73, who really have no supplier preferences. And the pattern was quite clear: the suppliers, that have consistently low price, have very small differences among their own products, which really represent specification differences (sizes, models, girls / boys, pockets, etc.). However, the suppliers, which have “differentiated pricing policy”, really take it all the way.

Seeing this, there are way more questions to be answered. Questions, such as: which part or “lack of resource” is really lack of resource? Why is this such a wide practice? It is all official and public – and raises no questions? Is it valid only for “blazer” as such or everything that they buy? Is it applicable only for educational sector or everyone: private, public sector?

Sometimes, all it takes, is just to open your eyes. Stop for a second, drop what you were doing (especially, if it was complaining and wining) breathe and open your eyes. Michael Jackson was singing: “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change”. Who’s with me?

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The Emperor’s new clothes. Or what does it take to become efficient in procurement.

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