An Interview on Modern Procurement with Nick Ralphs
For this episode of Supplier Experience Live by HICX, we were joined by Nick Ralphs to discuss modern procurement. Based in Glasgow, UK, Nick is a Director of NJR Procurement, an organization focused on ‘Increasing Value and Managing Risk in Purchasing and Supply Chains.’ Nick is also an active consultant and specializes in training procurement teams through the DevelopMyTeam platform.
With Nick we talked about:
- Trends and Challenges in Procurement
- Procurement taking charge
- Bettering supplier relationships with modern technology
Trends and Challenges in Procurement
Nick starts off the interview by explaining how he believes a career in Procurement has always been an exciting notion – however, it is now even more so due to the rapid changes the industry has experienced in the last few years.
“I think sometimes we can be beating ourselves up a little bit in the profession. But I think it’s always been exciting, and I think it’s because you’re involved in a very broad range of activities, and you’re also involved across the organization and outside of the organization,” he adds.
Nick explains how the scope of Procurement has expanded over the years, from traditionally being concerned with the basics of supplier management, to nowadays, where various initiatives are becoming more and more prevalent, such as ESG and digital transformation. He reminds us of the essential role of managing relationships with suppliers, adding, “Procurement is definitely seen as a leading player in that because, although you can control your own destiny to a point, the reality is that every organization has a huge number of suppliers as well that are supporting them. So, if you don’t get that right, then all your best internal efforts aren’t really going to get you where you want to.”
The traditional challenges for Procurement, such as supply chain risk and cost effectiveness, have only been intensified due to COVID, Brexit, supply chain shortages and rising inflation. In order to overcome these obstacles successfully, you need really skillful people, Nick points out. “I think it’s upped the ante in terms of being able to get data in the first place, then analyze it. If you can’t do those things well, then you’re going to struggle to be successful. I think it’s around being proactive, not reactive. I think certainly, historically, Procurement has been a bit reactive,” he says.
Procurement taking charge
As a result of all these changes, it can be challenging to lead Procurement teams. Nick’s advice is to start at the beginning: Define business and suppliers’ needs and priorities, as those will guide the further course of action.
“My advice on that is to very much get out and about, figure out what the businesses priorities are, and therefore what you need to do to fall into that. The things we talked about around ESG, technology transformations and managing inflation may well be driving it. But go find out and understand the things that they want you to do in 6 months’ time, in 18 months and a longer time frame,” he advises.
However, Nick highlights the importance of synergy between newly implemented technologies and the people who will be using them. The adoption of technology is important, for which a certain mindset shift might be necessary.
He believes the key is in “putting some resources and effort into skills development and training.”
Bettering supplier relationships with modern technology
Nick says that the use of third-party management platforms has worked wonders in various business functions, while Procurement is still catching up. However, platforms built to make Procurement more efficient have risen in the last couple of years, and he believes they will be adopted more moving forward.
“I think that there was a struggle a few years ago where people just didn’t like the Software-as-a-Service concept because it’s out of our control – and I think that’s gone now, which is good. It therefore makes it easier. There’s no point putting something in there, not using it properly or not having the rest of the organization aware of what you’re trying to do with it. It’s important to implement these things well,” he adds.
Nick explains managing supplier relationships through the use of modern software solutions is nowadays not only preferred, but necessary due to the complexity of supply chain systems.
“The beauty of the platforms is they just put everything in one place. It makes it much easier because you can pull back information and it’s easier for suppliers to give you information. And then it all comes out in a neat way at the end. I don’t think you can do it without something like that,” he concludes.