What are the Biggest Issues Facing Procurement Today?

April 28, 2015

This week, we bring you a spotlight on Procurement from a seasoned professional with lots of international experience in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Wael Safwat is a Procurement guru who has managed massive spend in a wide variety of categories, spearheaded talent development and strategic initiatives, as well as undertaking significant Procurement transformations in the Oil & Gas, Construction, Retail, and Education industries. He’s also the recipient of a number of awards from outstanding international Supply Chain organizations.

procurement_todaySuffice it to say that within strategic Procurement, Wael is the real deal: an engaging speaker with a global perspective who has lectured at universities on Supply Chain topics, as well as providing keynote speeches at CIPS, PMAC and other conferences.  We were delighted for the chance to speak with Wael about a number of topics including core competencies in today’s Procurement landscape, Procurement talent development and retention strategies, as well as the differences between different industries’ core Procurement skills and concerns.

We first spoke about Procurement in different industries, as well as the shared core competencies and unique skill sets different industries require. “In my view, each industry has its own practice,” says Safwat. “For example, Oil & Gas is a global industry, highly regulated and a key international player. Construction is extremely different. But in any industry, the relationship with public procurement is where the complexity comes in. Complexity will come about when you have a diversity of stakeholders. It’s not only internal stakeholders, it’s suppliers, regulators, shareholders. You need to understand the complexity of this, because it’s what drives the complexity of the Procurement process.”

Beyond this transferable skill set, what competencies do individual industries require?

  • Oil and Gas: “You need to be aware of the regulatory background,” says Safwat. “You need to have an engineering background. This is because, in any industry, it’s always very beneficial to understand the business and the challenge, and in Oil and Gas you need to develop engineering as part of the core competency. You’re selling the value proposition of the function within the organization, and with the third parties. Obviously, in simple terms, you can’t understand the value proposition unless you understand the technical side.”
  • Construction: “The skills are very different. In construction, there’s a high level of engagement with third parties, and high risk. It requires extensive exposure to risks in Procurement, and the ability to identify the right risk strategy.”
  • Education: “In education, Procurement is about how agile, how flexible you are. You need to have a massive procurement capability with key service providers to support students, faculty, and lots of stakeholders. I think the key thing with education is to understand category management.

After outlining these differences, Wael spoke to some of the issues with retaining and developing Procurement talent that he’s
encountered in his wide range of global experience. “There’s always a shortage of talent,” he says. “The challenge is for the organization to understand the value of the procurement function. In order to understand the business, you need to understand the human resources function within that organization to understand your capacity development. In oil & gas, you need to identify the people who have the right competencies technically. It’s something that’s very different. You need to work with the HR, executive team, developing a competency that will cover the functional, behavioural aspects so that people will be developed in a more balanced way having the right skillsets on the ground.”

Oil and Gas

“It’s also a challenge to retain talent,” he says. “Which is difficult unless you’ve got a formal development plan and a competency framework.  So there are two main issues: the shortage of attracting talent, and the shortage of retaining. “

Wael also spoke to the specifics of what he’s seeing in the Procurement landscape in Canada:

“Canada is a great country,” he says. “There’s more focus on the domestic capabilities, and on the U.S. market. There is a lot of potential and a lot of capability. Canada has a relatively low operating cost compared to the U.S. There’s a massive market for outsourcing.”

But Wael also outlined an area for possible further sophistication of the Procurement function within Canada, related to certification: “Back in Hong Kong,” he says, “for public Procurement, you can’t apply for a job unless you’re fully certified. You need to have a certification which is fully acknowledged by the government. I think in Canada, we really have a great potential to go through that development as well to become a fully regulated profession. One, it gives the organizations total confidence in the talent. Two, certification ensures that people have the same understanding of procurement. This will unify the practice to a great extent. It creates a level consistency across the market. It allows you to identify key challenges. Three, it helps develop individuals develop the ability to apply for different jobs, so it helps on an individual level. We need to be perceived as a regulated industry.”

Safwat does not see certifications as a static, one-size fits all stamp of accreditation, but more of an always-evolving opportunity for ongoing learning and professional development. “This should be an ongoing process, because every day Procurement and Supply Chain are facing a new challenge. You can’t have a certification and say, ‘that’s it for the next ten years.’ Certifications need to have to have input from industries, subject matter experts, to stay on top of changes in the field. Five years ago, emotional intelligence was not on the competency list. Project-management skills, cross-functional teams, emotional intelligence have become much more important to the business. There should be a regular review process with input from practitioners, regulatory bodies, and subject matter experts to help certifications grow and develop.”

As a boutique recruitment agency specializing in Supply Chain, Procurement, and their related disciplines, we at Argentus are always truly excited to have individuals like Wael in our network: true thought leaders and innovators on the leading edge of Supply Chain’s increasing role in business.

Check in soon for our other discussion with Wael, where he outlines his view of where Supply Chain as a field is heading in the next 5 and 25 years. 



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