After years of being relegated to the background due to its perceived low strategic value, the procurement function is increasingly making its presence felt in management committees (one in two vs. one in ten some 20 years ago1).
Although direct procurement divisions have already implemented a structured and highly organised approach, indirect procurement professionals are now pursuing that same approach with the aim of driving down costs to tackle the company's growing volume of purchases.
This determination to bring greater structure may take several different forms, such as recruiting category managers focusing on indirect purchases, taking a region-based approach to management and promoting synergies between the different subsidiaries.
The new challenges facing buyers
Buyers of non-strategic or indirect products and services are tending to see an increase in their responsibilities, such as reducing expenditure (an integral part of any buyer's job) and also verifying the accuracy of the information received, managing relationships with suppliers, sharing contracts and leading projects.
Finally, buyers need to be capable of promoting their job within the organisation, clearly explaining the benefits and building a relationship of trust with internal customers. Put simply, they must convince their colleagues and forge their reputation as real partners with a responsibility for improving working conditions and bringing a certain level of comfort to everyday life.
Interpersonal skills driving the process
These new expectations have prompted a range of specialised training courses for buyers. Just a few years ago, employers were in search of candidates with a master's degree in business or marketing, but they are now looking for potential hires with postgraduate qualifications in a specialist subject, especially communication, project management and quality auditing.
In addition, these requirements go hand in hand with the digital transformation trend and particularly the process of automating low value-added tasks. Buyers will soon need to develop a new set of interpersonal qualities (collaboration, influence, creativity, adaptation, etc.) when some of their duties are performed by dedicated algorithms.
The need for support
To shine the spotlight on indirect procurement, while giving due credit to the complexity of their structure, internal support from management committee members or the procurement division is a must.
This will ensure that their project resonates with internal customers and brings a certain sense of credibility to their missions.
Indirect procurement is required to evolve by prioritising a more strategic approach that goes far beyond just reducing costs. Tomorrow's buyers will need to draw strength from their interpersonal skills and breathe real added value into their approach. To achieve that aim, they will also need to rely on management to promote their activities.
 Robert Walters, December 2018