Procurement ‘health checks’ inspire high performance universities

Raising the bar (photo credit: Sangudo via photopin cc)
Universities seeking ever higher standards in their procurement are benefiting from a comprehensive measuring tool. Susan Wright, head of the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium, explains how the Procurement Maturity Assessment programme has inspired real changes in English HEIs.

Over the past few years, procurement has continued to raise the bar in terms of the savings and collaboration opportunities it delivers to the higher education (HE) sector.

One of the critical aspects in being able to set high standards for procurement in HE has been the establishment of a comprehensive measurement tool to help HE institutions (HEI) understand their current procurement capability and identify areas for improvement. This is where the national Procurement Maturity Assessment (PMA) programme comes in.

The PMA programme, which was supported by the Innovation and Transformation Fund, provides a complete assessment (a comprehensive procurement health check, if you like) and an improvement action plan for HEIs in England. It is based on work done by the Scottish Government and there are similar programmes for Scotland and Wales.

The programme gives direction, support, training and the tools required to deliver improvements to procurement. HEIs that participate in the programme undergo a thorough assessment, receive benchmarked scores showing their performance relative to similar sized institutions plus a detailed prioritised action plan for improvement. They are then re-assessed the following year to measure and demonstrate progress.

Success story

The programme is a true HE sector success story – currently 97 HEIs are in our PMA programme and so far more than 20 institutions have had their follow-up assessment. And the good news doesn’t stop there – those HEIs that returned for a follow-up assessment showed an average 22% improvement in their assessments meaning that their procurement functions had significantly improved.

The PMA programme has inspired real change both within institutions and on a wider national scale. Individual HEIs have seen measurable savings improvements, for example, the University of West London increased their procurement maturity by 23% and saw their savings rise from 3.37% to 5.24%, while through additional support, the University for the Creative Arts made an additional £1m of savings.

Additional support from our Procurement Shared Service (PSS) has helped institutions improve efficiency by introducing initiatives such as e-invoicing and spend analysis. The PSS has also worked with institutions to restructure their procurement operations, as well as develop procurement strategies. These practical procurement improvements not only help to raise the profile of procurement but also contribute towards the institution’s overall efficiency. Furthermore, for several participants, the results of the PMA led to the expansion of their procurement department and more resources.

Clear improvements

The 2011 report by Professor Sir Ian Diamond on Efficiency and Effectiveness in Higher Education noted  “the use of capability assessments [in Scotland] is bringing clear improvements to procurement” and “using these as a tool to support procurement, as opposed to an audit, is central to success and in being able to provide the direction for improvement, support, training and tools required to bring about sustained capability improvement”.

We are truly implementing Professor Diamond’s recommendations through working very closely with the Higher Education Procurement Academy to provide a seamless interface between the findings from the PMAs and the development of sector tools. The PMA findings also integrate with events/training courses to help procurement professionals increase their procurement maturity and effectiveness and efficiency. We also work with APUC in Scotland to ensure that the results of the assessments in English HEIs can be considered with Scottish HEIs so helping to provide a UK perspective; Wales is currently developing their own assessment tool.

Investment in developing the capability and capacity of HE procurement professionals will deliver sustainable savings many times the cost of the original investment.

In England HEIs conservatively spend in the region of £7bn per annum – a mere 1% saving on procurement expenditure will deliver savings of £70m.

So in the current difficult financial climate, high performing and efficient procurement teams are an imperative, not an option.

Susan Wright is the head of the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC)

photo credit: Sangudo via photopin cc