This week I caught up with one of the Lead Procurement Consultants at Touchstone Spend Management, Dave Wilson. We talked about Dave’s career and experience in procurement, and focused specifically on how the knowledge Dave has acquired through his CIPS (Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply) training has benefited both him in his work as a Procurement Application Consultant, as well as the customers of Touchstone Spend Management.
Hello Dave, it’s been a while. What have you been up to?
I’ve been really busy, lots of projects on at the minute. A lot of the work is really interesting, but pretty challenging at the same time. Nevertheless, happy to put some time aside to talk about myself!
That’s good to hear! I’d like to start things off with a little bit about your background and your role, can you describe your experience and what you do at Touchstone:
I’ve worked with specialist Procurement Systems for fifteen years now (eleven of those at Touchstone). I began my career as a Junior IT Project Manager. The company I was working for at the time had bought, and were in the process of implementing, a new procurement system. Straight away the role was very hands on, and three months on it became even more hands on due to some issues with the project. Looking back this initial period was a great learning experience for me. Almost immediately I was learning a lot about the product we had just bought, I was defining requirements with end users and training those end users. This project resulted in the company I was with deciding they could do a better job than the reseller they had bought the system from, so they decided to start a procurement consultancy. I was very quickly moved from my Junior IT Project Manager role into the Procurement Consultant role and within 2 months I was implementing projects from start to finish. It was very much a sink or swim scenario, but an invaluable experience.
At Touchstone, I have worked on over 50 full procure-to-pay projects. I’ve worked across so many industry sectors I’ve lost count! From Not-for-profit, to Financial Services to Energy. I’ve had the opportunity to lead projects right across the world; all over Africa, I’ve been to Australia, lots of projects in Western Europe, and also Russia. Some of the experiences have been life-changing; it is something of a cliché but those experiences of working in different cultures have helped me become a better-rounded individual and consultant. When you have been working with a piece of software for a long time, the challenge is not so much the software, it’s not the processes, it’s about understanding the people you will be working with to deliver the project, and communicating your message in the most effective way possible.
This philosophy runs right throughout the CIPS course, it’s called ServQual. It’s about providing empathy, it’s about providing the individualised care and attention that customers want, it’s about delivering a service with tangible assurances of quality attached.
So Dave, I know many will be familiar, but what does CIPS mean to you?
CIPS is The Chartered Institute for Procurement & Supply. As the name suggests it is the recognised chartered body for Procurement & Supply Chain professionals, and they work to promote best practice and ethical values in the procurement profession. As a procurement professional and CIPS practitioner you are expected to uphold the CIPS code of ethics.
The recent name change from the Chartered Institute for Purchasing & Supply nicely reflects the changing nature of the profession and greater focus on procurement. Purchasing is very different to procurement. Purchasing is tactical, procurement is strategic; it’s more wide-ranging. That’s why more senior people are responsible for procurement. You get more Procurement Directors than you do Purchasing Directors, they’re getting a seat on the board now.
How is the CIPS course structured?
The course is divided into 6 levels. When you finish level 6 you are fully chartered. I entered at level 4 as I had the requisite academic qualifications (degree in Economics and Politics) as well as relevant industry experience (10 years working in procurement). Level 4 is the Diploma in Procurement and Supply, Level 5 is the Advanced Diploma, and when you’ve completed Level 6 you receive the Professional Diploma. Each level comprises 5 modules, with assessment taking the form of a 3-hour exam for each module.
Sounds tough! And what about your own journey?
Very tough indeed! I started CIPS as I found I was working with more and more people who had the MCIPS qualification. I spoke to a few of these people and asked what they thought of the course and whether it would be beneficial for me. I have to say I received some terrific advice from lots of people, with the Procurement Director at a major bank I was working with being particularly helpful. She said the CIPS qualification would help me understand their requirements better. It would help me understand, as she put it, ‘real-world procurement’ not just procurement systems and really help me to get to grips with the theory behind the practice.
I did some research to see what was involved, who I could study with etc. I found that London Metropolitan University had a CIPS Centre of Excellence, so I spoke with the Programme Manager there who informed me I could begin at level 4 and went from there.
I’m now in my 4th year of studying CIPS; currently working on Level 6. I have one pending result from an exam last Tuesday and a further 2 modules to complete after that. The plan is to have it all finished by the end of the calendar year.
Studying for CIPS is time consuming. The best way to learn each module is in the classroom on day release from work. Each module consists of 4 days of lecturing and tutoring, the first 3 days are about getting to grips with the material, and the 4th is a revision class where you go over past papers. Aside from the classes, you are required to invest a huge amount of your own personal time. I would estimate a third of my annual leave over the past 4 years has been dedicated to studying CIPS. Although I’m usually pretty consistent with my study throughout the year, I still need that intense period of cramming of about 4 weeks before each exam. In that period your social life is virtually non-existent. As you know, I’m a big West Ham fan, I follow them all over the county, but because I had an exam last Tuesday, I didn’t go to Bournemouth at home, I didn’t go to Huddersfield away; I stayed at home and studied. I do think it’s important that I invest my own time, not just Touchstone’s, into pursuing the qualification and developing myself.
Speaking of Touchstone, what support have they given you in your pursuit of the CIPS qualification?
When talking about my own journey I have to mention Touchstone. They have been incredibly supportive; I couldn’t have done it without the support of Les (Les Jones, Services Director) and Pete (Pete Layzell, Head of Touchstone Spend Management). As I mentioned before CIPS is very tough and requires a lot of study hours. Not only do Touchstone sponsor my CIPS tuition, they also give me a considerable amount of paid study leave each year.
Moving on to talk about your role as a Lead Procurement Application Consultant, do you feel the course and the knowledge you have acquired has improved your approach to project delivery?
Yes. Without question. It would be a shame if I said no!
It would a bit! So how has CIPS helped you improve as a Consultant?
When you have that formal procurement education behind you, you do look at processes differently, and you do understand them better. It helps you understand a person’s reasons for wanting a certain process, and you also have a greater bank of knowledge of your own from which to offer process suggestions.
There is certainly a crossover between the modules I study with CIPS and the modules within the Proactis product we sell, and I think understanding the theory behind the modules rather than simply knowing what a module does, or what functionality it has, has enabled me to deliver better solutions.
I’ll give you an example from a recent project. If you look at the Supplier Management module in Proactis, there is functionality for issuing questionnaires, for assessing KPI’s and for delivering performance reviews. We were trying to figure out how best to structure a specific performance review questionnaire in a fairly niche category. I was able to bring my knowledge from CIPS modules ‘Managing Risks in Supply Chains’ (Level 5, Module 2) and ‘Category Management in Procurement and Supply’ (Level 5, Module 3) to the conversation, which I think ultimately ensured an efficient process and mitigated supply chain risk. Without my CIPS training I doubt we would have provided the solution we eventually did.
This is just one example. I could pick any number of Sourcing or Contract Management solutions I’ve delivered which would not have been possible without that theoretical knowledge of procurement. Look at sourcing, there are so many different types of sourcing event, so many different types of eAuction. If I did not have the background knowledge of how the business processes worked I would never be able to set them up within a software system.
It’s the same with Contract Management. Being able to understand different types of contracts, how they are used in the real world, why some are more business level and strategic, and why some are more operational and tactical is just invaluable. I know I need to ensure the contract templates I am setting up are reflective of the type of contract it is being set up for.
And what about your relationships with clients, does the CIPS qualification help you in that sense?
Again, yes. First of all it’s a credibility thing. The first day of any project is the system design workshop, and very often it is the most challenging day. While you know the software inside out, you don’t know the processes and you don’t know the people. When you explain who you are and what you do, that you are studying CIPS and you have 6 people in the room that are all CIPS qualified, straight away you’ve gone a long way to winning the room. The ice has been broken with an audience who may be naturally sceptical of an outsider advising them around their job function and the whole day, and indeed project, will run more smoothly because of this.
In terms of running the project, I do find the conversations I have now are not simply about improving procurement systems, but about improving real-world procurement processes, and I believe this adds an extra dimension to the level of service I am able to provide.
Great, thanks Dave. We’ll take a break now and come back to discuss some specific examples of projects where the CIPS qualification has helped.
Part 2 will be released on Tuesday next week.