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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Procurement By Any Other Name Is Still Procurement

You know you’ve reached the dog days of summer when a contest to rename “procurement” is announced. Guy Strafford, chief client officer and a blogger at Proxima, a London-based consultant specializing in procurement, is taking entries until Aug. 2, after which he will list a winner and award him or her a bottle of premium bubbly.

I like the research Proxima does in procurement and enjoy Strafford’s blogs. However, in this case, he is off the mark — even in a slow news period.

Strafford writes that procurement “has a branding and reputational problem,” adding that it “means different things to different people.” Some “treat procurement with disrespect,” and he goes on to write that it’s not unusual to see procurement services operate differently in different businesses.

Credit: num_skyman at

Credit: num_skyman at

This may be true, but it’s hard to see how a name change will fix any of this. Here are some points Strafford might consider.

First, does business really need to adopt another trendy, sterile, or giggle-inspiring name for a critical business requirement? People who do administrative work used to be called secretaries — a precise title for a critical operation. Now secretaries are uniformly dubbed “executive assistants,” though nobody I’ve met knows what that means in terms of work duties. It does sound good, though.

Second, how is a new name going to change the way people view procurement? Executive management sets corporate culture. If the CEO, president, vice presidents, and others don’t take procurement seriously or see the benefits of making it a part of strategic plans and revenue enhancement, you can call the operation anything you want, but don’t expect meaningful change. Until senior management buys into an operation, perceptions will stay the same.

Finally, be assured that any name change is going to be platitudinous. It will doubtlessly be based around such pop sentiments as enrichment, fulfillment, transparency, partnership, meaningful, dialog, and relationship.

Procurement, like the word or not, says exactly what the operation is. Procurement operations will, of course, differ from company to company, as will management practices and corporate culture. But in the end, having a fancy new name for an established operation — one that most people understand — is going to be hugely confusing and nothing more than cosmetic.

Nevertheless, I wish Strafford well with his contest — and for a quick end to the dog days of summer.


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