The traditional view of the Procurement function is that it’s sole objective is to drive down costs and pass risk on to the seller. Looking at major projects providing public sector services over the last 10-15 years, the Procurement Depts. don’t appear to be particularly good at, well, procurement. Whether it’s failing IT systems in the health service, equipment for our armed forces that is late, over budget and doesn’t meet requirements, to the collapse of the East Coast Mainline rail franchise – by and large and despite our vast experience, we don’t hit the target.

My suspicion, based on hard won experience, is that most procurement departments still have a mission to “acquire the best quality goods and services at the lowest cost” and the procurement process is beset with poor communication and relationships. The CIPS – Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply – identifies adversarial (competitive) attitudes in which the focus is on price reductions, individual transactions and a reluctance to share information. Such strategies can achieve price reductions in the short term, but in the long-term are not sustainable since most value-adding strategies (e.g. innovation) cannot be achieved if the supplier focuses only on price.

Perhaps a new approach is needed that consists of more than rhetoric, of which there is plenty, but action that is built on a spirit of win:win collaboration.

Let’s be honest, collaborative relationships require more effort, interaction and commitment to stronger communication from all parties involved in a project. Yet the benefits are considerable in driving efficiencies, avoiding decisions that are expensive to fix down the line and working together to meet agreed deadlines. In today’s volatile and uncertain markets there are numerous reasons for pursuing collaborative relationships, not least of which is ensuring that the final outcome meets the original vision, enables delivery of services that work for customers and a valid ROI.

Collaboration provides an integrated approach to delivering procurement solutions. Yes, it can help to bring down costs, but I believe the value a collaborative approach can deliver is bigger than money. Collaboration is about relationships that work for all the suppliers and the client. They’re about a recognition that if one party is winning in a particular situation, it is very likely that someone else is losing which creates resentment and emotional responses that can lead to poor decision-making.

We have developed a collaborative approach based on five imperatives – vision, leadership, knowledge, behaviour and process – that has helped to deliver great results for all parties involved in some very big infrastructure projects. If we can do it, so can you – let’s make collaboration part of best practice and ensure that everyone wins.