PRB Articles


Progress In Purchasing

Progress In Purchasing

It’s not uncommon to hear government employees complain about their internal financial processes when it comes to getting things done quickly. There are certain approvals and processes that must be accomplished before funding comes through, and it can be frustrating, but I find it is often the “hurry up” attitude more than anything else that actually slows progress. There is sometimes an urgency assigned to things that may or may not be real, and the buyer/reactor/controller may want to help the requestor to the point that clear thoughts don’t prevail and shortcuts are taken. These inevitably back up on the agency in some way or another, and progress grinds to a halt. You can blame the system, the politics, even the supervisor pushing the project, but the fact is the personalities involved drive the errors more than anything. There’s no replacement for a steady, careful process, which is the mainstay requirement of governmental purchasing integrity.

In visiting many purchasing agencies over my 25+ years in the procurement practice, I find one pattern consistently true. By and large, many small-town governments are using antiquated procedures (I am not saying all, so put your emails down), and the “big wig” major companies are using purchasing/payables solutions that are “top shelf” and usually over-perform to the point of providing many solutions that will never even be used. Due to budgetary constraints and excesses on each end, this is to be expected. But in short, the size and strength of technology is steered by the demand on and affordability of that technology.

So, when trying to find a good technology fit, evaluators must certainly take into account their budget, but also the culture and history of the company. In that mix, evaluators should consider the age of the staff and their attitudes towards development and new technology. If the technology is “too slick” or not slick enough, the improper fit might prejudice the entire exercise and acceptance of “the new way.”

Over-Worked With Few Results

In my first few years at the management level of purchasing, I often tried to employ new technologies that were certainly laden with extra steps and coding delays. My intention was that, although it may take longer to enter so much data, the first year all of this intensive work would provide a streamlined approach in years 2, 3, etc. But the data entry was so heavily laden with unnecessary details that my staff grew weary, and I couldn’t—in good conscience—ask them to continue. Hence, a few suggestions:

  • If the “new” process requires inputs that are so time-laden they cause the current workflow to back up, you will never get the “buy-in” from staff to bring the program along. You may have to farm out the data entry to an outside agency, lest you risk “souring” the staff to the whole concept of change.
  • Identify opinion leaders early and seek their buy-in and leadership. If a strong “stand-out” employee gives the impression the technology is poor, others will follow from a pure sheep mentality and devotion to the opinion leader. Test your new approach with a small group of those who typically create a following (you know who they are).
  • When the opinion-leading group agrees that the new idea is strong (and a good solution), people will cross the “what’s in it for me” bridge quickly, and acceptance will follow.

If It Ain’t Broke

Now I’m going to make the point here that everyone knows, but no one wants to acknowledge. The old-fashioned ledgers and hand-drawn calculations may be right for a sleepy little township. If the antiquated methods work, don’t change them just for the sake of changing things and trying to modernize. These records will translate fine one day when the new accountant starts and brings his personally preferred and modern system to bear.

However, the new systems are amazing and eliminate a lot of potential for error. So, if an experienced accountant can hire a patient, modern agent of change, the elimination of redundancy and versatile check and balance systems alone should please the most stubbornly resistant methodologists, so slow, gradual change is inevitable.

In A Nutshell

Here are some obvious conclusions: 

  • No matter the situation, people will complain about how long it takes to get things done. If your system is solid and true, don’t bend to that pressure. There may be an exception now and then, but if what you have works, keep it.
  • Introduce new technology into the work stream slowly and with the buy-in of those involved. If an agent of change leads the technology of change, be sure that person is accepted and not “privately being resisted.” There is nothing more debilitating than people undermining a good and new process simply for fear of the unknown and unproven.
  • Remember that all technology requires inputs from human hands. Keep your people at the core of any improvement, and true acceptance will follow. With harmonious personnel, improvements will take root.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.    

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