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Building Better Relationships between Procurement and Estates

Building Better Relationships between Procurement and Estates

In 2015/16 SUPC members spent £1.08 billion on estates.  This covered everything from minor works and regulatory testing all the way up to major building projects and infrastructure development.  With this vast amount of spend, the importance of Procurement Departments working closely with Estates Departments to ensure that spend provides value is evident.  Three members, Helen Baker, Robin Hare and Max Hubbard, have shared their experiences with SUPC on what led to the need for a better working relationship with Estates, the specifics of how they built this relationship, and what the benefits have been.


The Impetus

At the top of the list is the importance of influencing a massive spend area and addressing non-compliance with both EU and internal regulations.  Underlying this is the need to minimise legal and financial risk, and this may be one of the biggest challenges, depending on the size of the institution and the positioning of the procurement function (devolved or centralised).  For those institutions more advanced in their procurement maturity, working closely with Estates helps tick the regulatory boxes outlined above, but also supports more effective contract management, leveraging of spend, and the implementation of best practice.   


The Advice:

  • Understand buying behaviours.  This requires a lot of detailed research and an early investment of time, but it pays off in the long run and demonstrates to your Estates colleagues that you are serious about their portfolio.
  • Meet on their ground (literally and figuratively).  Set up meetings both formally and/or informally.  Go for coffees, if that works. Get yourself on their regular meeting agendas, particularly at the director level.
  • Develop relationships with people, not departments.  Be informed and demonstrate you understand their concerns.  Talk about improvements without belittling past practices. Seek first to understand and then be understood with no judgement.  At the end of the day, the relationship between departments is really a relationship between people.  Position yourself as a helper providing customer service that will benefit both parties and make your Estates colleagues look good. 
  • Build the confidence of your colleagues in Estates so that you become partners, not enforcers or blockers.  Address their concerns about working with new/different suppliers and come up with contingency plans to address concerns.  Support skill development to enable colleagues to bring good procurement practice into their work such as two-stage tendering or implementation of NEC contracts.   
  • Identify quick wins that will demonstrate the value Procurement can bring to Estates.  Whether it is rationalising the supplier base, replacing a few key dysfunctional contracts or helping implement a process for improvement, identify something you can do now to improve life for your Estates colleagues.
  • Work as an integrated team (communication is key), with Procurement being a key member at project initiation.  Clear, transparent communication between Procurement and Estates is essential; it builds trust and demonstrates authenticity.
  • Improve/manage supplier relationships. By examining spend with suppliers, Procurement’s ability to help rationalise the supplier base and leverage spend can be incredibly impactful. Procurement can help Estates develop regular supplier management practices that are strategic and streamlined and require less time spent chasing.  Finally, Procurement can support Estates with the difficult discussions, helping Estates maintain a good supplier relationship, while dealing with grievances or issues. 


The Outcome:

The benefits for the members we talked to were significant.  Beyond providing process and cash savings, procurement was rapidly recognised as a strategic function providing tangible value.  They experienced a decrease in resistance from internal stakeholders and saw an increase in compliant procurement.  Gloucestershire, Canterbury Christ Church and UWE procurement departments also saw improvements in supplier relationships, which were now being managed more strategically.  And for some, the early wins with the Estates Department provided the justification needed to expand the Procurement Team and recruit more resource.  


For Estates, greater collaboration with Procurement delivered savings and better value for money.  They also saw better contract management and reduced time chasing suppliers and more time working collaboratively with them.  Improved timescales and decreased costs by using frameworks were also key benefits.


To learn more, get involved in the SUPC Estates and Facilities Category Group, or contact contributors for more information.