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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Harlot's Progress - or The False Promise and Premiss of Procurement

In my parent's pub hung prints of Hogarth's great series, The Rake's Progress and The Harlot's Progress.

Their scenes of depravity, designed as awful warnings excited me no end, though I didn't know then that some of the figures shown were based on real life.

On the left we see the infamous Procuress Mother Needham about to recruit the innocent country girl Moll Hackabout for the benefit of the gent fondling himself in the background.

Moll has just got off the coach from the country and knows no better - a scene brought to mind when a couple of weeks ago I received a request from some procurement people to fill in some forms so as to be listed as a supplier to a client I have been working for some seven years.

Now you and I, dear reader, forced as we are to live in the real world might think the chief things we want to know about someone who does what I do are these.

1. Do I get generally good results? And more particularly do I get good results for this client?

2. Do I charge a decent price for what I do?

3. Do I deliver on time?

4. Do I deliver what was asked for?

5. Can I deliver quickly if necessary?

That sort of thing. They might at a pinch ask what services I supply, I suppose.

They never did, and I shall come to that in a moment. But as far as I know the answers to those five questions are yes, yes, yes, yes and yes - otherwise they wouldn't keep coming back.

I have never been beaten in tests. My prices, though not the cheapest, are far cheaper than those people with silly names, fancy offices, hot and cold running 23-year olds and phalanxes of indescribably verbose planners.

What's more, although my partner teases me that I write the stuff then read the brief afterwards, it always seems to be pretty much what the doctor ordered. Moreover, I have never missed a deadline And I have been known to deliver stuff in less than week from brief to completion.

In a sane world that is what buying services is all about. But not in the Weird World of Procurement. The questionnaires I was sent (there were two) were concerned with my hiring practices, compliance, ethics and so forth. They were written as though I was a supplier of meat pies or toilet paper.

People who do rely on procurement - like government departments, the armed forces and so on - are famous for three things. They take too long to get things. They often get the wrong things. And they overpay to an astounding degree.

Today's procurement looks into all the things that don't matter, ignores the ones that do, and is not only not helpful but devastatingly harmful.

If you fall for the great procurement rip-off, you may not end up like poor Moll Hackabout, who died in a lunatic asylum. You don't have to wait that long. You're crazy to start with.

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