Going Beyond Jack of All Trades

Procurement pros can master category management.

The White House-driven category management initiative offers important new opportunities for procurement professionals.

For the first time, for example, they have a chance to specialize in and master specific categories of spending, in addition to being jack-of-all-trade buyers. Category management of more than $270 billion in annual spending on commonly purchased goods and services requires skills not yet gathered in any existing federal position description, nor taught in federal procurement training institutions.

More than ever, the procurement corps has an opportunity to deepen its relationship with the programs accomplishing the true business of government — its missions. More than ever, government buyers are expected to deeply understand their markets and suppliers.

The category team structure — the central organizing principle for the 10 types of common governmentwide purchases — opens an array of potential new positions for team members in:

  • Professional services
  • Information technology
  • Facilities and construction
  • Security and protection
  • Industrial products and services
  • Office management
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Travel and lodging
  • Human capital
  • Medical services

Within those fields there are 49 subcategories governed by Level 2 category team leaders. Commodity teams will carry out the strategic plan of each Level 2 team through demand management, strategic sourcing, supplier relationship management and total cost management. The General Services Administration will have teams in similar categories that will assist their governmentwide brethren by enacting the strategies they adopt.

Under new guidance on governmentwide category management, teams will be responsible for analyzing and managing spending in their categories, generating savings, and improving buying processes and the quality of goods and services purchased.

Procurement officials will need deep expertise about markets and suppliers, deploying demand management, strategic sourcing, vendor management, and total cost management techniques to reduce duplication in contracts, consolidate requirements, stem inefficiencies, and drive out variation in prices. Category specialists will work with suppliers to share information and bolster performance.

Spend data collection and analysis is the wellspring of category management. Putting together complete agency and governmentwide category spending profiles will require expertise in technical data management, rendering information from data and visualizing it. Understanding the agency requirements that create category demand takes skills in eliciting feedback. Getting clear on the requirements at the root of that demand and helping agencies manage them will require portfolio management and strategy and organizational development chops.

This is not to say every procurement professional need acquire these new skills. Crafting better contracts and strategic sourcing deals will require federal acquisition subject-matter expertise of the kind contracting professionals already have in spades.

Procurement professionals will be among the key users of the category hallways and best-in-class contracts displayed in the new Acquisition Gateway, and they are the most likely users of the Gateway’s tools and project space for assembling procurement packages.

Agency and governmentwide category teams will need people with deep experience in the markets, both for commonly bought items and services and those unique to specific agencies. Effectively wielding government’s spending power requires knowing how to use the size and impact of government spending in any market to achieve better mission outcomes.

This work will require specialized subject-matter expertise. Category management also will require people who can negotiate and then manage strategic sourcing deals, wrangle demand within categories and agencies, and help key buyers communicate and collaborate.

Commercial supply chain management, which comprises many aspects of category management, is being taught at colleges and universities and practiced widely in the private sector, but it doesn’t address the different constraints, regulations and goals of the federal environment. There will be a call for people who can help category teams apply the specialized skills needed within government.

The public sector category management transformation will be as large as the myriad missions and goals of the federal government. Smart acquisition professionals will begin now to invest in their own future by acquiring the skills needed in the new jobs ahead. They will be exemplars of the aphorism: Think globally, act locally.

Timothy W. Cooke is the CEO of ASI Government.

(Image via wawritto/Shutterstock.com)