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Musings of an FM. By BIFM's Procurement Special Interest Group

25-05-17, 09:00

In this light-hearted blog, a member of BIFM's Procurement Special Interest Group shares some thought-provoking insights into what happens when trying to create a collaborative supply chain.

So, collaboration then. A while ago I decided that I was going to try to create a collaborative supply chain approach with my FM service providers. When we started talking about this within the Operations Team, I was asked: "Well what do you actually mean by collaborative?" and "What's the difference between collaborative and co-operative?" and "Is that collaborative with a small 'c'?".

This only really underpinned my belief that it was always going to be the suppliers who were going to be my key allies on driving this. I would have to work on my own colleagues once we got underway.

When previously speaking to suppliers about collaboration, I had (as perhaps expected) some blank faces, some 'oh really?' expressions and some level of apparent acceptance. When I focussed on the positive faces, looking for some encouragement, I got 'no problem with us. You just tell us what you want and we'll collaborate with that'.

So, a bit of a mixed view of what collaboration means, and that got me thinking whether it was collaboration or co-operation that I was actually looking for.

Musicians in an orchestra collaborate. They produce something they all benefit from and can appreciate, ie beautiful music. They don't co-operate. Co-operation implies they are doing their own things but it's connected, parallel even, with other participants. Maybe the difference is there isn't commercial competition within an orchestra.

As soon as there is a profit element introduced then everyone will naturally have an eye on their own position and how it might be affected or influenced by co-operating with another party. I've worked in self-proclaimed collaborative environments before, but as soon as there is something 'up for grabs' then people revert to competitive state. Once this happens, the whole lot starts to crumble, or be exposed as not really being collaborative in the first place.

So, is it a lack of trust then? Complete trust is needed to get suppliers and clients to do things they would not naturally think to do in a business environment. This takes time to build of course, so creating a collaborative supply chain from a standing start will therefore be just about impossible. Sounds like a challenge to me!

So, in the worst traditions of New Year resolutions, there we were kicking off in April (let's call it a new financial year resolution), ready to go and with an eager supply chain waiting with baited breath for the 'new plan' to be unveiled. There is an audible sigh as I say the 'c' word accompanied by 'here we go again' rolled eyes and 'I came all this way for that?!' lowered eyebrows.

But, I say, this time is different because we are really going to do it! I mean 'we', your client, are going to get involved this time as well.There is a very slight but encouraging shift in attention and some 'OK, let's hear it then' comments. So, everyone. The question is what can I do as a client to make it easier for you as a supplier to provide a better service to us?

Apart from the usual comments about payment and planning (in advance would be nice), communication, payment again and having another default position apart from 'blame the supply chain', there was not really much in the way of ideas.

OK, if we did all of that then, what would you do differently to improve the services? Oddly, it seems suppliers wouldn't need to do anything differently if that was the case, and could work very nicely thank you if it wasn't for us pesky clients wanting stuff and making demands.

If all that is missing is the few things that I can do as a client then perhaps it's not collaboration that is required after all, just a bit of co-operation. And that would come from me!

So, back to my first thought. Is it really collaboration that I am looking for, or will a bit of co-operation actually do for now? I suspect this is the case, although at the moment I'm not sure it's a choice that I am making. Just no other option in the meantime.

Anyway, now that we've established I'm the problem, I'm feeling a bit fed up. I'll stop off at the local Co-Op on the way home and grab a pack of beer. We'll leave collaboration for another day!

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