The language of procurement

What is it with procurement? It’s an art, or a science, that aims to keep costs down and profit margins healthy. It smoothes relationships between buyers and suppliers which, in turn, keep the show on the road – whether you’re building bridges, packaging food or running the country. Buying the best at keen prices, keeping supplies running, then selling finished goods or providing services efficiently – that’s a chain whose parts and links need constant vigilance.

So three cheers for the UK’s Government Procurement Service which has centralised central and local government departments’ procurement. Herding the many buying processes used by government departments through a single electronic portal makes sense. When it helps the Home Office save £650,000 on printer cartridges, we must acknowledge that perhaps, for once, a government system is working well. Procurement is simple, common sense. We get it.

Why then is procurement’s language so tongue-tied? Why are we, suppliers or buyers, forced through linguistic obstacle courses? Civil Service Learning, which now funnels all the learning and development (L&D) in the Civil Service (and is run, of course, by Capita), describes each tender as an “event”. A recently simplified system, Sid4Gov, promises further improvements, in a sentence that is anything but simple:

“The future vision is to create a single supplier registration portal that will provide one place for suppliers to register and provide information for procurement in support of management information requirements and responses to tenders across the public sector.”


A procurement leaders blog said recently that the crucial developments in procurement had happened in the past thirty years and then looked forward:

“the golden age is probably still to come, with procurement taking up responsibility for bringing-in innovation in companies with ever decreasing own value-creation depth.”

If that is how they describe it, it’s not a golden age we look forward to. It’s time for procurement to take down the language barriers it has thrown up along its own supply chain.