A seasoned procurement veteran-turned-college-professor warns that the increasing decentralisation of the procurement process is opening doors to unethical practices.

Writing for Supply Chain Dive, Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management, Rich Weissman at Endicott College, chronicles the transformation of the procurement jobs of old into the highly-skilled, ethical nature of the work today, a transition driven by the function’s rising importance to business success, and by a sea-change in the education and training of practitioners.

When it was a poorly-paid, lowly role, managers often turned a blind eye when suppliers approached purchasing agents with various ‘sweeteners’ designed to curry favour, a strategy that often worked.

Since then, with the higher profile of procurement and supply chain jobs today, and the vastly-improved skill base and remunerative recognition practitioners have acquired, these professionals have mostly stamped out unethical practices in the purchaser-supplier relationship.

But, a new trend is undermining the achievements, according to Professor Weissman: procurement decentralisation, a move towards ‘do it yourself’ purchasing that increasing organisations are adopting, aided partly by new technology, such as enterprise-level supply management software.

As Weissman notes, this trend means that “procurement gives up significant control of buying to engineers, lab managers, facilities staffs and assorted requisitioners across the company, each with their favoured suppliers.”

Maverick spend beyond the scope of established contracts and approved supplier lists is becoming more of an issue, creating an increased potential for bad behaviour among purchasers and suppliers.

There is also a growing array of personnel who have increasingly unsupervised supplier communications, Weissman observes, from planners to transportation mangers to expeditors to warehouse managers — a development with the potential to undermine the ethics of compliance and place a company in legal peril.

Weissman concludes with a warning: “… far too many hands are in the supply management process, making it difficult to keep ethical breaches at bay, no matter how often employees sign their annual ethics statement.”

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