Is it Center of Excellence or Mindset of Excellence?

The Supply Chain Management Review recently ran an article on Maximizing e-Sourcing through a Center of Excellence where they noted that software alone is not sufficient — organizations must have the knowledge and policies in place to support these tools. The article then says that, because of this, leaders today are establishing Centers of Excellence (CoE) to fully capture the value and savings from e-Sourcing technologies.

As per the article, a Center of Excellence is a small center-led group of sourcing experts who focus on standardizing processes, leveraging technology, capturing best practices, sharing knowledge, and streamlining activities. The model allows the flexibility to tailor purchases at the local level while leveraging corporate spend for strategic categories and commodities. (For a more complete definition of Center Led Procurement, as well as the benefits that normally accompany it, see my three part series: Part I: Introduction , Part II: Center of Excellence, and Part III: Best Practices).

The article also proclaims the benefits that often accompany a CoE and points to an Aberdeen study that found that the savings performance of an organization that has established a CoE is typically 39% better than its competitors. Furthermore, the organization is 32% more likely to have employed advanced sourcing strategies, 54% more proficient in their usage of e-Sourcing technology, and 25% ahead of their competition when it comes to maverick spend.

Considering that other studies from other organizations have reported similar results, there’s no arguing that a well designed and properly executed center of excellence gets results. However, I have to wonder how much is due to the center of excellence and how much is due to the mindset of excellence. It’s not the center that achieves results – but the people. It’s not the technology that the center employs – but the people who use it. It’s not the processes that the center recommends – but the people who
employ them. The mindset to apply best practices, processes, and technologies and be best in class resides in people.

Furthermore, if you have a team that has the mindset, do you really need a physical center? Many organizations like to “centralize” their “center-led” procurement organization in a single location – but considering the global talent crunch, is this really a good idea? First of all, your best talent is probably distributed globally – and many of them probably aren’t going to want to relocate (half-way around the world). Secondly, with the increasingly global nature of business, you need talent distributed globally to help your global teams understand the best practices, processes, and technology and properly apply them. If you think that once a year training sessions in a central location is enough these days, you’re trapped in the past. Thirdly, you can’t always aggregate demand across disparate divisions when each division could be making slightly different goods for different markets with different regulatory requirements. Sometimes demand just has to remain distributed.

Thus, I have to ask whether a Center of Excellence is the answer or if what you really need is a Team of Excellence. Furthermore, do you really need this team centralized in the same office, or can they be distributed out across your global purchasing organizations? It seems to me that if they have a Mindset of Excellence, this is all you need. Furthermore, since you’ll have one or more experts in each of your divisions, it seems to me that not only will you have increased adoption of the mandated processes, technologies, and best practices, but that you’ll get even better performance across the board. Now, it’s true that you’ll need networked persons to pull this off, but hey, it’s the noughts. Get used to it.

One Response to Is it Center of Excellence or Mindset of Excellence?

  1. My eSourcing experience supports your contention. I have seen COEs become islands where the organization expects only the COE to achieve excellence. The rest of the folks maintain the status quo rather than the entire organization moving to the next level. I prefer a matrix model where you work with thought leaders from across the organization to develop the mindset and practices of excellence then return them to their home organizations to become disciples. The COE becomes a support / resource team for the deployed individuals. It’s important, however, that the disciples AND individuals across the organization are accountable for delivering excellence.

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