But to truly be competitive, Gillespie says the profession also needs to focus on how the younger generation works and will want to work. “For most of our agencies, the way we work, where we work and what we work on will not be in alignment with how the younger generations want to work, nor will they work in the world that these students are growing up in,” she says.

However, Gillespie says the technological disconnect between younger workers and the current procurement discipline is a major hurdle. “The fact that you cannot process significant portions of your work on a tablet or cellphone is going to be an issue for procurement leadership,” she says. “If we don't change, we'll see a significant decrease in numbers of younger generations coming into our field.”

Organizations that are essentially paper-based operations may be challenged in attracting younger talent, says Lourdes Coss, formerly Houston’s chief procurement officer and now a procurement consultant, speaker, teacher and coach (photo at left).

“As the tech-savvy generation enters the workforce, they will be looking for the environments that provide the tools and technology to which they are accustomed,” Coss says.  She tells Government Procurement that those new hires may bring fresh ideas to further automate the procurement workplace by leveraging technology.  

By becoming more technologically minded and attracting younger workers, procurement managers must not isolate their more experienced, older employees. It’s a balancing act, but experts say this increasing diversity in the workforce is ultimately beneficial.

Leveraging a diverse workforce

With younger leaders coming in, and the majority of the workforce aging, today’s procurement administrator needs to learn to work across a wide generational range, says Brian R. Smith, purchasing manager in Multnomah County, Ore (photo below on right). “Some of us are working with and/or managing as many as five generations in the workplace.”

Although it can be challenging, this isn’t without benefit. Smith says that managers can mold a more vibrant and innovative work environment by leveraging the diversity of life experience among staff members to create a stronger team. These elements, Smith says, include both protected (gender, ethnicity, religion, age, etc.) and non-protected (experience, competencies, interests, beliefs, etc.) elements.

“One thing I’ve observed is that this newest generation is much more fluid as a group in working across elements of diversity. This approach certainly helps teams focus more clearly on achieving goals and objectives, but it can often suffer from myopically ignoring a broader organizational cultural context,” Smith says. “In other words, they’re very good at challenging ‘the way we’ve always done things,’ but may lack the sensitivity to organizational forces (and how to navigate them) that impede successful implementation.”

Cooperative purchasing will increase

While the workforce is evolving, so too are the methods by which procurement is accomplished. Experts agree that in the coming years more agencies are likely to use cooperative purchasing. “With the realities of our collective resource challenges, cooperatives will continue to see substantial growth,” Marcheta Gillespie says (photo below on left).

The growing number of cooperatives provides more competition in the marketplace, Gillespie says, but that expansion causes greater confusion for the procurement professional community. “The value of the market saturation is that it is forcing the public procurement professional to ensure their own agencies are properly vetting these cooperatives and the associated contracts,” Gillespie explains.  

This leads to more work for the agency, Gillespie says, “but it also ensures the professional understands ‘why’ they are taking a particular action and not completely relying upon others to vet a decision.”

Strained resources will lead procurement professionals to look to co-ops beyond typical commodity-type purchases. says Reneé Medlin, procurement manager in Kansas City, Mo.’s General Services Department (photo below on right).
 
Medlin’s agency currently uses cooperative contracts for complex services, technology solutions and specialized emergency vehicles. “As we become more creative, I definitely see cooperatives thinking ‘outside the box’ and issuing solicitations that will meet our ever-growing needs,” Medlin says. Some potential cooperative contracts in the future, she explains, could cover correctional services, energy-related equipment and supplies and more public-private-partnership agreements.

The demand on procurement professionals to seek opportunities to reduce cost, maximize resources and reduce cycle times continues to escalate, Coss says. “Agencies seeking solutions may see cooperative purchasing as an opportunity to buy time while they acquire the talent and tools to address some of these requests.”   

Government buyers are increasingly using a variety of alternative purchasing methods, according to the Onvia report These include statewide contracts; piggyback contracts; national, regional and local cooperatives, GSA contracts and P-cards.

Ben Vaught, director of Onvia Exchange (photo at left), says 93 percent of procurement agency staff that responded to the survey is using alternative buying methods. These alternative methods, says Vaught, may save time for the agency compared to formal bidding processes, or they can enable an agency to get a better deal on a commodity buy.

Technology’s growing role in public procurement

In NASPO’s survey, all but three responding jurisdictions indicated that they use an electronic procurement (eProcurement) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

“This represents a 15 percent increase compared to 36 states using eProcurement systems in the previous year,” Bender says. “This is a recognition of the continued growth and the value of e-procurement implementations nationwide.”

This begs the question, in what other ways will technology affect procurement? “We will continue to see our supply chain software and ERP solutions move into the cloud and towards greater business process standardization,” says Smith. Automation and innovation, he explains, “should be seen as both a mindset and an approach.” Agencies, however, need better data to understand how their processes are working.