Helen Dodd-Williams - Limitless possibilities

In the sixth of our interview series with the people helping to shape procurement, Helen Dodd-Williams explains why sustainability, funding and a social media-savvy Generation Z are focussing practice at North West Universities Purchasing Consortium (NWUPC).

Helen, who lives near Liverpool with her husband and two children, leads the contacting team at NWUPC. Like many professionals in her field, she ‘fell’ into procurement seven years ago after discovering a passion for contract law.

Helen said: “I was part of the Shell technology and enterprise programme in the summer of my final year at university, which led to roles in marketing and events for a management consultancy and training company after I left. Then I took a management position at Manchester Metropolitan University, where I started to study law part time, and the opportunity to work at NWUPC came along.

North West Universities Purchasing Consortium

NWUPC develops all the framework agreements on behalf of its 23 full members and six associates and twelve affiliates in the North West, North Wales and Northern Ireland.

Helen said: “We manage the framework agreements on behalf of the North-West region and we have counterparts in the other regions, where we work collaboratively. We also put in national frameworks for every University to use and we tie in with FE as well.

We’re seeing much more focus on contract management. We can’t just put frameworks in place and leave them to run by themselves. Understanding the market, market intelligence and data as well as closer working relationships with suppliers have become key priorities. “

Sustainability expectations

“A key area I’ve had responsibility for is sustainability, so I’ve embedded this over the last four years. There’s a focus on modern slavery, which is so important. As private sector organisations, our members are under increasing pressure to show they are doing things sustainably and they also have more environmental targets.

“Generation Z are now at university and they’re hugely social media savvy. They want universities to be ethical. It’s not that universities weren’t before, but students are more aware now of anything that negatively impacts the reputation of their university. They will look at all the facilities they are offered and want to know where goods and services come from. If there are brands with any negative associations they will be very vocal about that.  They’re asking a lot more questions on supply chains and other considerations. We need to ensure that we’ve really investigated suppliers and can be transparent on all our processes.

Students as customers

“When universities started charging fees, that changed things and brought along much greater expectations. Students paying thousands of pounds don’t want to stay in dilapidated buildings and they want excellent technology to work with.

“Students have become more like customers. You now see huge capital programmes and universities building more modern facilities and making sure their technology is high end. Reputation is ever more important to universities now. They want to attract the best students and fill places.

Funding changes

“There’s a lot of change in funding and concerns about what’s going to happen in the next couple of years. The political landscape could have a direct impact on funding and student numbers. One concern is whether overseas students are still going to be able to come, and whether they’ll want to come. Universities budgets have tightened, which means they must get more for their money. This may reduce further when we come out of the EU, where a lot of universities’ funding comes from.”

Qualifications count

One of Helen’s biggest achievements is gaining her MCIPS qualification in her first and second year at NWUPC in just 18 months.

Helen: “There’s a great call for qualifications in procurement, because recognition for professionalism is increasing. We’ve got to make sound decisions because we are talking multimillion pound contracts and public money.  We need to work more strategically and can’t just be an isolated function. We’re getting more involved at the start of a project and strategically aligning ourselves with organisational aims.  This calls for more professional knowledge and understanding.”

The future of procurement

“It really is an exciting time for procurement. Demands are high, but opportunities are too. There’s more of a shift in focus from cost stripping to what else we can add.  The Public Sector has listened to its customers and is applying pressure to deliver more. New Regulations such as the Social Value Act have supported our ability to drive change and to ask ourselves what more we can achieve.

“It’s really important that procurement professionals are flexible and agile and open to new ideas and new ways of working. We’ve got the opportunity to shift that narrative of process-driven bureaucratic function to something more strategic.”

Motivation

“I really love to do what I do. I’m extremely lucky. HE is such a fantastic sector with limitless possibilities. There’s a real desire to work together, to share best practice and to find ways to do things better. I particularly enjoy working with suppliers to influence their activities. We’ve recently been discussing what we can do to work with the homeless for example which is a big issue in the area surrounding our office. It’s about looking at local matters but also using our national reach to push what we can do to benefit society, that’s what Universities are really there for after all.  It’s not just thinking if we reduce our prices by 5% then we’ll be happy. It’s about what else we can do to add value to the frameworks.”

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