Encouraging a "Virtuous Circle" in Procurement

Posted on September 06, 2017

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Graeme K Whippy

Disability consultant

Back in the mid 00s one of the UK’s largest financial services organizations bought a new “Voice Over IP” phone system for its 80,000 staff without having a clue whether it would work for colleagues who were hard of hearing, visually impaired or had other disabilities.

The story had a happy ending; an enlightened guy in the IT project team recognized that they might have dropped the ball and contacted the IT Accessibility guys to get a steer on what to do. This resulted in an audit of users to establish existing needs and adaptations, and a conversation with the supplier to understand how their product set and 3rd party tools could meet those needs (which they could quite admirably).

Phew. But how did the purchasing organization get into this position?

The procurement guys purchased what the business specified. That spec didn’t include any criteria around accessibility. The supplier offered a product that met the specification and since the spec didn’t include anything about accessibility they didn’t mention that their product portfolio had accessible options that should be explored for the benefit of disabled users. Ergo a contract was signed for a solution that didn’t proactively consider the needs of disabled colleagues.

In every organization I’ve worked with the procurement guys say “we purchase what the business ask for”. Suppliers say “customers don’t ask about accessibility”. And business folk, well, they’re probably thinking of core functionality and things like security and resilience with accessibility way down their list of priorities, and that’s if they’re aware at all.

So what do we do?

We need to encourage a “virtuous circle” where the 3 key players (business, procurement and supplier) all have each other’s backs and ensure that the resulting solution is accessible by default.

A flow diagram which shows two flows between Business, Procurement and Supplier. Flow 1 shows Business asks Supplier, Supplier informs procurement, Procurement advice Business. Flow 2 shows Business specifies Procurement, Procurement enquires Supplier and Supplier promotes Business.

In an ideal world the business would include specific criteria about accessibility in their requirements specification. Procurement would include these criteria in the RFI and tender documentation, make enquiries with the supplier and give the responses appropriate weighting in the selection process.

However, the reality – at least at the current time – is that procurement needs to show thought leadership by checking whether accessibility is relevant to what is being purchased and, if so, that the specification includes accessibility criteria with appropriate priority. If it doesn’t then they need to advise the business accordingly and address the gap.

The supplier needs to show thought leadership by promoting accessibility when having preliminary discussions with the business when it’s going out to market for initial long listing or research. The supplier should also be on the alert for tender documents that don’t include criteria about accessibility and include them regardless, informing the procurement team and positioning it as important added value.

Accessibility must not be an afterthought when procuring ICT solutions; if the three key players show thought leadership and take collective responsibility to encourage each other to be proactive and consider the needs of disabled users there’s no reason why it should be.