When we think of procurement, and all the focus on transformation of the function that dominates the discourse, our minds and that of the CEO and CFO will often zoom in on the seemingly obvious deliverables. Cost savings, increases to the bottom line and opening up new revenue streams for the business tend to be the ‘go-to’ key phrases in any procurement conversation. But what happens when the organisation is a government organisation? And what does that mean for the deliverables and the benefits that the key stakeholders seek through procurement? If profit and revenue isn’t the ultimate goal for a business, what more can procurement achieve for it?
This is certainly the challenge facing Nour-Eddine Boufertala, Head of Procurement at England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). As the national governing body for all cricket in England and Wales, the ECB supports the game of cricket at every level – from the grassroots to the professional game. The ECB has 300 staff all across the UK who work closely with first class counties, county cricket boards and other partners to promote the game as widely as possible. As part of its Inspiring Generation Strategy for the national game, the ECB will look to put a bat and ball into more and more hands and introduce more people to the power of cricket over the next five years.
“Put simply, we want to inspire people to say cricket is a game for me, including engaging children and young people, transforming women’s and girls’ cricket and supporting a range of different communities across England and Wales,” explains Boufertala.
“We have a lot of BAME initiatives and we want to work collaboratively with British South Asian communities and make the sport more accessible. We want everyone to enjoy playing cricket and to enjoy the game. What we have is not a complicated network, but a lot of people are included in the process and the procurement plays a key part in all of this.”
Like many procurement professionals, Boufertala’s procurement career didn’t start until later in life. Having worked as an industrial engineer before catching on to supply chain and procurement (and ultimately training in the profession), Boufertala cut his procurement teeth while working with Thales as a raw materials buyer. Here, he worked across a number of markets including aerospace, rail and military and eventually moved on to Hitachi Europe to focus again on procurement in the rail industry. When the call came from ECB, as procurement manager, the big question staring him right in the face was; what use is his procurement experience in the fast paced major global industries when trying to grow the reach of a sport like cricket? It’s a question that Boufertala finds himself quite privileged to be in charge of answering.
“First and foremost, it was a truly unmissable opportunity for me,” he beams. “But make no mistake, I was coming from a well-established procurement department in a huge global organisation to a sector that procurement isn’t exactly known for as the function simply did not exist. So, my vision and my task was to build everything from scratch.”
It almost goes without saying that building a procurement function from scratch is no simple task. This is where his experience in working for major corporations such as Thales and Hitachi helps. “In terms of procurement, this is where we had the biggest contingency in terms of headcount. It was a massive department with a lot of process,” he says.
“It shaped me for what I’m doing right now. It shaped all my understanding of procurement. On one side you have to build and maintain a functioning procurement, on the other side you have to convince the internal stakeholders about procurement.”
By his own admission, moving to ECB was the perfect move for Boufertala as it presented him with the unique opportunity to see the direct impact of procurement. Reflecting on his previous procurement experience, he points to how the reward for procurement in building a plane is reflected close to 20 years later when the plane is in flight. At ECB, Boufertala relishes the step-by-step nature of his mission.
The evolution of procurement is a long and ongoing tale, as industries the world over continue to adapt and to change their approach to the function as the necessity and perspective of procurement continues to rise. Over the course of his career, Boufertala has seen the shift from transactional to strategy oriented procurement and continues to see it to this day. But how does this differ in sport? Where is the procurement conversation when compared to other industries? Boufertala’s role sees him look to inspire future generations of cricket fans and indeed players, supporting the game from the grassroots level right to the highest level, and reduce spend, improve level of service and enable innovation. These goals are by no means radically different than say, a Fintech company, but for ECB procurement has only entered the conversation over the past five years.
“I think the sport industry wasn’t ready to have procurement, because the context was totally different,” says Boufertala. “But right now, terms of procurement, we are lucky enough to take the best from each industry to make it simple and efficient. We weren’t behind so to speak, but we will catch up very quickly with the other big businesses, because as a procurement professional netted from the aerospace and the rail industry, I can take the best of those worlds and adapt it to the ECB and to the broader sport.”
This is where his experience in particular proves key. As a procurement professional who has lived and breathed procurement in large organisations, Boufertala understands the ins and outs of the function. Most importantly, he knows how to successfully and unsuccessfully bring about change in procurement.
“We need to have something simple and quicker because people don’t understand sometimes the supply chain and how it applies to cricket” he says. “I’m dealing with experts in cricket and they need to understand what I would bring to the table. If I’m coming with an extremely complicated process, it would be very hard for them to adhere to procurement.”
Here, Boufertala refers to the supply chain and procurement conversations happening in football, arguably the more successful and broadly known sport. He speaks of how over the last few years, football clubs have started to invest in in-house procurement best practices as they have recognised that how much they can spend on the pitch (player transfers) depends on how lean the organisation is internally.
“Football used to be defined by talk about the big four (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United). They were the only one at the top of the league every year, now there are a lot of people who can challenge for the titles,” he says. “This means that a lot of clubs can invest more and more on players and give high salaries to have the best players.
“Of course, if they invest a lot, this is because they have something in the background that can help them make these investments. Procurement helps a lot here and this is fast becoming a competitive edge in sports because you can spend more on players if you have less spend or if you have better deals through procurement.”
With procurement being a relatively new thing for both the sport and for ECB, Boufertala needed to outline a roadmap. The goals were clear, but the journey to get there not so much. As with many procurement journeys, ECB’s is one defined by quick wins and curiosity. Boufertala speaks of needing to be curious and asking stakeholder after stakeholder questions about their role, their successes and indeed their pain points. In better understanding what strengths and weaknesses were already present, Boufertala could then look to identify the right path.
“It’s about finding quick wins to begin with and looking for solutions in the market to improve the level of service because the stakeholders don’t have time to do it,” he says. “Let’s look at the goal of wanting more women and girls playing cricket. Currently, the stakeholders are only focusing on how we can make cricket more attractive to that audience. Procurement can come in and really help make significant progress there.”
“If we reduce a cost here, you can invest more in making the game more attractive. So, for me, I really started from scratch to say this is what would be considered a quick win. Once we have a quick win, people would be convinced about the impact of procurement and they will start to ask me more about other ways in which procurement can help.”
With a focus on creating simple, efficient processes and bringing new technology to the procurement table, one of Boufertala’s first projects was a rehauling of ECB’s existing travel management processes. Due to the nature of the sport, travel and overnight stay was essential and ECB had around 240 hotels that it would use on an annual basis. ECB would deal directly with the hotels with a lot of physical interaction and face to face dealings involved. Boufertala looked at streamlining this service and implemented an online booking tool that would allow any staff member to have instant access to all hotels in the system, saving time. A fine example of a simple and quick win that instantly improves the level of service.
“I created all the tender document process and procurement policy. Looking at all of the best tools and best practices to make sure that we have the best value for the best services. I’m still doing it to this day,” he says. “It involves a lot of communication. This is key to the success when you build a new project or a new department, because people need to be with you. If they’re not on my side, it’s very hard to make changes. But that’s why this is part of my job, convincing people internally and externally that what I’m doing is good because it forces me to better understand every single department and how procurement can improve the level of service for them.”
In any procurement journey, the road from A to B is never as simple as it sounds. Contingency plans, risk assessments and even unforeseen factors can impact and influence a journey and in 2020, the COVID19 pandemic was an unprecedented factor that no one could have prepared for. For ECB, an organisation built around live sport and thousands of spectators physically in stadiums watching live games, the challenges presented are ones that to this day are continuing to prove difficult to overcome.
“We lost almost 800 days of live events in stadiums, to put a number on it,” says Boufertala. “In 2019 we won the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup. It was probably the best year ever. We hosted The Ashes series against Australia for men and women in the UK. It was a magical year for cricket. Then 2020 came and that momentum was impacted . In those circumstances, we worked hard to give the best entertainment possible to our fans.”
As the year unfolded and governments and countries began to work towards a post-pandemic world, having spectators at sporting events was still proving difficult and unsafe. The ECB trialled the safe return of sports with 1,000 spectators in The Kia Oval in London and Edgbaston in Birmingham, but unfortunately had to cancel the second test due to public health guidance. But through challenge came opportunity, and this was an opportunity born out of sound procurement practice.
“We are extremely lucky to have Sky and BBC as broadcasting partners. We had the first live women’s game on BBC Sport since 1993. It was live on Sky and BBC and we had an audience of more than two million viewers,” he says. “We are extremely proud of that and it was the first live cricket event on the BBC for the last 21 years. I think in terms of the timing of the deal with BBC and Sky, it was perfect. We were not expecting COVID and everything that happened, of course, but at least we could give something to the spectator. Because ultimately the spectator is the end user. This is who we want to please at the end. So, we genuinely have something to be extremely proud of in what was a dramatic year.”
These games were played behind closed doors in a bio-security bubble, something that Boufertala highlights as a first for sport in the UK. “Quite literally, we didn’t have any layout, or existing examples that we could copy. We had to start from scratch,” he says. “This was an opportunity for procurement to shine because we needed to work fast and work efficiently with both internal and external stakeholders to help to make it happen and to do it in the right way.”
“The team was instrumental in making it happen. Before we could get anywhere near opening, we needed to have PPE equipment on site so we went to tender. We had a fast-track process, and within two weeks we secured enough PPE equipment just to make it happen. It was a way to show how procurement can be efficient and how procurement can help.”
Procurement was fundamental in securing the PPE equipment, security management for the site, as well as onsite tracking system and fever camera detection. Boufertala feels that the speed at which this could be achieved, together with the effectiveness, showcases just how procurement is a reliable department within the ECB.
With the pandemic still a pressing concern, the future for live sport is one of uncertainty, but for ECB and the procurement journey there is still a long way to go. Boufertala speaks of the key focus on bringing the safe return of cricket at all levels, providing support and financial security across the whole game. Beyond that, the ECB will continue to look to deliver The Hundred, an incredible 100-ball cricket tournament that was due to start in the summer of 2020 and subsequently postponed to 2021. This, Boufertala notes, will be huge for the future of cricket in the UK.
“I am convinced that it will be a massive success,” he beams. “Running at the same time, we’ll have international games and the women’s game. So this will be key for us for this summer. The success of this will help us immensely in growing women and girls’ participation, growing the disability game, and having more South Asian communities engaging with our sport at every level.”
“This is why this is extremely rewarding because we’re working in so many different areas but all of them are extremely exciting for the future and are extremely bright for cricket.”
Boufertala has mentioned numerous times just how privileged he feels to be in his position with the ECB. At almost every opportunity, it’s a privilege that he remembers and is certainly not something he takes for granted.
“It’s extremely important to work in a company where you trust the values,” he says. “I trust the values of the ECB and the values of the sport in general. It’s important sometimes to take a step back. What we are doing can be extremely difficult. But when we step back and think about what we have achieved, we’re not saving lives, we’re not doctors. We’re talking about sports. We’re making people happy. We’re engaging with a lot of kids and more kids are playing again up and down the country. Oh, and we very recently won the world cup.
“This is key for me; step back to see the strong values that the company has. It wouldn’t be possible to work in a company where I don’t trust the value, and this has enabled me to give my best and it is these values which will be the key to the success for procurement, the ECB and the sport itself.”