Choosing Suppliers, When Time Really Matters

Time is short, it always is. For human beings, time can be our most valuable commodity; we can’t get it back and we have a finite amount of it, yet we often manage it poorly and rarely maximise the time we have. From industry to industry, the use of time to deliver services, products & assets varies in execution.

If we focus on the sector we predominantly serve - construction - we can probably all admit it has a problem with time… a big one. There is research to suggest 85.2% of construction projects are delivered late and the reasons are numerous. Decisions on appointing contractors and sub-contractors can be left to the last minute and the understanding of what causes delays (and managing them) is the main driver behind ever-increasing project team sizes and the continuing development of digital and BIM to understand, control and affect the development process.

 

Delays on recent construction projects

Data from Cornerstone, 2017

As relative small players in the construction development lifecycle, we experience first-hand bad decisions being made so close to deadlines. In fact, we are regularly brought in to replace suppliers who were initially appointed purely on cost, or were poorly chosen in haste. Lack of diligence in appointing the right supplier from the get-go, or going with the cheapest only compounds the problem, as it often starts with poor service and just gets worse. The money initially saved is then dwarfed by the colossal impact of a poor client relationship (and the resulting impact on reputation) and of course, much higher late delivery costs.

There are plenty of great suppliers out there, yet the choice not to choose them often boils down to a combination of commercial reasons and a lack of understanding as to what differentiates a good supplier from a bad one. The luxury of time to really understand a supplier’s business, proposition and most importantly their service offering is rarely afforded. Often decisions on these factors are a tick box exercise; 'do they provide x?' If ‘Yes’, the box is ticked, but as the analogy goes, ‘anyone can swing a golf club, but who would you want to teach you how to play golf?' A professional or an amateur? The same goes for choosing suppliers. Just because they tick a box doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll deliver what you are looking for and to the level required.

However, there is a short set of reference criteria that can be used to make informed decisions on who to appoint quickly and accurately.

London skyline

 

Reliability

Reliable. Perhaps not the most exciting way to begin our list, admittedly. Let’s choose some other phrases instead. How about ‘delivers on expectations every time’ or ‘using them is buying a result’? The decision to appoint a new supplier and the blowback from selecting a poor one is the stuff of nightmares.

Start with making sure the supplier is reliable. Aspects such as on-time delivery, consistent service performance and superior technical support are vital in any service. For time- and budget-constrained industries like construction, doubly so. Reliable suppliers have a proven record of fulfilling customer expectations and should be able to evidence this with testimonials, case studies and net promoter scores. Not to mention accreditations like ISO 9001:2015. The more transparent and proud they are about the great service they can offer their clients, the more likely it is they’ll actually provide one.

 

Service alignment 

Does the supplier provide you with a service tailored to your needs? Before looking at this metric, you of course need to have ascertained what your specific needs are (we assume you have), but most importantly here, does the supplier know these? When a supplier truly understands the requirements of their client, they are able to develop and adapt their services to meet these. A good supplier will readily demo their service, but not before understanding what you want. Without getting firmly under the skin of your unique requirements, it’s impossible to provide a truly tailored service. Using the golf analogy again, a professional will get you to hit some balls, ask you what you want to work on and then advise the best way they can help. Make sure the supplier is asking you what you want and what your end goal is, before matching your requirements with the right service.

 

Innovation

Put simply, a supplier that innovates is one that adapts to an ever-changing industry. They typically lead with technological advances, often at the cutting edge. Taking the latest tech and using it effectively for creating greater efficiencies principally means one thing; saving time. Combined with service alignment, this important criterion means you are getting a supplier that both understands you and the industry they are performing in, and also are single-minded in improving their service to you.

Lobster Vision BIM integration

Lobster Vision BIM integration

Value

This old chestnut can be vague and nebulous, and to each client can mean something different. The Construction Leadership Council's Ann Bentley only recently called for a perception shift for the word 'value' in the construction industry; away from meaning simply 'the lowest price' and more towards 'tender price plus performance'. 

Value can be found in many areas. Simple things - such as being on time, flexible terms, great customer support through to a consistent service, cutting edge functionality, the list goes on - can all be viewed and measured as value. Ultimately, a good supplier wants to work with you to find and create new solutions and will seek to understand where they can do this for you, demonstrating their value intrinsically. The trick is to be open to this and identify these points of added value, rather than just focusing on cost alone.

 

Would you like to know more?

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