Rogue suppliers are no good for your school and that’s not just because you may end up paying too much for a product or a service. Engaging a rogue supplier can lead to your school missing deadlines, missing commitments to your governors/stakeholders and even putting your staff at risk. So, ensuring that you avoid rogue suppliers is an important part of the way you do business and following some key steps will safeguard you against them.
Before talking about how to protect your school from a rogue supplier, it is important to clarify what we mean by the term.
A rogue supplier, typically, is an organisation that doesn’t consistently intend to supply a product and / or service to your school in the way you want it. In other words, the rogue supplier doesn’t deliver: the right specification; to the right place; at the right time; and at the right (agreed) price.
So, how can your school avoid rogue suppliers?
The first thing your school should do is to ensure that it views suppliers – generally – in the right way. By this I mean your school should look on suppliers as an extension of your organisation. These 3rd party organisations provide the essential goods and services your organisation needs to operate effectively, whether it is providing stationary, the provision of a fully functioning learning platform or the desks and chairs needed for your classrooms.
Accordingly, you need to ensure you have a robust approach to finding, selecting, contracting and managing the suppliers you need to help make your school work. That approach will ensure you avoid rogue suppliers. It has five stages:
First, before you even start to look for suitable suppliers you need to determine what you are looking for. In other words, what is your requirement? Ensure that the right stakeholders from across your school are involved in agreeing what the requirement is, making sure what you articulate is detailed enough so as to be easily understood by a 3rd party.
Second, understand what suppliers are out there for you to work with. With your requirements well understood internally, you need to find some potential suppliers that can meet them. For each discrete requirement your school has, do some research on what suppliers there are and what exactly they do. This research can take several forms. It might be that you have worked with a reliable, high performing supplier in this particular market before. Or you may ask for recommendations from your network of schools. You can use the Internet to research the market and find some potentially suitable suppliers. Or, you could you use a research company like Gartner to help you identify suitable suppliers. The objective at this stage is simply to generate a list of suppliers.
Third, you need to select the right supplier. This stage is about due diligence. Doing the right due diligence ensures you can find out everything you need to know about the suppliers on the list that you generated in Stage Two. This includes financial due diligence: helping you to understand things like how long the supplier has been trading, what their ownership status is, whether they are solvent, if they pay their creditors in a timely manner – all important considerations that will help you root out any potential rogue organisations. Also included is operational due diligence: helping you to understand how each supplier operates, what facilities and equipment they have, how many customers they have, what sort of growth plans they may have, and how they contribute to the communities in which they operate.
The selection process you choose to follow can be very prescriptive if you wish with Requests For Information and Requests For Proposal (and if you operate in the public sector you have to follow this process adhering to strict timescales) but irrespective of the process you choose, what is key is to avail yourself of as much information as you need to give you confidence that the suppliers you are assessing are bona fide organisations, with track records of successfully supplying other schools like yourselves. The due diligence stage is also a time when you can meet your favoured suppliers from the list you created. This is a great opportunity to ask them detailed questions about what they do and how they would help your school if they were to win your contract. You can also ask for references.
The fourth stage of avoiding rogue suppliers is to negotiate an effective contract with the supplier you select. After completing robust due diligence, you still need to protect your school against rogue practices and / or behaviours. So, make sure that the contract you sign clearly outlines the product and / or services you and the supplier have agreed will be supplied. And also make sure the contract clearly states what recourse you have in the event of the supplier not consistently delivering what it is contracted to deliver. Beyond that, there are a number of key inclusions to the contract you sign, some of which are:
- The rights you have to terminate the contract;
- How the supplier must treat confidential information;
- Under what circumstances – and how – the supplier can use subcontractors to provide any of the products and / or services being supplied to you. If your supplier wants to do this, it is important to hold them accountable for not engaging rogue suppliers themselves;
- The liability the supplier will assume in the event of something going wrong;
- What information the supplier must provide to you during the contract (so you can accurately judge their performance);
- A detailed escalation and dispute resolution process; and
- What rights you have to audit the supplier including site visits;
The fifth and final stage of avoiding rogue suppliers is to ensure you manage the supplier properly – and let them manage you too! Ensure that you keep the contract alive. In other words, don’t let it sit in a drawer gathering dust, but use it to help you manage the supplier. Are they consistently providing the products and services as set out in the contract? Are they fulfilling all of their obligations? And are you having the right conversations of they are not? And, finally it shouldn’t all be one way. A good supplier will want to manage you too, for example by coming up with ideas as to how it can improve the service it provides your business. A good supplier will be an expert in its field so you should be open to listening to their ideas.
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