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Predicting the future

November 20, 2013

It is said that, before the modern era, people used to look backwards in time, towards a lost ‘golden age’. Their ambitions for progress, therefore, were to recapture times of the past, rather than to create something new and better in the future.

Today, there are still people who focus more on what we lost than on what we might achieve going forward. Fear of change is certainly a significant influence and ‘innovations’ are frequently resisted. Yet in the world of work, it is generally accepted that change will happen and many column inches (or their technological equivalent) are expended on how roles and responsibilities will shift in the future. Interestingly, every group or function somehow perceives their role as increasing in importance. I rarely see them predicting their demise. That growth is sometimes based on a need for deepening of expertise – certainly we see this in a field like medicine or even law, where specialists become ever more specialist. But in others, it is about broadening of the role – and that is where the problems begin, because different groups often appear to be competing for the same ground.

A field like contract and commercial management is in this latter category. Until recently, it was not even a defined discipline. People did the job and carried the title, but there was inconsistency in what they knew or the precise role they performed. Except in the specific field of US Government contracting, this began to change only with the creation of IACCM and its introduction of a structured training program in 2003. Today, there are several thousand Certified Practitioners and their numbers are growing fast. But because of this historic lack of definition, there are many others who think they ‘do’ contract or commercial management – for example, lawyers, procurement staff, project managers. At a tactical and operational level, they are often correct.

However, the fact that I understand principles of contract law does not make me a lawyer. The fact that I can undertake a supplier evaluation and selection does not make me a sourcing expert. The fact that I can read a set of accounts does not make me an accountant. There is a big difference between people who have rudimentary knowledge and those who have in-depth understanding. There is also a big difference between the ability to undertake operational tasks versus the strategic understanding that underlies those tasks and supports best practices and innovation.

Contracting and commercial management are becoming distinct disciplines because the rules and overall procedures associated with trading relationships are becoming more complex. This is driving a rapid growth in research and the development of specialist tools and techniques to ensure that risks are managed and anticipated values are achieved. I believe that those who see this development as merely an extension of the past are wrong. This discipline is not some minor adjunct to the role of the lawyer, the project manager or the procurement professional. It is something that stands alone and represents a career path for the future.

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