Meet the Member: “Generative AI will likely lead to more firms bidding for more contracts”
April 19, 2023
Despite being a massive part of the sports business the procurement process is still a mystery to some. To shine a light on how it works and the current trends in the industry we caught up with Nour-Eddine Boufertala, Head of Procurement for the ECB.
So Nour to kick us off, take us through your journey in sport?
I started my recreational sport journey as a boxer during my early years. I then transitioned into playing basketball and was actually part of the Young Academy of one of the elite basketball teams in France for a few years before going to Spain and playing in Barcelona.
Like so many people who work in our world I do think some of the traits I picked up from playing have helped me in my professional career.I am still a massive sports fan – it is the first thing I check when I get up in the morning.
On the professional side, I started my journey in sport when I joined the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in 2019 to build the procurement department. My previous procurement roles had been in the automotive, aerospace and rail industries.
Since 2019, I have realised the growing importance of procurement in the sporting industry but also the lack of professional procurement expertise in this sector. In 2022, I started Oben Sports and Events Consulting to support sporting organisations to improve and develop their procurement journeys. Through this I have been fortunate to work on various exciting events like the Hundred but also supporting the Football Foundation (The Premier League, the FA and the government’s charity that helps communities improve their local football facilities through football grants).
What is it about procurement that attracted you?
The impact you can have on an organisation is extremely challenging and rewarding. The procurement department is right at the centre of the business. This job is also fitting with the skills I have developed over my studies. I graduated as an industrial and chemical engineer where I learned to solve and find pragmatic solutions to complex problems. It helps me a lot day-to-day.
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I was also attracted by this fast-forward moving industry where we need to be on the top of the latest market innovation in order to bring more value to our own organisation. It means that we need to be constantly open to new ideas.
Being a massive sports fan makes it even more exciting to be part of the industry and support different sports like cricket and football. I love how it is a bit of a small world and everyone has the same passion.
How does your role as Head of Procurement fit into the ECB’s wider work?
My role is fully embedded into the ECB strategy, Inspiring Generation, to grow the game with the aim to inspire a new generation to believe that ‘Cricket is a game for me’. The ECB is committed to ensuring cricket is for everyone, connecting communities and improving lives by bringing people together through their shared passion for the sport. We are taking proactive action around equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) to create a game that belongs to us all, now and long into the future.
The procurement function is involved in all projects that are developed to deliver the company wide strategy. One major success is our mass participation programmes, All Stars and Dynamos; through a robust supply chain, hundreds of thousands of children and volunteers have engaged with this programme and it has transformed loads of clubs up and down the country.
Talk to us a bit about the procurement process?
Generally speaking, the procurement process is divided into these parts: identification of the internal requirement, sourcing the market, negotiation of the contract terms, appointment and supplier relationship management
However, every procurement strategy/approach is different, it will depend on various factors like the category (product, construction, services,) and type of procurement (private or public).
It is also key to leave some room for manoeuvre for the suppliers to share their innovation, add values. We always must remind ourselves that we are in a fast-moving market and the innovation will come from the market.
What are some of the challenges you are facing at the moment?
The most challenging aspect about my role is to make sure we are receiving the best value for money by including various factors like EDI, sustainability, and innovation. Procurement is not a transactional function but more than ever strategy-oriented one.
As a governing body, I must make sure we are receiving the best service, quality, and price from our partners in order to continue developing ourselves and investing the savings into our various programmes.
Also, the markets are becoming more volatile, with prices fluctuating, supplier shortage, Ukraine war and the post-Covid effect. All these challenges have pushed me to think outside of the box and explore unconventional ways of delivering the best possible outcome.
Sustainability is obviously a massive thing in sport at the moment, how much thought do you put into that?
Firstly, the ECB is committed to tackling climate change and promoting environmental sustainability. We have been taking action since 2010 to manage and reduce cricket’s environmental footprint and, more broadly, we recognise that all sports have a powerful platform, and a responsibility, to show leadership and inspire action from others. We can see the impact of climate change has on cricket, where extreme weather events are causing increased disruption.
More widely than the environmental impact, as part of our EDI strategy, we are on an ongoing journey to further our ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) commitments across environmental sustainability; equity, diversity & inclusion; social impact; and good governance across our supply chain. The procurement function is leading a pilot program with the ECB’s key suppliers and stakeholders to understand the collective impact of the ECB and its suppliers and stakeholders across these areas.
Going forward, we are working on a robust assessment process that will cover all the above ESG points with the adequate weighting at tender stage.
What sort of trends are you seeing in the procurement industry at the moment?
I would say AI. Artificial intelligence has always allowed procurement organisations to solve complex problems more efficiently or effectively using smart computer algorithms. AI can be embedded into a number of software applications from spend analysis to contract management and strategic sourcing.
Today, generative AI is changing the AI game, taking assistive technology to a new level, reducing application development time, and bringing powerful capabilities to nontechnical users. It will help every organisation to streamline their process, increase the exploitation of their data and ultimately reduce their costs.
On the public procurement side, writing bids for contracts takes time, investment, and resources, but by enabling suppliers to create bid text more quickly, generative AI will likely lead to more firms bidding for more contracts. This could lower barriers to entry for suppliers that may otherwise lack the resources to apply for government contracts, leading to more competition and better outcomes for the government. On the flip side, it is also likely to mean the government having to process a larger volume of bids and creates the risk of suppliers submitting more speculative bids due to the lower effort required.
But as with every new technology, we must proceed with eyes wide open, because the technology today presents many ethical and practical challenges.