The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) has had a troubled couple of years. We saw major arguments about changes to governance, then implementation of a new Oracle technology platform to manage membership, exam bookings, events – pretty much everything really – has been a disaster. The CEO, Malcolm Harrison, left at the end of March in circumstances that weren’t altogether happy, I understand. The Institute did manage to publish its accounts on time, and you can now examine the document on the Charities Commission website here. They run up to October 31st, 2022, so we’re already two-thirds of the way though the subsequent financial year.
The headlines – CIPS Group turnover in FY22 was £30.2 million with net income of £2.4 million before investments and pension scheme movements. The turnover was below budget expectations, but still represents an increase 11% above FY21, and operating profit was above budget despite the revenue shortfall. Reserves were down on plan but not dangerously low.
There are a number of wider points of interest in the report. I liked the focus on volunteers; I don’t think I have ever seen information provided before on number of volunteers, where they are and so on. The report is pretty honest about the problems caused by the system failure; there is talk of staff having to go above and beyond to keep the show on the road, workarounds and more. But the report makes this claim.
“A programme is now in place to resolve the issues with the platform and to remove all workarounds. However the impacts have been significant with membership, exam bookings, revenue and profits all being negatively impacted.” But clearly the issues were not resolved by the end of March when Harrison went – I’m not convinced all is sorted even now in July.
But there is no simple number provided in terms of what the programme has cost or what more it might still cost to get the platform up and running. However, there is a table that gives figures for “Intangible Fixed Assets. “Assets under development” stood at £4.9 million in November 21 and a further £2.6 million was spent in 2022. The assets under development were “brought into use” during 2022 – if all of this was the new platform, that means some £7.5 million had been spent by November 22.
Maybe some of this was other development though, but it is not clear. I was told a while ago that the budget was in the £5-6 million area so this would represent a major overspend by last November, with more since then. We’ll have to see what the number is in this year’s accounts, and maybe next year’s too! But it seems quite possible that CIPS will end up spending the best part of £10 million.
There have been other impacts too driven by these problems. MCIPS membership is down some 700 on the year, and the blame for that is put at the door of the system. Examinations revenue was up, although there was also mention of system issues there, so maybe it should have been even better. Some of the impact is not really financial but still matters. Talking to a Fellow the other day, it is clear that the issues have made even organising basic events much more difficult. The Fellows group has been one of the success stories of recent years; it would be a shame if it lost momentum simply because of a technical issue.
Looking at those membership numbers, and where revenue comes from, I think it is fair to say that CIPS is no longer primarily a membership organisation. Its two “core businesses” are student education and examinations; and corporate training and development. In terms of the latter, CIPS does not say how much of that revenue comes now from NGOs, governments and charities who provide grants to CIPS to help develop procurement in the developing world. The Bill Gates Foundation is mentioned, and the work in the health system in Africa sounds very worthwhile. Such revenue is not reliable year after year of course, but my feeling is once you get a decent reputation, there are a lot of funds out there for delivering these “good works”.
But 17,000 MCIPS members means membership fee revenue of around £4 million, only some 13% of total revenues. And it is hard to see that growing much, to be honest. As I’ve said before, so much of what used to be the CIPS membership proposition is now replicated by other organisations, from Procurious to the Sustainable Procurement Pledge, by tech and consulting firms or even by individual “influencers” in the profession, who together provide a huge among of insight, IP, networking opportunities and more – free of charge. Why pay CIPS if that is what you value?
So – wild idea – maybe CIPS should make membership free?
You would still need to do the exams or go through a rigorous non-examination route to get your MCIPS, but the “affiliate” status could be developed further for those who don’t want that. And just think how much more the CIPS membership list would be “worth” if it was five times the size it is now! CIPS also needs to get better at working with software firms, consultancies etc – there is a lot more potential revenue there if CIPS gets its act together. But an expanded membership list would be a huge benefit. And the credibility CIPS has in terms of winning corporate work or NGO and charity funded projects would also be far greater with more members.
The alternative is for MCIPS numbers to stagnate at best, and the organisation becomes that training and education body as I suggested earlier, with more and more focus on Africa and the Middle East in the main. But there are issues with the overseas approach too; the US was a disaster last year, losing over £230K after revenues fell and costs rose quite dramatically. I’m also not totally sure about the ethics of doing so much work in Saudi Arabia. I guess our government and our football clubs don’t worry too much about that so there is no reason why CIPS should.
In summary; CIPS had a difficult year, but to be clear, it is not about to go bust. However, the new system has cost millions more than planned and has caused other problems. Some of the overseas operations also look problematical. There is a new Chair and a new CEO (who has solid IT and procurement experience but has never run a business or a P&L before) just getting their feet under the table. Core membership is static or declining, but education and training activities are going pretty well, with grant funded work in particular showing a lot of potential.
I gave up my membership last year after the governance shambles – but I wish the Institute well and hope 2023 proves a better year than 2022. I suspect some innovative thinking is necessary though.