Wednesday 5 June 2013

Is an integrated commercial landscape even possible?

The Spend Matters headline read "GPS and Cabinet Office procurement – more integration to come, says Crothers" and went on to quote Bill Crothers, Government CPO at the Cabinet Office, as saying "... different components of the commercial landscape that are not necessarily integrated."

As I explained in my 'no pain, no gain' blog I'm not for taking the words we use at face value. After all the language we use tells us so much more - if only we spent more time exploring the underlying metaphors hidden within the words.

In other words let's not get caught up in what an 'integrated commercial landscape' looks like. Let's start with understanding what an 'integrated landscape' looks like, and then apply that learning to a 'commercial landscape'. That way we don't get caught up in the content of the situation that's full of the politics of public sector procurement, government policy, competing stakeholders etc.

The key when using any metaphor is to stick with the metaphor for as long as possible. In this case sticking with exploring the integrated natural landscape and not a commercial one. A bit like when we're conducting the research and analysis phase for a category. That is it's no use making assumptions and jumping to conclusions until all the data is in.

So stick with me, and notice what you notice as you read further, as I share the thoughts and insights that appear as I explore an 'integrated landscape' from my lounge, and a road atlas of Britain!

As it's impossible to view the whole landscape at once I automatically thought of a map. Remembering of course that the map is not reality only a representation of it. The map I had to hand was a road atlas of Britain. It is however out of date and a little worn!
So I'm already wondering if I can get a sense of integration when I don't even have an accurate and up to date picture of the whole? For example I know the new forth road bridge would be shown on a new map with completion date some date in the future (2016).

The first page I turn to has a map that shows the bigger picture but not how all the component parts connect with each other. Each major city simply a blob with no roads connecting them!
The next size map has the Britain split in 2. It clearly shows the blue lines of motorways connecting major hubs and the linking A roads, but big gaps of blankness of unconnected space in between. So still a disconnect I suspect.
If I drill down I keep getting more detail but smaller areas covered. A greater sense of integration within that small area but greater loss of integration with the whole.
I'm currently not getting a sense of what an integrated landscape looks like and start to wonder if it's possible other than for specific areas within the whole as shown above.

This is where doing this alone has its weakness as I'm not sure where to go next, and in groups it's easier to feed on each other's ideas...

I will give it a go none the less...initial thoughts I soon discounted included:
  • Using Google earth and satellites to help see the bigger picture and zoom in and out as needed. I kept getting a sense that's no different than the problem I was having with the maps. You either get high level of the whole, or detail of a small bit. You can't have a detailed whole picture.
  • I also thought about cutting up the map and pulling bits together. But that ignores so much and allows for a distorted view of reality because my values and judgements then decide what is, and what isn't included. 
Which brings me to the only solution from this exploration that I could see:
  • I keep being drawn to the water that surrounds Britain as the defining integrator. Every part of Britain understanding how they relate to the water even if not to each other. Unlike the landscape, that is full of variety and complexity and needs the detail to make sense of it all, the sea that surrounds the landscape is fairly uniform. A little colder or warmer in places impacted by different currents but something that can be understood as a whole.   
So where does that quick trip into the landscaping process get us - for me the insights include:
  • You need a map to make sense of the landscape - otherwise all you can do is view the landscape you're standing in at that moment in time.
  • That's only relevant if the map is up to date. That is you can't integrate something that's not quantified, and you certainly can't integrate it in order to quantify it!
  • Beware of options that split the map in two as its easy to concentrate on the half you know better, and forget about the bigger picture.
  • A detailed map is only possible for small areas, and locals will still know the area better than any map ever will.
  • You can't have detailed integration of the whole - you either have high level integration of the whole, or detailed integration of a smaller area.
  • Integration at a high level tells us very little.
  • The only way to make sense of the bigger picture, and how it all fits together, is to understand the container in which it sits.
The next step would be to then understand what the sea represents on the 'commercial landscape' Bill was talking about.

Would love to read what you took from this slightly different way of looking at the situation. Not quite what I was expecting but then it would need to be Bill who makes the assessment of its value, as it was his metaphorical language I explored.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article..nice to know these things about commercial landscaping.