Building a commercial mindset: an interview with Sam Ulyatt

Proxima speaks to the Home Office chief commercial officer about her vision for the HO’s commercial function, embracing every corner of the UK and attracting the next generation of public sector talent
Steve Cadman/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Proxima

20 Jul 2021

 

Tell us about the commercial function and your role within the Home Office.

Commercial astuteness has always been integral to the department, but when I joined just a year ago, there was a wake-up call to bring the commercial function (from being reactive and transactional ) to a place at the table for key strategic decision making. The unprecedented supply-chain strain from the pandemic, coupled with increased drive for social value in procurement, meant that the value of what the team does was hitting the global news agenda – which made it an incredibly exciting time to join. As a leader, I wanted to implement a forward-looking and joined-up vision for our commercial function that resonated with the entire cultural framework of the Home Office.

 

How do you see the commercial function developing in the next three years?

I believe that talent and technology are critical to the future of the department, so these are two of my key strategic focuses. By working with and building  the best commercial talent into the home office commercial, from the breadth and depth of the UK, we immediately enhance the cognitive diversity and capabilities of our team. This is also not just about having specific commercial talent - everyone in the department needs to be able to think commercially. This way the commercial function  is recognised as a key enabler, managing the deployment of skilled and specialised commercial people to where they can add the most value, usually in support of front-line objectives and value for the taxpayer.

We also need to bring the commercial function forwards in terms of digital capability. There should be a move away from analogue habits and all commercial professionals should be thinking digital first. If this digital literacy becomes a core skillset, the next digital generation will save themselves time on filing paperwork, instead dedicating more time to leading commercial strategy, building relationships with our suppliers and putting innovation first. Most importantly, our digital practice needs to be joined up across all areas of spend and suppliers.

There should be a move away from analogue habits and all commercial professionals should be thinking digital first.

How are you attracting the best commercial talent into the department?

The pandemic has allowed us to leapfrog 10 years into the future in terms of our flexible working, building a career framework that’s agnostic of where you live in UK. As someone that hails from the North West and has built a life and family here, I believe that steering our recruitment around where people live is very valuable. That way, we’re able to tap into the local knowledge and embrace the differences of talented individuals across the country, instead of relying on a pool of talent from a specific location.

 

Why is regionalisation key to your strategy?

Our team will not only benefit from diversity in people resource, but a wider breadth of regional expertise will further enhance the connections we have with a diverse base of local suppliers across the UK.  Location strategies are common across the Continent and many other countries reap the benefits of this. For example, Germany is known for having a variety of core cities, each with their own specialisms, and this model can be true for the UK too. Prior to the pandemic, some UK industries were dwindling, but cities such as Birmingham have an amazing manufacturing supply base, so we should use this opportunity to tap into local manufacturing suppliers and build an economy around those partners.

 

What does the future of the public sector commercial function look like?

Ultimately, we want to be a forward-looking department with a commercial mindset that permeates across evaluation and decision making. Commerciality is already front of mind for senior ministers, but we will only continue to be effective by ensuring we grow our commercial capabilities with the right people and technologies.

Most importantly, we look to suppliers for innovation, but suppliers will only come to us if they see us as an innovative and strategic partner that can drive them to better places.

The vaccine rollout has been a huge success in this space for public sector procurement, showing the very best of what we can do in terms of innovation, collaboration, people and technology. It will be important embrace the learnings from this programme and ensure these learnings set a precedent for future commercial teams.


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