Today’s electronics procurement professionals play a critical role in their corporation’s product development and supply chain management, according to the findings of a survey just released by Electronics Purchasing Strategies. The “average” purchaser has 17 years of experience and is a college graduate (one-third have a Masters or PhD); is an industrious problem-solver; works nearly 50 hours a week; and spends most of that time interacting with engineers, vendors and solving vexing supplier chain dilemmas.
Contrary to the once widely-held belief about them playing subordinate roles in the supply chain, purchasing professionals appear highly placed in the product development and fulfillment process. Many of the respondents noted that in addition to being involved early in the design phase, they have on occasions swapped out components designed into products by engineers. Respondents to the survey also said they collaborate closely with engineers and other cost-centers in the supply chain to bring products to market at the right time and price.
“Anecdotal reports from the industry had convinced us previously that engineers and purchasers work much more closely together than many had assumed but this survey provided evidence to back up this assumption,” said Barbara Jorgensen, director of the Purchasing Professional Study and managing editor of EPS. “It’s not difficult understanding why. Most electronics executives have long realized that bringing in purchasing early into the product development discussion can help accelerate time-to-market and keep costs under control.”
All professions come with a bit of a stereotype—engineers, for example, are associated with pocket protectors, and buyers with price lists and spreadsheets. The reality is, engineers have traded pens in for EDA and CAD programs and buyers coordinate the procurement, shipment and management of millions of dollars’ worth of components – the average semiconductor spend of buyers surveyed by EPS is $10.7 million.
The high-technology industry is nothing if not volatile. Ever since the electronics industry began its inexorable expansion across the globe, new complexities and challenges have evolved. The professionals responsible for making the electronics supply chain work have likewise progressed, according to the findings of the Purchasing Professionals Study.
“The EPS survey confirms the level of professionalism of today’s supply chain managers,” said Faris Aruri, vice president of corporate marketing for distributor Sager Electronics, Middleborough, MA. “They are creative, inquisitive and fully integrated in the decision making process. The amount of time they spend with engineering on new or legacy designs helps us determine the information we should be delivering to this community.”
EPS conducted the survey during the last half of 2013. Respondents are personally involved with purchasing electronic components or services, or manage supply chain activities for their organization. Respondents are largely based in North Americaa, although EPS plans to expand the survey globally later this year to help the industry better understand this group of professionals who play such an important role in electronics manufacturing, according to Jorgensen.
“Since a number of leading purchasing trade magazines have ceased publication, surveys of electronics purchasing professionals have fallen by the wayside,” said James McLeod-Warrick, principal of research firm Beacon Technology Partners, which conducted the survey for EPS. “Today’s buyers are personable, smart, and comfortable in leadership roles. They have no difficulty disagreeing with engineers, but are concerned about keeping their skills and knowledge of emerging technology solutions current.”
The co-workers that buyers spend an increasing amount of time with are engineers. The firewall that used to exist between design and procurement is crumbling. "The survey findings clearly show that electronic component purchasers play an important role in new product development with a high percentage of collaboration with engineering teams to determine vendor selection and specs," said Gina Roos, executive editor, EPS. "In fact, the survey finds that 78 percent of purchasers have suggested new products and technologies to the engineering or design team."
Not surprisingly, buyers range widely in levels of experience. Buying professionals just entering the marketplace make up 28 percent of purchasing community; one in three is an engineer; nearly half have been involved in purchasing for less than 10 years and; many have engineering backgrounds. Although cost-control is still important to procurement, buyers don’t spend all of their time squeezing suppliers. “In spite of what many believe is most important in the supply chain, our report found ‘price’ not to be the top priority of purchasers," Jorgensen said. “In fact, ‘price-shopping’ ranked fifth in what buyers spend most of their time doing.”
Additionally, the purchasing professionals surveyed said they believe employers seek and value their input although, like many in the electronics industry, they are also struggling with resource constraints and other labor pressures related to cost-reduction at employers. The survey results also point to growing emphasis on the use of online and digital media, professional associations and other industry bodies by purchasing professionals.
A larger proportion – 34 percent of the purchasing community — are “in the trenches.” Sixty-nine percent of them are managers. The survey found these buyers are:
- Concerned about the image of purchasing, inadequate support from vendors, work/life balance, and have noted an increase in product development programs but with fewer hires and salary cutbacks
- Spend less time than others keeping current with latest trends or updating skills, but more time interacting or negotiating with vendors or price shopping
- Buy a greater volumes of semiconductors or passives, and most apt to source from franchised distributors
- Nearly one-third are women
Veterans make up 38 percent of the purchasing community. Three in four of the people in this group hold managerial titles, including a fair number in corporate management. They have worked 20 years or more in purchasing, and are paid on average $12,000 to $15,000 more than others. These professionals are:
- Most active with commodity purchases across product groupings, and more apt to go directly to commodity manufacturers and elicit suggestions
- Enjoy more independence than others when choosing vendors and selecting commodities, and are most likely to suggest new products to engineering team or veto engineering choices
- Like being in charge of a group and sharing views with coworkers
Click here to download the survey.