Procurement needs to embrace accessibility

17 Nov 2020

From sourcing through to monitoring, digital accessibility is a potential factor, so it is critical that the procurement team not only have a thorough understanding of accessibility but also carry out the necessary actions.

Accessibility is very important. Within any organisation, support functions will need to be aware of what accessibility is, why it is important and the associated approaches and actions that need to be carried out by their particular team. In recent weeks we’ve been looking at why accessibility is critical from the viewpoint of specific support functions departments; as well as HR and the IT department, solid foundations start with procurement.

Procurement functions play a dominant role in sourcing suppliers and vendors, negotiating agreements and pricing, arranging contracts and then sometimes ongoing monitoring to ensure contractual arrangements are adhered to. From sourcing through to monitoring, digital accessibility is a potential factor, so it is critical that the procurement team not only have a thorough understanding of accessibility but also carry out the necessary actions.

Let’s look at seven reasons why procurement functions need to be on top of accessibility.

1. Aligning procurement and vendor engagement processes with risks

A core duty of the procurement function is to ensure that procurement processes align with organisational approaches to risk, so that both vendors and their products and services do not expose organisations to potential security, quality, reputational, regulatory, legal, compliance, technical or operational risks.

The risk of legal action or reputational damage relating to accessibility is real and even potentially growing. Procurement teams need to have detailed knowledge of what is required around accessibility and the standards that vendors and products are expected to meet, ensuring that these are mirrored across the procurement process.

2. Champion accessibility to other functions

Because virtually all support functions and business departments rely on external suppliers, procurement functions interact with a wide variety of stakeholders in any organisation. This means that the procurement team is in a good position to drive awareness of accessibility and champion the issue to teams who may be less informed.

While championing the importance of accessibility is likely to focus on procurement processes, generally increasing awareness can have a positive impact in driving the right conversations that then lead to solid actions to improve accessibility for customers and employees.

3 Ensure accessibility is covered in RFP and RFI documentation and processes

Procurement processes and the related documentation can be very detailed; here, procurement functions need to ensure that questions of accessibility are covered in relevant standard RFP or RFI documentation that is used by different teams. This might include standard questions for suppliers, technology checklists and guidance for teams carrying out the procurement process. Ensuring this is adequately covered in documentation and kept up to date to reflect accessibility issues and risks is key. Having accessibility covered in standard documentation ensures that it will at least be addressed in every procurement process.

4 Ensure accessibility is covered in any contracts

A traditional problem associated with digital accessibility, particularly in relationships with digital agencies, is that accessibility may be a box that is ticked in an RFP process, but actually then becomes an afterthought. Perhaps it may be covered in delivery of a first major website project or even just in the first stage of a project when page or site templates have been delivered, but after this it falls off everybody’s radar. Actually, any subsequent development and any other added content needs to consider accessibility.

A good way to mitigate for this is for procurement functions to ensure accessibility is explicitly covered in contracts, for example stating a commitment to ongoing measurement or testing of accessibility, and even linking successful testing to the release of payments. Here procurement teams can even play a part in ongoing monitoring and reporting, or at least in providing guidance on the best way to achieve this.

5 Procurement are moving to a more influential strategic role

In recent years procurement functions have been moving to an increasingly strategic role that goes beyond just ensuring value for money and reducing costs. Vendor and supplier relationships can make or break an organisation in relation to the supply chain or providing digital services, while the reputation of suppliers can also impact the reputation of the organisation it has a relationship with.

At one level, digital accessibility feels like a tactical matter because it’s about the detailed actions that need to take place, but it is of strategic-level importance. Accessibility is a risk, commercial, reputational and ethical matter; procurement functions should embrace it as part of their sphere of influence over the rest of the organisation.

6 Procurement systems need to be accessible

Procurement functions may use some kind of procurement system or platform to run parts of the procurement and contracting process and they may even be responsible for a supplier portal. These will not only be accessed by vendors and potential vendors, but also by employees. It goes without saying that these must be fully accessible so they do not discriminate against users with disabilities or open up risks of legal action, but also not to undermine the authority of the procurement function in ensuring accessibility is covered at every stage of the procurement process.

7 Someone has to be responsible

Many organisations still do not give the priority to accessibility and digital accessibility that they should do. If there is nobody who is accountable at the senior level then your organisation is potentially at risk. In this situation, someone needs to raise their hand and start to lead by example and even take de facto responsibility; this can galvanise senior stakeholders into action across their respective teams. As already covered, procurement functions are in a good position to be that team who takes the lead; someone has to be responsible.

Accessibility is important

Digital accessibility is important, especially in these times when more and more of what we do is digital and online. Vendors, suppliers and technology providers need to ensure their services and offerings are accessible; procurement functions have a key role to play in driving accessibility standards, reducing risk and increasing awareness.

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