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What Hercules’ Second Labor Teaches us about Procurement Fraud – Part One

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Before we get into procurement fraud and what we can learn about it from the second labor of Hercules, let’s take a look at the second labor itself. To atone for killing his wife and children, Hercules is sent to serve King Eurystheus for a period of twelve years by an oracle. The King sets Hercules twelve tasks (calling them labors) in those years, the second of which was to kill the Lernaean Hydra, a water monster with many heads and a poisonous breath. Hydra had a boon – every time one of its heads was cut, two more grew in its place.

Hercules, upon confronting Hydra, fights it and starts cutting its heads off, only to watch in dismay as two new heads grow in place of each one he cut. His nephew and charioteer, Iolaus, upon being asked for help, comes up with the idea of scorching each neck stump immediately after decapitation to ensure that the new heads don’t grow. Following this strategy, they manage to cut off all the heads of the great beast and start back on their way home.

So, what parallels can we draw between this story and procurement fraud? Procurement fraud is the many-headed monster Hydra, the organization fighting it is Hercules, and online procurement software is Iolaus.

Procurement fraud is a major cause for concern for many organizations, who, even though take some steps to eliminate it, seem never to be able to completely do so. One of the reasons for that is the nature of procurement fraud, which, like Hydra, seems to find newer avenues once one avenue is closed.

To completely kill the beast, therefore, it is not enough to just decapitate its heads as they pop up; one has to ensure that newer heads never grow. Or, in other words, instead of tackling procurement fraud as it occurs, organizations must seek to eliminate the scope for this fraud.

In the next part of this series, we’ll see how.