The role of a procurement professional has evolved significantly since the 1980s when it was generally perceived to be entirely tactical in nature. This evolution led us to the 1990s, when the role transitioned to that of a strategic sourcing professional. By most accounts, the role will see another evolution in the coming years as we transition into Procurement 4.0.

With that being said, in an effort to continue to evolve ones knowledge and skillset I have personally found that performing the following three actions on a regular basis is a highly effective methodology for staying on top of current trends:

  • Find job descriptions on Indeed and LinkedIn to see what technologies and skills are new and/or relevant.
  • Review academic curricula and syllabi to see what research and/or methodologies are new and/or relevant.
  • Learn new content or firm up my existing foundations around the above two points via reading books and research papers, watching videos, completing certifications and coursework, and/or completing independent projects and research.

Of course, some methodologies for learning resonate better than others. Joshua Foer’s excellent book entitled Moonwalking with Einstein exemplifies this fact. This is to be expected of course. We all have different life experiences, we all have different personal obligations and interests, and we all learn differently. Even within oneself these aforementioned qualities may change over time.

Data has proliferated so much that it has gone from being defined by 3Vs (volume, variety, and velocity) to being defined by 10 or more (volume, velocity, variety, variability, veracity, validity, vulnerability, volatility, visualization, value) in a matter of years. These developments have led to a deluge of new technologies and analytics methodologies. Data is becoming and unwieldy at a furious rate. Most useful information does not already exist is a spreadsheet or database. Rather it is disjoint and unstructured. In fact, from a spend analytics standpoint, I don’t believe that I have ever seen a spend dataset that didn’t essentially cause Excel to die.

I recently performed a search for “procurement” on Indeed. My observation? Every single job available on the first page listed Excel as the only analytics technology. Now, what is the point of my rant? This is unacceptable. A representative example:

Purchasing Analyst 
  • 3 to 5 years of experience working in Operations, Manufacturing, or Supply Chain
  • Proficiency in Excel, Word, and PowerPoint
No mention of any technologies that truly facilitate analytics or big data. Cherry picked coincidence? Unfortunately, no. Here is a word cloud that I generated automating the extraction of the text from every single result that Indeed reported after searching for the term “procurement” in the area of Chicago, IL:

Disclaimer: Chicago, IL was searched because it is considered to be a well-established hub for procurement and supply chain. This word cloud was generated from 100s of jobs. The underlying data was normalized for comparative purposes and the size of the words reflects the number of adds that included them. For instance, the word "experience" was included in a large number of the jobs adds that were processed.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are only the starting point. Disruptive technologies that appear to be on the horizon such as Blockchain and smart contracts will only further exacerbate the need for technological adoption. Procurement departments need to evolve and adopt the technologies relevant to Industry 4.0 if they do not want their function to be absorbed by other departments.
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James Patounas

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