The following blog comes to us from Lacey Lyons of

Mark Perera, CEO of Old St Labs and founder of the Procurement Leaders Network, defines cognitive procurement as “the application of self-learning systems that use data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to mimic the human brain…around…the process of acquiring…goods, services or works from an external source.” Given its definition, the practice has both positive and negative implications for workers and businesses, depending on the manner in which it is used. Since cognitive procurement uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate as many tasks as possible, workers should prepare for its continued evolution as technology is refined.

A survey conducted by Accenture Strategy in 2015 found that managers are unsure of their abilities and needs when asked about working alongside machines. “They will need to learn how to interpret the analyses and recommendations those machines provide to ask the right questions and improve decision making. And they will need to develop, coach, and collaborate with others to drive experimentation and innovation across the organization.”

This professional development needs to occur quickly, because cognitive procurement is not an abstract wave of the future. It is already being used in fields such as management and education. According to the International Journal of Scientific Engineering and Research (IJSER), “A lot of cutting-edge AI has filtered into general applications, often without being called AI, because once something becomes useful enough and common enough, it’s not labeled AI anymore.” The question, then, becomes: What is the role of the human in a workforce that is increasingly automated, and how can workers best play that role?

One of the benefits of cognitive procurement is that when computers behave in an informed manner, they eliminate “manual work that would otherwise be required, cutting costs for your procurement team while also making it more efficient.” Some examples of tasks expected to be automated in the next five to seven years include: “setting up and conducting requests for proposals; finding relevant suppliers; and catalog maintenance and approval.” Accenture Strategy’s survey says “the overwhelming majority of managers believe machines will make them more effective and their work more interesting.” If they can educate themselves and their team members in ways that are not intimidating, cognitive technology will augment business practices.

Cognitive technology’s potential is also being used in human resources in applicant tracking systems and performance management software to find qualified employees and predict which ones will stay with the company after a given period of time. However, contrary to the perception employees might have, the technology does not encourage the company to shed employees who are at risk of job-hopping. Instead, the technology provides HR with ways to incentivize the employee to stay.

AI’s successes in the workplace are due in part to the nature of computing. AI is able to solve problems that arise in the procurement field, as well as other sectors, because it breaks large issues down into smaller ones and solves the problem that way, rather than bringing emotion into the problem-solving process, as humans sometimes do. IJSER reports, however, that obstacles to technological advancement currently include the limits of algorithms “to make connections, to determine which sets of data should be connected, and even to abandon irrelevant data when necessary.”

This is why, despite the fact that computer-assisted instruction is already being used in some educational settings, AI works better in fields like procurement. IJSER elaborates, “Inevitably, certainly if there are children involved, it would get questions such as, ‘Yes, but why?’ If related to the topic, it would answer appropriately, but inevitably, it would come to the point of no return.” Thus, cognitive procurement’s educational potential is limited without human interaction.

Aided by the increasing prominence of the cloud, cognitive procurement will continue to advance. However, cognitive procurement will never move forward if human workers are not open and agile. “Technology will replace a lot of roles in the near future, and we’ll need new skills in procurement,” said Barry Ward, senior procurement brand manager at IBM Global Procurement. Experts in cognitive procurement, suggests TechEmergence's Edmund Zagorin, imagine a future in which artificial intelligence similar to Siri or Alexa can be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to consumers and clients.

This hypothetical future has obvious advantages for shift workers working undesirable hours. The Deloitte Review argues in its article “Reconstructing Work” that even this idea is too limited in its scope. “Treating humans as task-performers, and a cost to be minimized, might be conventional wisdom, but…a number of firms across a range of industries-including well-known organizations such as Southwest Airlines, Toyota, Zappos, Wegmans, Costco, and Trader Joe’s-were all able to realize above-average service, profit, and growth by crafting jobs that made the most of their employees’ inherent nature to be social animals and creative problem-solvers.” This is the goal toward which the current generation of information technologists should work: Enabling employees to engage creatively with their positions so that technology can take care of the rest.

Lacey Lyons is a writer for She is a  freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee. Her work has appeared on the blogs of Empower Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee, The Charlotte Viewpoint, and HealthLeaders Media. She can be reached at

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