This guest blog comes to us from Matthew Clyne of VendorPanel.
Procurement professionals will need to channel their inner Dr. Frankenstein to create the tools and systems of the future. Discover why focusing on what makes us uniquely human is vital for long-term career planning.Technology has always been an enabler and a signal of change, whether people are ready for it or not. Good or bad, automation has been happening for centuries. The term disruptive technology describes any new kid on the block that shakes up the way things are done. Today’s “new kids”, including blockchain and artificial intelligence, will inevitably change how we work in procurement. The question is: will that change be good or bad? First, a look at the disruptors:
Blockchain is a distributed ledger that records transactions and is maintained across computers linked together through a peer-to-peer network. Its immutability means that blockchain provides a form of “digital trust”, particularly in terms of provenance. With blockchain, customers can trace their morning coffee from bean to cup, or their evening bar of chocolate back to the cacao plantation where the ingredients were first planted.
Procurement can use blockchain technology to map the true end-to-end customer journey regardless of who “owns” each part of the journey. It relies on members of the blockchain forming a network where each transaction can be viewed by all parties.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. Also referred to as machine learning, AI has the potential to remove a great deal of manual, repetitive or tactical tasks from human workers, freeing them up for strategic and value-adding activities instead. In procurement, AI is already being used in areas such as procurement chatbots for internal customers, and algorithms that make sense of spend data and turn this information into actionable insights linked to organisational goals.
After years of media hype and dire predictions of mass job losses to automation, a picture is beginning to emerge of the types of jobs that will be replaced. Repetitive, manual tasks such as truck driving or checkout operating can (and will) be automated. Professionals whose jobs involve the stewardship of a process should consider retraining. But the good news is that for many professions, AI will not replace our current jobs, but will take away the tactical elements and help us to work better.
Developing some key human skills today will pay dividends in the AI-enabled workforce of the future.
Three skill sets where the robots can’t win1. Engagement
Imagine a work environment where the day is not spent glued to a computer screen. Procurement professionals often do our best work engaging with people by talking to our customers and suppliers. Genuine stakeholder engagement often comes down to social intelligence. It is the ability to read a person’s body language to work out their motivations and then subtly change your approach as the situation requires. While there has been some progress in teaching AI to read human facial expressions, our instinctive skill in this area gives humans a key advantage in face-to-face engagement.
As Victor Frankenstein discovered; it takes a human to build a monster. Anyone can be creative; whether you’re an artist or an accountant, because creativity is simply a mode of discovery and questioning. The brain can be trained to default to this mode, particularly when organisations encourage creative thinking by giving their employees a safe space to try new ideas. While AI can store and access infinitely more data than humans, it lacks the creative spark or human X-Factor that leads to out-of-the-box ideas and innovative problem-solving.
Leadership is an innate quality that can be difficult to teach. By nature, leadership relies heavily on soft (human) skills such as communication, decision-making, problem solving, empowerment, motivation and empathy, rather than technical skills or tasks that could be performed by AI. That being said, a manager whose idea of “leadership” is to use procurement software simply to monitor and report on KPIs of team members could very well be replaced by a piece of software.
Matt has several years of experience at the intersection of technology and procurement. As Head of Partnerships & Alliances, he works with major clients and complementary software providers to further VendorPanel's integration strategy.