Technology and Automation: Insight from a Procurement People Roundtable

by Alex Chinea

Delegates at a roundtable in London, held in partnership with Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer, considered ‘the future world of work and what it means for procurement professionals’. Rapid developments in technology are reshaping supply chains and transforming the way that procurement professionals deliver value.

 

In the last ten years we have witnessed game-changing technologies; big data, AI and machine learning to name a few. There is little doubt the volume and pace of disruption in the procurement technology marketplace demands close attention, but how much additional value do we get from these technological advancements (not to mention investments)? 

The common opinion at this gathering of director-level Procurement specialists was that technology has a clear role to play in allowing procurement teams to focus on what they enjoy and do best. It’s challenging enough driving change – making the business case and executing strategy – and technology should  provide the tools to empower teams, giving them the freedom to be proactive by utilising automation, business intelligence and predictive technology for key decision-making.

This group was unanimous in the conclusion that if procurement is to move forward as a function we must step away from the reactive and focus on positive, commercially-driven strategies. Equally we should be able to demonstrate value that goes beyond ‘cost savings’ and address both business risks and business opportunities. Technological advancements that help address “business resilience” in all its semblances – in the short, medium and long-term – should be welcomed with open arms.

 


SOUNDS GREAT RIGHT?

Well to an extent it is; and technology will certainly help to bridge the gap in making processes more efficient. There are many aspects to the role of a procurement professional and more than ever procurement is seen as a critical function in driving an organisation toward its goals. This can’t be achieved solely by technology, it’s people who exert the most influence in driving business change, engaging stakeholders, collaborating with suppliers and making decisions which are based upon multiple complex factors. Emerging technologies are designed to give procurement teams more time to focus on these key factors and free up time to exercise influence.

So, should you immediately start investigating new technologies and getting quotes?

 


DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE 

As with all decisions, proper research, planning and due diligence are key to a successful conclusion. All these shiny new tools have the potential to give insight and simplify the purchasing process, but the theme of the day definitely seemed to be ‘don’t believe the hype’. As one delegate put it: “Technology is like teenage sex – everybody talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it and everyone claims they are doing it. Indeed. Perhaps more eloquently, another said “Before we look to technology for the solution, we should go back to the fundamentals. They often provide the simplest but most effective solution” The group agreed and went on to say that once the fundamentals are in place it is important not to over-engineer a process or system which is already fit for purpose. Technology clearly has a role to play, but needs to be implemented effectively, with operational impact in mind, and presented gradually to ensure people in the business understand the new ways of working and the reasons behind them. Once again change management – and people’s natural resistance to change – must be managed, and this is a very human challenge.

 


KEY TAKE AWAYS

  1. All new technology should be assessed with process efficiencies in mind
  2. Huge timesaving and financial gains can be realised from automating transaction procurement processes
  3. The art of negotiation, supplier management and relationship building should never be replaced by technology – this is people driven. 

 

This leads us nicely to our next roundtable in September 2018 which will focus on the ‘future fit’ procurement professional. If you think your current role could be fulfilled more effectively by a robot it’s probably time to up-skill!  

 

If you are interested in taking part or hosting a procurement round table please contact Alex Chinea – alex.chinea@procurment-people.com
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