In an opinion piece for Procurement Leaders magazine (Nov/Dec edition), James Jenkinson shares his thoughts on the digital trends for 2017.
Making IT work for you
It is an interesting time to predict where some of today's promising digital trends will take us over the next few years. There are a few frontrunners disrupting and shaping the future of whole industries. The rise of robotic process automation will have an enormous impact on the service industry, for example. And for businesses with large call centres, much of the human interaction for simple queries will all be handled by robots. The next step in this process, the end-to-end integration of the supply chain, is being made a reality by artificial intelligence (AI), predictive analytics, and application process interfaces (APIs). Although still evolving, these technologies are now available and are capable of linking the whole supply chain. Using AI and APIs to accurately work out which goods to supply at any given time will be a real game changer.
It sounds like the perfect scenario: supply chain headaches solved by the brilliance of connected machines. There is no doubt that technology solutions for the procurement function have developed and will continue to evolve rapidly over the coming years. The question of how technology can solve complex supply chain issues is high on the agenda for every CPO we engage with, and the amount of chatter about using and implementing technology has steadily increased in recent years.
Just because it is possible, doesn't mean it is right - there is a risk CPOs could get overwhelmed with all the technology available and lose sight of what they need
The role of the human
Alongside the technology debate, and of equal importance, is the role of the human in the process. No digital solution can function in a vacuum; without a human service level, it simply will not work.
At Procurement Leaders' recent DITX event, we explored this in more detail with discussions about what sourcing would look like in 2025 and the future role of the procurement professional. While CPOs may be talking about technology, our conversations focused on how those same CPOs are often grappling with the best way to harness it in their industry. Even if something is now possible, it doesn't necessarily mean it is right for every business. There is a very real risk that CPOs could get overwhelmed with all the technology available and lose sight of what they actually need.
As an industry we are at a crossroads, where technology will really transform procurement functions. We will now need to take stock of the role of people in the process and how that role will change in the digital world. There are some key tasks for which technology will never replace skilled personnel. These include mediation, clarification, conflict resolution, and supplier innovation - all essential tools in the armoury of a modern CPO.
Only when these tasks become clear will CPOs be able to decide on the role that machines can play. That way, the new technology available will become truly useful to the people who need it most.