Riportiamo l’articolo che verrà pubblicato su The Procurement Magazine “Digitalizzazione e assetti organizzativi. La funzione acquisti di oggi e domani”, n. 1/2021.
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Professor for Supply Chain Management
& Strategic Procurement at University of
Applied Sciences Würzburg, Schweinfurt
Iain Campbell McKenna
Managing Director, Sourcing Solved
Linkedin profile (here)
Given the multiple and demanding tasks that CPOs perform daily, it would be understandable if we are occasionally mistaken for being superheroes. However, and like the team of Avengers, where would a CPO superhero be without their team?
Because a CPO is dependent on their people, in the emerging digital age, one of the main focuses should be on helping our teams develop the necessary skills to empower the technology that is redefining their jobs and our profession and industry as a whole. In other words, we must not get lost in the exciting promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) but embrace the power of our humanness to realise technology’s promise fully.
The Power of Our Humanity
As human being’s, we’ve been developing and tuning our human skills for 195,000 years, meaning that no matter how advanced AI may be, it is still quite a learning curve on which to catch up.
It would even be reasonable to suggest that AI will never possess the one real superpower – our humanity, given all the time in the world. Because we can cultivate a unique set of skills through our life experience, we can see beyond the output of technology to better discern its importance and impact on our objectives. It is this latter point that makes us irreplaceable to any business. In this context, our role as CPO is to ensure that our teams are prepared for the coming digital age from the standpoint of leveraging technology versus being replaced by it.
The Path to Continuing Relevance
Of course, we cannot deny nor ignore the fact that our role as a CPO – and the role of procurement, is undergoing a systemic shift, for which many of us are unprepared. According to a World Economic Forum report, a third of the most (critical) skillsets in 2025 will comprise technology skills not yet considered imperative to today’s procurement roles.
“AI will never have “a soul”, and it cannot replace human leadership qualities that let people be creative and have different perspectives.” – De Cremer
Ironically, we possess the soft skills that will enable us to adapt to the digital reality of our redefined roles, providing we are willing to change the way we think about what we do. For example, if we continuously perceive procurement as a one-dimensional profession driven mainly by getting the lowest cost, our profession will become vulnerable to automation. Think about this last point for a moment; the greatest strength and, therefore, promise of automation is to free us humans from the mundane, functional tasks of our jobs to focus on more strategic tasks.
Unfortunately, our kryptonite in making this jump from being functional to strategic is our historical focus on cost savings or avoidance. If we recognise this vulnerability, our role as CPO is to move our procurement teams forward to help them see and use technology as a strategic enabler. In doing this, we will allow them to leverage their soft human skills to make the decisions that technology alone cannot.
Recognising the inevitability of this new reality, how do we as CPOs prepare ourselves for the coming change so that we can confidently lead our teams into this brave new world.
And So, It Begins
To start, we must recognise where machine learning and AI can extend our human capabilities.
For example, consider what we will call the “Three As” of team transformation, which is; Assess our procurement teams’ behaviour traits, Align said traits with our business strategy, and Acquire the necessary talent to fill those strategic behavioural gaps.
In partnership with technology, such as machine learning and algorithms, we can gain invaluable insight to reliably execute on the Assess, Align and Acquire process to better position ourselves and our people for success. Hopefully, you noted the word “partnership.”
By joining forces with automation – which means acknowledging its enabling superpower, we will once and for all break the functional shackles of the past. As a result, we will free both ourselves as CPOs and our teams to become more strategic as we cultivate our exceptional “human” skills to serve the best interests of our organisations and the world in general. Now that is the definition of a superhero!