After discussing the perspectives and the preparation necessary for purchasing in the face of the digital transformation of companies, this third part focuses on the skills the buyer will need by 2030. While certain skills or tasks in purchasing can already be replaced or automated by new technologies, it is necessary to identify those which will remain integral to the purchasing teams.
Purchasing In 2030: Automation vs Humanisation
Until ten years ago, the major strategic decisions in purchasing were twofold: should the management of certain product categories be outsourced or kept in-house? Should the role of purchasing within the company be centralised or decentralised? Today, this is no longer relevant because organisations have found their balance. For purchasing professionals, the big question is now more about the automation or humanisation of certain operations.
In the near future, CPOs will have to differentiate the tasks that will be entrusted to their teams and those that will be handed over to the new technologies. Some functions of the purchasing process can be codified and automated, but other tasks are more dependent on human relationships, critical thinking, or even creativity, and cannot be done by a machine.
Purchasing In 2030: Automating Tasks
By modelling the potential for automating the tasks required in purchasing, it appears that a certain number of operations, from know-how to interpersonal tasks, could be entrusted to new technologies, and would result in an improved cost/efficiency ratio.
In terms of technical tasks, these would be the mostly standardised, time-consuming, and repetitive ones. These could include the reconciliation of orders and invoices to the management of the various tools used within the purchasing departments, including the collection and analysis of data and market research.
It also seems that the latest generation of technologies could replace certain "soft skills", such as communication, problem-solving, leadership, or negotiation. Of course, this is true to a certain extent. Hugo Britt, the Content Director at Procurious, agrees: “It is quite worrying that the leadership role is seen as capable of being automated. If personnel management is limited to monitoring progress and performance, then this role could very well be taken over by software. But true leaders bring a whole range of human skills with them, including the ability to motivate and inspire others, to lead by example, and to show genuine concern for the well-being of their team."
New technologies also have their limits. Although robots can now engage in meaningful conversations and are developing facial expression recognition systems, purchasing professionals are still hesitant to give them tasks beyond what they would consider to be "routine communication tasks". For example, writing a sensitively worded email is beyond the reach of technology, which is not yet capable of showing empathy!
Purchasing In 2030: 100% Human Skills
Fortunately, the skills that are least likely to be automated are also the most strategic for the procurement. In terms of interpersonal skills, certain skills remain intrinsically linked to human beings, such as building relationships, influencing, creativity, and innovation.
As for technical skills, these are inseparable from the buyer because they relate to business strategy and relationships.
Determining the Needs of Internal Customers
Understanding the needs of internal customers means knowing how to ask the right questions, analyse the answers, read between the lines, and verify information in the field. It is a task which requires both technical skill (knowledge of markets and product expertise) as well as sensitivity (empathy, active listening, patience, etc.).
Developing a Sourcing Strategy
To optimise the efficiency of the business and manage risks more effectively, the buyer must also contribute to the development of a sound purchasing strategy. This priority requires close collaboration between the purchasing teams and the supply chain teams.
Creating Value for Stakeholders
To create value, buyers rely on a range of strategies. Procurement will, in particular, focus on optimising the total cost of ownership of products and services, increasing collaboration with suppliers, improving risk management, and contributing to the Corporate Social Responsibility strategy… thus positioning itself as a genuine business partner.
Far from replacing human beings, technology opens up new possibilities for them. These lessons remind buyers of the importance of relying on their cognitive and interpersonal skills to advance in their careers.
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