Really interesting article, Bertrand.
Future Purchasing
1

First of all, thank you, Future Purchasing for your response to my article! And, before trying to answer your question about how would Procurement look like in 100 years, I want to clarify some points you raised.


You touch on people skills and I think underplay it.

You are right, people skills (and people in general) are a critical topic that should not be underplayed. Many analysts and consulting firms (The Hackett Group, Deloitte…) report that:

  • CPOs consider talent as a top priority (war for talent),
  • CPOs also estimate that their teams do not have the required skills to address changes in the profession (digital, cognitive,…).

At the same time, investments and budget to develop people is stagnating (if not shrinking). This is why I had a "WTF" moment last year:

Since years, I have been advocating for a people-first approach to Procurement (when many organizations look at technology or process first).

More recently, during Procurious Big Ideas Summit, I reinforced that idea because it is more than ever true (more on that later):


Technology is enabling where adopted correctly (i.e. the right software doing the right things at the right time) but it also comes with the fear factor — what if it goes wrong? Are we over reliant on it? Is it expensive when it breaks?

These are, again, very good questions; especially considering the increasing role and presence of technology in business. AI, with its application in Procurement, Cognitive Procurement, introduces questions on the future of work and the place of people / machines:

It is also important to address the questions you mention. Questions that are about:

  • Control:
  • Accountability:
  • Trust:

Knowing that, at the end of the day, we (Procurement professionals) have to know what we want because what we decide know will shape our future.

And, going back to the previous point, people, my vision for the future of Procurement is an optimistic one:


For procurement to adopt technology they have to bring the rest of the organisation along with them, the whole business must adopt the new technology and this is where procurement people from CPO’s to category managers need the soft skills to persuade people to adopt new practices.

That is also very true. Too many organizations do not have a track record with regards to technology implementation and adoption.

It is for that reason that I recently wrote a series on Procurement’s technological insanity:

Despite the fact that what I wrote focuses on technology, it is also applicable to more than that. It is because it is, in fact, about managing change.


Procurement in 100 years…

First, I have to say that it is very dangerous to make predictions… Nevertheless, and maybe not for a 100-years horizon, here are some thoughts.

Like you, I believe Procurement will be a Blockbuster and will save the world.

There is a bright future for Procurement because of the convergence of several factors:

  • Procurement’s own evolution and awakening. There is already an increased awareness on the urgency to change. So, I believe and hope that the vision will have lead to actions (and that it is not just a mere hallucination).
  • There will be also an awakening from the rest of the business who will eventually understand that suppliers are not just a necessary evil and that they are a source of value.
  • Customers needs, new technologies, the sustainability imperative, and market realities (instability, volatility…) that force companies (and by consequence Procurement) to continuously and rapidely adapt and become antifragile.

This bright future will be built on some of the traditional pillars of Procurement that you also mention. I am referring to Category Management and Supplier Relationship Management. Each will have evolved to reflect the convergence I mentioned above. For example, some aspects of SRM will be reinforced and will become a must:

I also want to enphasize some other points that will shape and define the "new Procurement." Points that I did not address in details in the two-years old article you responded to.

Procurement-as-a-Platform

I recently wrote about the need for Procurement to rethink its operating model:

I want to emphasize one aspect I have not yet touched on in my answer. The digital transformation of Procurement will lead, I believe, to more immersive experiences blurring the frontiers between people, process, and technology. I am talking about embedding Procurement in day-to-day conversations.

(Note: I am working on a follow-up to the Procurement assistant I introduced in the article above. It will focus on voice-activated assistants.)

It will also obviously improve the way Procurement cooperates with suppliers and stakeholders.

All of this to cement further the role of Procurement as a source of competitive advantage for companies coping with continuously evolving / disrupted environments.

So, in 100 years, I hope that Procurement will have finally understood what its digital transformation means and requires:

Cognitive Procurement

AI is probably what will have the most transformative impact on Procurement as it fuels the digital transformation I just mentioned and because it will redefine many aspects of how work is done. Machines will perform more and more cognitive tasks, including very complex ones with the consequences of:

  • Making jobs more human than they were by allocating tasks to the human workforce that machines cannot perform
  • Fueling effectiveness via new efficiencies (i.e. time that has been freed up is dedicated to more valuable tasks)
  • Producing better results (i.e. providing new knowledge, detecting and identifying new trends and correlations, making contextual decisions and more)

Talent

In addition to the above and to close the loop, Procurement-as-a-Platform is a means for Procurement to address its current talent gap by taping into the potential of the gig economy:

Skills required to work in Procurement will also evolve as most mundane tasks will be done by machines. This cooperarion with more intelligent machines and the reallocartion of tasks will require Procurement teams to have even more critical thinking than now.

This will represent an opportunity for even more intimacy (proximity, data…) with stakeholders and suppliers. Because of that plus the technology aspects I described (esp. the apparent paradox of "more machines makes jobs more humans"), responsibilities for Procurement and other departments will change.

I am not sure about if a model (centralized / decentralized) will prevail. I also believe that, more than one single model, what will prevail are ad-hoc teams formed to answer a specific challenge or problem. As agility (of the business) and flexibility (of the workforce) will be paramount, it will allow teams to work in "project mode" most of the time and based on priorities and needs. These teams will also extend to the outside of the enterprise to include external resources (expert, supplier…).


This is definitely a long answer… but the question deserved more than just a few words! 😉️