It’s 2030 and everything is automated, now what? [Event recap]

October 3, 2017 Haley Fraser

It’s 2030: cars are flying, jumpsuits are chrome, and machines have the same cognitive abilities as humans. Okay, maybe we’re a ways off from hovering cars, and no one has any interest in wearing chrome jumpsuits, but by 2030, it is expected that machines will be on par with humans. That disruptive notion remained the center of the conversations at the 2017 Procurement Leaders East Coast Forum in Boston. Here’s what we heard at the Tradeshift roundtable, “It’s 2030 and everything is automated, now what?”

Disruption a core theme

Participants agreed: the fast pace of change creates a need for even faster innovation; employees and suppliers alike will play a crucial role in driving innovation and differentiating from the competition. To combat disruption, every organization has its own unique approach. While there was much discussion around what could be automated, some argued that complex processes such as engineering-intensive manufacturing would be tough to automate. Other participants agreed that nothing is safe from automation.

With automation looming over the procurement profession, it’s more important than ever to redefine procurement’s contribution to an organization. One often overlooked benefit of the procurement department is that it’s the breeding ground for new up-and-coming employees to learn the business, since procurement touches every business unit. As organizations morph and evolve, could procurement hold the key to enabling the breakdown of siloes?

Data experts and decision-makers wanted

Another consideration that procurement professionals espoused at the event was the evolving skill set needed as automation gains popularity. For example, data scientists are great candidates for procurement teams, as the ability to capture insights from big data is increasingly critical. While most procurement teams would welcome such talent with open arms, data scientists tend to seek out roles at companies such as Google.

MBA’s also have a place in procurement, many agreed. While historically known as a cost-cutting department, procurement of 2030 will require individuals with deep intellectual curiosity to come up with novel solutions to evolving problems. This will play a critical role as automation takes the busywork out of daily processes and humans will need to supply the creativity that is so essential to innovation.

Automation is only one piece of the puzzle

A diverse skill set will be critical for success in 2030, but that’s not all that’s necessary. We envision a future in which decisions need to be made fast with a combination of data, process, and technology. Automation can quickly streamline tedious processes, but humans will still be needed to capture the differentiating activities. For example, in a sourcing process, the machines can make decisions based on available data such as supplier profiles, news, or transactions, but people will be needed to capture how a supplier can make a unique contribution to the business and share value.

Automation is just one aspect of disruption that procurement teams will need to be aware of. Successful companies of the future will be constantly evolving and learning. Internal and external stakeholders will be aligned towards a common goal and shared value, rather than simply asking for the lowest cost.  By partnering with automation strategically, procurement teams can become innovation centers and fuel agility.

See what global leaders are saying about the future of global commerce. Download our report from the World Economic Forum in Davos.