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UNLEASHING THE REAL POWER OF YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN

The human element will make or break your supply chain career. Procurious Founder Tania Seary reveals the human strengths that AI will never replace and how to leverage that competitive advantage.

There comes a time when you forget why you ever started.

I’ll never forget my first meeting as a procurement executive with a supplier. For me, it was one of those moments of illumination. I can still remember the desk, the room, (funnily enough, not the particular supplier) and how I felt. I must say, the one word that continually comes to mind to describe what I felt was … power.

Not in a newly-minted supervillain kind of way, but “power” in the sense that for the first time I really felt the tangible ability to make an impact. To tell the truth, I’d had a lot of fancy jobs up to that point – marketing for Walt Disney in London, PR for the Mexican beer company Corona, hosting trade missions for LAX, launching listed companies. But moving from one side of the table from the role of seller to being the buyer … that was a buzz. 

There’s procurement gold in them there hills!

You see, procurement 20 years ago, was – for the first time – sexy. It was on a new trajectory – its very own moonshot. It was a time for firsts.

B2B was all the rage. CEOs and Boards were ponying up millions of dollars to build fancy eProcurement solutions and invest in procurement exchanges. Procurement was coming in from the wild west and being tamed and urbanised through leveraged buying, reverse auctions and blanket contracts. Everything was a first.

MBA graduates were like blurry-eyed prospectors, rushing for the gold fields to claim their stake on their ambitious careers by making their employers a fortune. I distinctly remember asking one of my fellow Penn State classmates, “Why are you going into procurement?” He answered, “Because you can save your company millions and be a corporate superstar overnight. It’s the fastest way to the top.” In other words, “There’s gold in them there hills!”

This is where my passion for procurement started and has continued. Like the chief cheerleader, I have been singing procurement’s praises ever since.

A lot has happened in the last 20 years, but we need to ask ourselves if we’re getting today’s graduates and future leaders excited enough to join our ranks in the search for exponential value? Do they see a bright future in our profession? Because now is certainly the time!

Procurement’s new moonshot opportunity

For the first time in more than two decades, a new moonshot opportunity has emerged for our profession. Cognitive procurement is upon us.

AI and cognitive give us the opportunity to provide a quantum leap in delivered savings. The opportunity to move away from all those back-office administrative tasks that have been holding us back.

Cognitive is going to take away everything we’ve been whining about, launching us out of the transactional malaise and into the strategic stratosphere. Our role in Industry 4.0 will be to orchestrate, collaborate, and negotiate within a complex, technology-enabled global supply network.

Our future will be e-enabled, but humanity most definitely still has a place in procurement. At the odd times when Watson, other robots, and the data seems to be at cross-purposes and pointing us in different directions, we are going to have to step in and use our uniquely human skills to untangle the gridlock of competing interests to find a resolution to the supply challenge.

You see, the secret to our success in Industry 4.0 lies in something that no AI being can match – relationships, along with our ability to leave people with the feeling that they are special, important, and of real value.

As you can see, I’m so excited about the “moonshot” opportunities currently available for procurement. I’m personally energised by my work with IBM on Watson, partnering with SAP Ariba to promote Procure with Purpose and with Procurious itself growing at 25% per year with nearly 30,000 members today and on track to have 50,000 members by 2020.

But of course, in life, nothing is ever perfect.

The human element

My mother is only 71 and has advanced dementia. Many of you will relate to this story. There are lots of things my Mum can’t remember, including most people’s names, what year it is, and how old she is.

But, surprisingly, she can still remember her feelings at different points in her life. She may not remember someone’s name, but she can definitively (and accurately) describe the emotions she associates with that person.

It reminds me of that important leadership lesson: “People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel”.

Playing to our human strengths

For me, the human element is what makes business:

  • interesting
  • challenging
  • innovative
  • rule-breaking
  • risk-taking, and
  • friend-making.

For me, the joy of procurement is the personal. It’s the unique relationships I create with people: the deals, the secrets, the preferential options. My relationships are my competitive advantage.

Up, down, and across the supply chain, it will be interactions between people that will be the real determinants of success and failure. To prosper in this next Industrial Revolution, we need to play to our human strengths – collaboration, connection, innovation, influence – the things only we humans can do.

We need to embrace our human-ness, our humane-ness, and really get connected with our stakeholders, our suppliers, our teams and our communities.

We have developed Procurious for current and future generations of “Procurers”. We want to empower our future procurement and supply chain leaders to change the face of the profession from the inside out. We’re on a mission to enthuse a new generation, putting new moonshot opportunities through the power of conversation, collaboration, and connections.

Let’s stop worrying about the future and start creating the future we want to live in.

Let’s embrace cognitive and all that Industry 4.0 has to offer. Let’s equip ourselves and our teams to really make a difference with the advanced skills AI cannot – namely the power we have as human beings – or the power to connect.

Procurious Founder Tania Seary delivered this message to inspire audiences at the Procurious Big Ideas Summit in London, SAP Ariba Live in Amsterdam, The Faculty CPO Forum 2018 in Melbourne and ISM2018 Nashville.

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