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  October 31st, 2023 | Written by

How to Adapt Procurement Skills in the Era of AI Innovation

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The age of artificial intelligence (AI) is here. It’s not a question of if AI will change the industry, but one of when and how. As this shift approaches, employees and leaders alike must prepare for the impact of AI in procurement.

AI will become more common in procurement, changing what skills are most important in the industry. Those who can get ahead of that trend could thrive over the coming years, while those who don’t may fall behind.

The Impact of AI in Procurement

AI’s impact on procurement will be significant. Digitization remains the second most-cited procurement strategy today, and analytics and robotic process automation are the most deployed and value-driving of these investments.

Analytical applications are the most promising in procurement circles. AI can compare multiple suppliers to identify the best one for each job faster and more reliably than humans. Alternatively, it could analyze spending patterns to highlight cost inefficiency and find new ways to save.

The rise of AI in procurement also has significant implications for compliance and risk management. Machine learning models can automate regulatory assurance tasks to ensure all forms meet applicable standards or alert managers to compliance issues with supply chain partners. Similar tools can look for supply chain risks to inform better decision-making.

Automating repetitive tasks is another key use case for AI in procurement. Models can manage billing, data entry, basic outreach, summarizing feedback and similar time-consuming tasks to give employees more time. Businesses can then accomplish more, even without a larger workforce amid labor shortages.

Preparing for an AI-Driven Future

Because there are so many use cases for AI in this field, the procurement workforce will shift in response. The skills employees need to succeed will change, so it’s important to prepare for this shift.

Learn to Work With AI

The most important part of that adaptation is learning to work with AI. That’s crucial both for effective AI implementation and remaining competitive as a worker.

AI is impressive, but it’s only a tool. Procurement operations need people who know how to use it properly to experience all its benefits. At the same time, 51% of IT decision-makers say they lack the in-house talent to meet their AI goals. That leaves both an opportunity and a challenge for the procurement workforce.

If more existing employees learn general AI skills, businesses wouldn’t have to scramble to find outside talent. Workers who pursue this career development would also better their chances at employment and promotion in the future. That skills shift will take time, but it’ll be worth it long term for everyone involved.

Foster Tech Talent

Procurement professionals can take this trend further. As AI grows, so will the other technologies that support it, like digital data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). Employees who get more familiar with tech will be better suited to thrive in these more tech-centric environments.

Automation through AI will leave employees with more time but fewer of the same tasks to complete. Consequently, they’ll have to perform different roles. Making sure all the company’s new technology works as it should is one of the most crucial of these roles.

The shift to tech talent lies on both employer and employee. Employers can provide upskilling opportunities to foster these new skills and employees can pursue them on their own time to get ahead of the trend.

Emphasize Strategy, Communication and Creativity

Previously, humans had to do much analytical work to find the best procurement options. Open tendering was the most transparent but most time consuming, so employees had to be able to make complex choices quickly. AI in procurement removes that inefficiency barrier and automates decision making, so the same skills won’t be as in demand.

In the age of AI, it’ll be more important to be strategic, communicative and creative. AI can handle analytical, efficiency-focused tasks, so it’s up to employees to find ways to apply its insights effectively.

Real-world implementation, communicating with other stakeholders and finding creative solutions based on data aren’t strong suits for AI. However, humans excel at them. Consequently, the workforce of tomorrow will center around these skills while AI manages the administrative and analytical side.

Cultivate Soft Skills

As procurement professionals develop these new talents, they shouldn’t overlook soft skills. Job-specific hard skills were more important in the past, but as AI changes jobs, businesses will need people who can adapt amid the shuffle. Soft skills are the key to meeting that demand.

People skills are some of the most crucial of these talents for procurement. As AI handles more of the paperwork, employees will likely need to spend more time on maintaining supplier relationships. Being personable and a good communicator is essential for that role.

Developing these soft skills also gives employees an edge AI can’t beat. That’s hard to ignore amid rising fears of job displacement as AI automates more roles.

Apply AI and Human Talent Where They Fit Best

Those fears over job loss deserve more attention. In a perfect world, AI in procurement will help human workers do their jobs more efficiently, not replace them. However, it can be tempting to automate some roles entirely to save money.

Replacing humans with AI may seem profitable, but it’s not ideal for anyone in the end. AI has several significant risks that could endanger procurement workflows that rely too heavily on it. The best solution is to learn AI and humans’ distinct talents, and distribute tasks accordingly.

AI is great at data-heavy, repetitive and analytical tasks, whereas humans are better at roles requiring adaptability or intrapersonal communication. As the workforce shifts in response to AI, employees should focus on developing the latter to solidify their value. Employers should note this distinction and view AI as a complement to people, not a replacement.

It’s Time to Adapt to the Age of AI in Procurement

Jobs and their required skills have always shifted as new technologies have emerged. The difference with AI is this change could happen much faster than previous innovations.

Employers and employees alike must get ready for the changes AI in procurement will bring. If they can adapt early, they can ensure AI and the workforce work together to achieve optimal results.