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According to a recent Raconteur report in The Times on the future of procurement, the job of a CPO does not feature widely in children’s lists of the top ten things they want to do when they grow up. Hardly surprising I hear you say, but a CPO is arguably one of the most varied and challenging jobs in business – especially given the evolving nature of the discipline and the changing skills that are needed to deliver robust and value-adding procurement strategies.
CPO skill sets
According to the report, the skills needed by a CPO have changed exponentially. The advent of AI means that they have to be completely up to speed with data analytics, understand the mechanics of risk, be an expert in international geography and, crucially, appreciate and empathise with the concept of ethical sourcing through the supply chain. Against this backdrop, the discipline is consequently beginning to attract talent from non-traditional backgrounds. According to the Times report, top academics who worked at CERN on the Hadron Collider are now working in procurement and using their algorithmic expertise in a different context – the same algorithms which were developed for CERN are now helping supermarkets estimate precise numbers of fresh foods to order on specific days and then automatically placing those orders.
Data & blockchain
The Cambridge Analytica debacle has brought data privacy right to the top of the business agenda. With large parts of the procurement process now being automated and new regulations demanding transparency and traceability, we’ve seen a rise in the use of blockchain technology which can maintain a secure record of every transaction. In fact, according to Work Futures, a procurement supply chain automation consultancy, Maersk and IBM are predicting that their new blockchain platform will save the shipping sector billions of dollars a year – a clear signal that an understanding of new and evolving technology will continue to be important.
Ethics & empathy
If you think about the hundreds of column inches that have been dedicated to bad working practices and labour abuse in overseas factories, today’s CPO, through ethical sourcing of the supply chain actually has the power to change people’s working conditions in countries all over the world – that’s pretty powerful! As Jonquil Hackenberg, head of C Suite Advisory Infosys Consulting put it in a recent article: “The CPO must rely on the latest technologies to provide ‘proof’ of sustainability, such as provenance of product, but must also focus on how people across the supply chains are being treated.” Being able to demonstrate how the challenges of ethical supply can be met will be a must have skill for any aspiring CPO.
There is no doubt that the rise of AI and machine learning will lead to a big increase in the automation of procurement processes. While competencies around data analytics and evolving technology such as blockchain will obviously be important, so too will more cognitive skills around strategic and creative thinking. The ability to innovate and drive change will be key – the world is changing and the most successful CPOs will be those who can change with it.
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