When Tom Derry, CEO – ISM attended Procurious’ Big Ideas Summit in Sydney this week he came armed with a stark warning for the procurement professionals in attendance. “If you’re the steward of a process, then your job will inevitably be automated.”
Concerned? You should be. Because, as Tom points out, there are an awful lot of procurement roles that fit this bracket. In the very near future, for example, every sourcing event is likely to be automated.
This article is a compilation of Tom Derry’s comments from his appearances at both the London and Sydney Big Ideas Summits in 2018.
Adapting to the pace of change
Procurement has changed dramatically in the past decade, and will change even more so as we move into the robotic era. Tom believes that we’re facing more disruption and a faster pace of change than ever before. “Most of us operate within a context or a framework that we’re familiar with – the established rules of the game. But when the rules get thrown out, how do we operate?
“Being comfortable with ambiguity is a rare skill, especially amongst executives,” he argues. But he reminds procurement leaders not to let perfect be the enemy of good, urging them to: “Make decisions and move on. If we don’t, our competitors will. Being able to move on and know that there are going to be times we don’t win is important. Accepting that as the cost of being in the game and having the opportunity to win is the reality we are in.”
“We can’t anticipate every possible scenario but what we can do is be ready for multiple scenarios and recognise that when we face an unfamiliar scenario we’ve built up some skills and reflexes that we can put into play.”
Of course, as Tom admits, it’s human nature to react in fear to such rapid change. But “there’s always opportunity when there is inherent change and risk.” The skill is in recognising where that opportunity lies. And that, according to Tom, “comes from a deep understanding of what creates value. The source of value might shift but it is still there somewhere.”
Making procurement indispensable
What key skills should aspiring procurement professionals be developing in order to make themselves indispensable?
“The CPO of the future possesses an openness to change, an openness to developing and an openness to sharing.” says Tom.
To improve business-wide understanding of procurement’s value offering it’s vital that procurement leaders allow their people to reach their full potential and move on. “Maybe it’s within your company, and now you’ve got evangelists in other functions who understand the importance of procurement, or maybe it’s outside the four walls of your company. There’s no better reputation to have than being seen as a cultivator of talent, both inside and outside the company”
Tom also highlights the following three skills as critical attributes for procurement professionals.
1. Understanding Markets
“This is about more than just the price,” asserts Tom. “Procurement professionals must understand the dynamics that drive the price whether it’s short supply or supply disruption, new technology that disinter-mediates an old technology.”
2. Strategic Acumen
Procurement leaders must ask of themselves “where am I going as a business? What’s important to my business in the next two to-three years?”
3. Financial Savviness
Procurement teams must accept that they really are driving financial results for their firm. “Sometimes we are a bit too afraid to engage with financial metrics and the traditional income statement or balance sheet. But we must embrace engaging with that income statement and balance sheet in order to understand how what we’re doing in procurement is driving financial metrics such as earning per share and driving revenue growth . We must not focus on metrics that are largely discredited like cost avoidance.”
The future of professional associations
[ISM has] been around for over 102 years and so future-proofing professional associations really matters to Tom. “For 102 years we’ve been very successful but you can’t continue to execute that playbook and expect to still be around.”
“An association used to function as the place where people felt obliged to belong,” says Tom. But nowadays he doesn’t believe procurement professionals feel such a sense of needing to belong to an association just for the sake of belonging. What people need and demand from associations like ISM is “value for money and the provision of tools and skills that enable them to be successful at a critical moment in their career.”
Another key evolving role for associations, according to Tom, is their role as data brokers. “We’re able to reflect back to the profession everything we learn about the profession because we deal with all industries and all geographies, we have a broad view of what’s happening.”