Procurement Futures – David Smith’s vision from the BravoSolution customer conference

Claire gave you the overview of David Smith (futurologist, not DWP Commercial Director) and his keynote speech at the BravoSolution customer conference recently. So today she  and I are picking up on his comments that had definite procurement relevance.

Smith promoted the view that automation will take more and more work away from the procurement professionals. I don't disagree, but his focus - like many others before him, back to Professor Lamming and his "black box" - seems to be on repetitive manufacturing procurement. If you are buying the same components week after week, then of course systems can do stock and order management, planning and so on.

It's a bit different however when you are buying professional or marketing services, running a major IT outsource, or developing a strategic partnership with a research firm in the Pharma space. I can't see machines taking over the procurement role in those areas anytime soon.

But "big data" is definitely changing our world. With the fairly new concept of cloud computing, more and more data is being collected. In fact, Smith pointed out that 90% of all data held globally was created in the last two years! This gives us a huge potential to change the game for procurers - the collection of data should seriously help improve the symmetry of information, making it easier to calculate risk and determine the truth behind supplier claims for instance.

But on the down-side of technology, one of the big risks is our growing dependency on its services and products. Raw materials needed to make such technology are increasingly becoming scarce and expensive, which could really harm organisations (or indeed individuals) who rely on it too much.

Smith also touched on 3-D printers - now that's a topic that may have a major impact on supply chains, perhaps leading to less mass production and more local, tailored manufacturing. Will that reverse the trend we've seen over the last 20 years for supply to shift to low-cost countries? We'll be keeping an eye on that I'm sure over the next few years.

But 3-D printers bring potential issues too. Markets could be wiped out, as consumers could print and/or repair items instead of buying or paying for them to be fixed. Smith also raised the problem of security – guns are already being printed, so what’s to stop people from printing them in their own homes? A frightening thought.

After an overwhelming hour of information and predictions, David Smith finished his presentation with a quote from NASCAR driver Mario Andretti. “if things seem under control, you’re just not going fast enough”.

Something to think about for everyone...

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