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Reinventing Professional Engagement in a Digital Economy

Technology has changed our world so much, and become so ubiquitous, that we often find ourselves pressed to be more specific. We use terms such as platform, digital, and automation to describe the ways we access and leverage data to improve business results. These same advantages have also changed how we connect with one another – allowing networks and skills development to span the globe in an instant. Technology is no longer a sideline issue for competitive enterprises. It is the foundation that all value is created upon.

Procurement is not immune to any of these changes. In fact, we often find ourselves on the front lines – experimenting with the newest ways to communicate with suppliers, create and store intelligence, and sustain relationships with our colleagues.

This March, the ISM Tech conference will drive procurement-centric thought-exchange about what’s new, what it all means, and how we can make technology work for us. Buyers Meeting Point recently had the opportunity to speak with M.L. Peck, Chief Content & Engagement Officer for ISM, about the current state of affairs in procurement with regard to technology, skills development, and cutting edge innovation.


Technology allows us to respond to issues and requests quickly, anytime and anywhere. In some cases, teams are 100% virtual, making any form of communication more important than ever. We have so much visibility, but without taking advantage of the view, we can not achieve transparency. For that, professionals need to be on top of the information coming in and respond accurately.

“People are constantly bombarded with information from social channels, the web, and emails,” M.L. pointed out during our conversation. “Learning to succinctly express your ideas and get to the point is a really critical skill that people need to develop and act upon.”

The endless cycle of information coming in and responses going out has led to a paradigm shift in procurement’s attitudes about sharing. Not only do we need to communicate more often and more effectively with internal colleagues and the executive team, we must be more open with suppliers and other external business partners. The more strategic the effort, the more sharing will be required to achieve the objectives.

M.L. sympathized, but still urges change. “Sharing is a skill that some procurement professionals may be a little bit uncomfortable with, but it’s a skill that everyone is going to need to be successful in the future. You can't have a strategic supplier relationship if you're not sharing and regularly engaging in transparent conversations.”

Fortunately, for every new opportunity, it would seem that there is an emerging technology ready to help procurement drive results to the next level.

As procurement and supply management have become more strategic, we've gained visibility – with leaders like Tim Cook (Apple) and Mary Barra (GM) rising all the way to CEO from positions in procurement. The simultaneous elevation of procurement and technology increases what people expect from themselves. They see the benefits of embracing technology to help them increase their value to the company they work for. No longer is procurement focused on executing tasks; now the focus is on maximizing total value creation.

“When you start thinking more strategically, it is easier to embrace technology because you can see how it will help you,” M.L. noted. “I do think there is still a little bit of apprehension, especially when you look at some of the reports that talk about how robots are going to replace us in the future. I think procurement professionals are rising to the challenge. They recognize that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) aren’t a way to avoid paying for labor. They will allow procurement to accomplish things that we don’t have the bandwidth for or which can be more efficiently carried out by technology.”

When we consider the capabilities of AI and smart machines, there are certain procurement tasks that they are especially well suited for. Rather than having a procurement individual spend hours and hours analyzing a spreadsheet, analytics technology can do the heavy lifting in short order and humans can focus on making decisions and recommendations. The company has the opportunity to use that data, combine it with other useful information, demonstrate critical thinking and judgment, and inform decisions much sooner.


Given that consumer demand is driving much of the innovation being seen in the B2B space, what are the trends we can expect to see in the near future?



Everybody wants to be unique. So, with the rise of technology - 3D printing as an example, we can now set up customized products versus mass-produced products. Not only will procurement be handling the inventory management shifts caused by real time manufacturing and 3D printing, we will have the opportunity to lead Industry 4.0 – and even Procurement 4.0 initiatives.


From corporate investments to asset management (including disposal), to mapping out the supply chain, the entire landscape will change just from 3D printing alone. Once we add the capabilities of AI and the Internet of Things, the increased connectivity not only brings us better information, it completely shifts the constraints we are working inside of to make decisions.


With human limitations on data management and analytics, there is only so much clarity we can maintain about where risks linger in the supply chain. With the illumination made possible by smart machines, small or unique suppliers suddenly emerge as just as strategic – if not more so – than the companies we focused our energy on in the past simply because of how much we spend with them. Designations that were once based on the most visible characteristic, can now be driven by meaningful characteristics.


But all of the latest technology notwithstanding, humans still need to be prepared to set priorities, innovate, and ask the questions for analytics to answer. We become translators of potential – from technology that is futuristic but not connected to the dynamics of business, to fully applied technical capabilities that empower radical improvements in business results.

As M.L. pointed out near the end of our conversation, “We are light years away from replacing the human element in business. Computers and augmented intelligence function on logical programming, but innovation is the opposite of logic sometimes. Trying to think differently is not something we can program a machine to do, at least not yet.”

ISM Tech 2017 will combine many of the dynamics that we see in emerging technology: ‘structured’ formal keynote speakers such as 3D printing expert Rick Smith and Futurist Martin Ford and ‘unstructured’ roundtable discussions designed to offer insight while allowing varying opinions to exist side by side. Attendees will have plenty of opportunities to make the connections that will extend long beyond the event, relationships that provide the support structure for making the potential for technology-driven change into reality. 



About ISM Tech 2017, March 22-24 in Washington, D.C.

Innovations in technology will bring relentless advancements in capabilities and functionality. Supply management professionals have a choice: make technology work for you or tag along and try to keep up. 

Take command of the latest technology offerings and work them to gain new and eye-opening competitive advantages. Join us at ISM Tech 2017 as experts and leaders from the supply management field reveal new possibilities and cost-saving efficiencies in areas including advancing analytics, manufacturing 2.0, the role of robotics, going digital and utilizing augmented reality. 

Harness the power of technology and take your organization to the next level by making it work for you.

Plus, Tech 2017 offers several opportunities to meet scores of innovative suppliers and exchange ideas with representatives from top providers in our field. Strategize with experts on your tech needs to identify new ways to tackle existing challenges and future growth opportunities.

  • Using technology innovations to capture digital customers
  • Utilize robotics to streamline business processes
  • How to best use the Internet of Things (IoT) in the supply chain
  • Using analytics to align planning with demand
  • How to mitigate risk by managing the fine print in technology agreements

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