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Global CEO blog

Welcome to the Global CEO (UK) blog. Its aim is to draw attention to developments and ideas in the world of procurement and supply management and in the work of the profession’s Institute.

We change the blog monthly, and I would welcome your comments personally on ceoblog@cips.org

David Noble FCIPS

Procurement professionals: the guardians of enterprise

Things are now happening faster than ever before. The speed of technological developments means many of us now hold in our hands a computer that is millions of times more powerful than all of NASA’s when it landed on the moon.

The vast amounts of data being collected, collated and analysed mean that apparently human knowledge could soon double every 12 hours. And by 2049 a $1,000 machine will have the computational power of the human species.

I find all this incredible, perhaps you do too.

Improved technology presents bright opportunities, but where there are opportunities there are also often threats.

We know, for example that according to Oxford University’s The Future of Employment report AI algorithms could replace parts or all of many jobs in future. The study concluded that, in the case of our profession, many parts of it could at some point be automated.

In other words, machines can do a lot of what we do and soon they’ll be able to do more. This means we don’t have a right to exist; we have to reposition and reinvent ourselves.

As American computer scientist pioneer Alan Kay said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Procurement and supply professionals’ core role is as the ‘guardians of enterprise’. We play a fundamental part in protecting the public and can be a competitive differentiator for our organisations, but we must clearly define the value we add. 

We face three burning platforms: the triple challenge of supply risk, control over spend and ethical sourcing. This is our ground and we must take control of it.

There is a lower tolerance for risk and we have to realise that managing it and ensuring our organisations are resilient is part of our remit. The CIPS Risk Index, produced quarterly, is designed to help the profession see what’s coming so it can deal with it.

While control of spend is a key part of the profession’s role, an increase in contract workers predicted as part of the gig economy and the prevalence of SMEs, that often have no procurement professionals, means this work may not be carried out by qualified experts.

When it comes to ethical supply, how many tiers of your supply chain do you think your organisation has visibility of? A CIPS YouGov survey from 2014 found 57% thought they had sight of the top two tiers but only 11% claimed complete visibility. See the supply chain mapping feature page 30.

There are any number of risks that could be lurking somewhere in our ever-more connected and complicated supply chains. Here are just five of the frighteners: Fraud, corruption, work-related deaths, bribery and slavery.

My prediction is we’ll see more regulation of supply management, like that introduced in the UK’s Bribery Act and more recently the Modern Slavery Act, to legislate us into action.

In 2032 we’ll be marking 100 years of CIPS.

My view is that when the ‘Supply Management Century’ arrives the profession will be made up of four key roles - architects, guardians, enablers and analysts.

The architects will provide their organisations with the competitive edge; guardians will protect them from risk; enablers will have procurement and supply skills; and analysts will help optimize productivity.

Those are my predictions, but I’m interested in yours.

CIPS plans to carry out research into the future of the profession and will publish its findings later this year.

This is a huge piece of work on a subject that affects us all. I would really like your input in this endeavour.

Get in touch with me ceoblog@cips.org