Warning for profession's future

16 November 2006
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16 November 2006 | Paul Snell

Technology could make buyers redundant within the next five years. This is the view of professor Richard Lamming, director of the school of management at the University of Southampton.

Speaking at Vendigital's Dealing with the Future seminar this month in London, Lamming said purchasers will be replaced by improved technology and a new breed of "deal shapers". But, he added, buyers would continue to be employed because offices would not "feel right" without them.

Demonstrating his model for the future, Lamming said purchasing offices would be dominated by technology capable of performing all the tasks currently undertaken by purchasers, including supplier relations, performance management. and resourcing. According to Lamming, the true power would lie with "deal shapers" in the future - young, independent agents who interact with purchasing technology and control access to market and supplier information.

The deal shapers will be able to make decisions based on more than just price, looking at economic and market data. They will also be able to control the purchasing decisions of a number of organisations.

"Companies will need them," he said, "although they won't necessarily trust them." He added he knew of people already performing this kind of role.

Lamming said behind the deal shapers would be what he called "maestros" - individuals who could influence political and economic conditions. "It is as far from procurement as you can imagine, but at the same time integral to it."

When asked if procurement would lose importance and influence because of these changes, Lamming replied industry would ultimately become a meritocracy, where good purchasers would move into the role of deal shapers. "We will find a situation where only people who are good enough will be allowed to do it."

Adrian Griffiths, director at Vendigital, agreed, unsurprisingly perhaps, with Lamming's comments on the increasing progress of technology. He said there was already an increased automation of the processes of procurement.

He likened the development of purchasing technology to that of car production, which developed from a manual process to automated production lines. Griffiths said he believed procurement technology was already at the stage between semi- and full automation.

It was also predicted that the term "supplier" would not be used by purchasers for much longer, because it implies a negative position in the relationship. One buyer said he was already referring to suppliers as 'co-makers' and 'co-developers'.


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