Survey respondents said automation would reduce time spent on repetitive, manual tasks © Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images
Survey respondents said automation would reduce time spent on repetitive, manual tasks © Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Is burnout among procurement professionals driving a rise in automation?

27 January 2023

Pressurised working environments for procurement professionals are driving an increase in automation in the function, according to experts.

Alan Holland, founder and CEO of tech firm Keelvar told Supply Management there had been a “significant increase in demand” for automation as a result of rising burnout among buyers.

“Sourcing professionals have been swept up in a perfect storm of global volatility, geopolitical disruption, and inflation and they’re struggling to stay afloat,” Holland said.

“While predictive AI has gained some traction for helping teams anticipate future outcomes, it’s doing little to solve the workload crisis they’re currently facing. As a result, we’re seeing a significant increase in demand for automation.”

Over eight in 10 (86%) procurement professionals saw an increase in their workload last year, while 52% reported they had less resources to act on it.

Seven in 10 (72%) said they had a flat or declining workforce, and half (55%) said they were suffering higher levels of stress and burnout, according to Keelvar’s report, 2023: The Year of Autonomous Sourcing.

Keelvar found burnout was leading to more rogue spending. A quarter of procurement professionals (24%) said they were cutting corners to ensure supply, and 22% said they had purchased outside approved supplier lists.

Increased expectations of the function have come at a time of shrinking workforces, said the report.

Respondents said they were revamping systems to use automation to reduce time spent on repetitive, manual tasks (73%), improve visibility (45%), create more dedicated time for strategic initiatives (41%), eliminate rogue spend (40%), and remove the risk of human error (32%). 

Holland continued: “Procurement teams are eager to offload tedious tasks and gain workflow efficiency amid the chaos. As reported in our data, they see the benefits automation can bring to the workplace – from improving visibility for better market insights to removing the risk of human error in sourcing events, which ultimately boosts productivity, fuels smarter decisions, reduces risk and solves employee burnout. 

“In the coming years, the future of work for procurement will be fuelled by automation to power folks to do their jobs with increased agility, efficiency, and resiliency no matter the challenges to come.”

The survey, involving around 100 procurement professionals from across the globe, found nine in 10 (89%) said automation would reduce time spent on manual tasks, 86% said it will result in extra time for more strategic initiatives, and 63% said they were banking on automation to enable smarter decisions that take more factors into account.

Dan Johnston, CEO and co-founder of supply chain recruitment firm WorkStep, told SM: “Burnout is causing companies to think creatively about people, process and technology. In some cases this may look like investing in new or innovative technologies, rethinking production patterns or automating processes.”

The first step for introducing automation to tackle burnout is “figuring out where the dissatisfaction is stemming from”.

“Businesses can then make strategic decisions based on worker feedback and invest in solutions they know will make hourly workers’ day-to-day lives easier,” he said.

Johnston continued: “We're seeing companies invest in more comprehensive, automated and real-time data collection software. This type of granular employee data empowers management to take targeted action that aims to solve the pain points specific to hourly supply chain roles.”

However, he warned tech can only reduce burnout when implemented as part of a wider strategy. 

He said: “It’s important to note that automating processes to lighten workloads is only beneficial if executed correctly. The right approach takes all voices, opinions and needs into consideration – not just management. It seems like a simple idea, but so many businesses fail to approach technology investments in this way. 

“Instead of assuming what type of automation will help make workers day-to-day easier, ask them which machinery is giving them the most headaches, where they feel like safety measures could be stronger, what processes take the longest to complete. Asking these questions yields the granular data needed to drive actions that reduce burnout, drive productivity and fuel a positive feedback-driven workplace. Automated tools can help leaders perform this analysis.”

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