Is AI the Y2K for the Millennial generation?

Is AI the Y2K for the Millennial generation? Author: Richard Guest Published: 12 October 2017

I can recall the excitement and build up to 31/12/1999 like it was only yesterday. In parallel to this I also remember, although comically now, the hype, hysteria and paranoia surrounding Y2K. The media coverage of it was unprecedented at the time with widespread predictions of planes falling out of the sky, banking systems crashing and even domestic appliances shutting down.

I’m sure there are a number of interim IT contractors who also look back on this event fondly, remembering the sky high rates they were able to command! Whilst admittedly I’m not a techie, the whole event appeared to go without a major hitch; planes still flew, my bank didn’t collapse and even our fridge survived. Now this could be attributed to all the hard work undertaken by said IT contractors, or actually it was all a bit of a false dawn.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by my colleague Lucy Harding in Odgers Berndtson. We were in the company of 15 leading CPOs when the conversation turned to the implications of AI. How it could change the entry into a career in procurement, what it could look like and what it could add if anything to the function. 

The short answer is that no-one can conclusively say what AI’s involvement in procurement will look like in 2030, however we all agreed that it will change the function as we currently know it. Ten years ago the starting point would usually have been a procurement analyst role, involved in spend analytics, market and supplier data collation, and crucially for the skilled few, how this data is interpreted and where the true value lies. This element has historically been offshored or outsourced by a number of organisations, freeing up the strategic procurement team to be more business focused. With software increasingly becoming more intelligent and agile, the necessity to utilise offshore houses diminishes and you can retain this in-house; minimising risk and having a more tailored product. This clearly all comes at a cost and not every business will be able to, or need to make such a substantial investment, but many will. 

So the procurement team of tomorrow will inevitably change; with universal agreement that the function does have a positive and enriched future, as long as the overall capability of the team can embrace technology and in turn get to grips with big data and how to interpret this in a meaningful way. It was interesting l that one of the CPO’s commented that he has, for this very reason, opted to have a CIO of sorts in his team as he sees this as a fundamental way of becoming more effective. 

AI will unquestionably have an impact across all elements of business, with organisations capitalising on it via investment in both the technology and crucially the necessary skills to maximise the opportunity this represents.   

Thankfully we are not all about to be replaced by robots; well not quite yet anyway.

Richard Guest is a Principal Consultant in the Procurement & Supply Chain Practice.

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