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Overcoming Procurement’s Fear of AI

By April 21, 2024No Comments

“I think we are headed for human-centered AI where we have the human at the core, and you are going to augment your capabilities with technology to make your work better. That is where it is going.”Darshan Deshmukh, President at ProcureAbility

As procurement teams around the world figure out how to best integrate emerging technologies like AI into their delivery models to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness for the business, they are also trying to understand – in real time – how AI is reshaping procurement’s talent requirements. 

After all, the skills and capabilities needed to leverage AI are very human, and procurement needs to understand how they should adapt in order to thrive in an increasingly AI-powered business environment.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the procurement skill set of tomorrow with Darshan Deshmukh, President at ProcureAbility, at ProcureCon Indirect West in Las Vegas. Darshan advocates for a thoughtful, optimistic approach to understanding AI’s impact on the procurement profession. During our conversation, he revealed the four soft skills he believes every procurement professional will need if they are to succeed alongside AI. 

1. Critical thinking

AI holds tremendous power to transform the way procurement gathers, organizes, cleans, maintains, and analyzes data, while of course saving significant amounts of time along the way. But, as Darshan points out, despite AI’s data capabilities, procurement still needs a human element to make sense of all that data and to turn it into actionable, results-driving insights for the business. 

“When procurement uses AI tools, you are going to have a lot of data, and when you get a lot of data, how do you make sense of it? That problem was always there, but I think we hid behind ‘it’s too much.’ Now, with AI, it’s all categorized. What is your excuse to not make sense out of it?”

2. “Synthesis of synthesis”

“You are going to get synthesized data from AI,” said Darshan, “but you still have to synthesize that and contextualize it. That’s going to be a critical skill need in the future.” 

To future-proof their ability to create value, procurement will need to sharpen their ability to work with AI to provide context. AI-generated insights and data will need to be situated within procurement workflows in ways that provide a clear advantage. They have to make sure that the data leads to conclusions and actions that align with the wider goals of the business and with stakeholder expectations. 

3. Adaptability

Change can be an invigorating sign that innovation is happening, but it can also be scary and destabilizing. Darshan recognizes that there’s a small yet concentrated swath of procurement professionals who are nervous about the future and worried that AI will “take over” a large portion (or all) of their function. While Darshan is confident that AI won’t replace procurement, it will augment the landscape in which everyone operates, so procurement needs to settle into the likely new reality and, essentially, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

“You have to get comfortable with change,” he said. “In procurement in general, AI is going to change so much in the next few years. We have to be able to keep up with that change and be open to it. And it’s not always about new skills or upskilling, but just about having comfort around change.”

4. Curiosity

There’s an element of experimentation and curiosity that Darshan says is a highly coveted soft skill on procurement teams right now. It seems like there’s a new AI-powered tool, platform, or capability popping up every day. Just like getting comfortable with change, procurement has to be willing to experiment and fail as they navigate new digital possibilities. 

“Having the skill set and capability to try and the willingness to fail at times, that is going to be critical,” he said. “In procurement, that is definitely an approach we push for – try it out! The worst thing that could happen is it will fail, and that’s okay. Let’s keep on learning.”

In general, Darshan said, the future of procurement might be defined by AI, but it’s still going to be driven by a human element. Teams and procurement leaders should be thinking now about how they can invest in a human-centered approach to AI and the kinds of training, upskilling, and change management they need to integrate the technology into their teams and enhance value creation for the business.

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