Procurement as a profession is evolving at a pace that is increasingly in step with technology. While procurement was once seen as a transactional, process-driven function, technology is freeing us up to play a much more strategic part in driving organizational efficiencies and savings. Gone are the days of hanging out in the basement, pushing through stacks of purchase orders, and making purchasing decisions based on hunches. We are now being brought to the forefront, breaking out of silos and using data to make smarter decisions that drive savings for the enterprise.
As this transformation occurs, procurement leaders need to recognize the shift in skills that is needed for their office to stay in front of the wave. Much of what we looked for in a procurement officer in the past came down to several soft skills, which still form the foundation of what we look for today: Are you a good problem solver? Can you work with a variety of personalities? How do you handle stress? With these soft skills in place, a resourceful and hard-working new hire could hit the ground running and learn the technical aspects of a procurement job on the fly.
All of this is changing and changing fast. Procurement offices that once flew under the radar now must be the radar and proactively look for opportunities to add value to our organization, not wait for others to come to us with ideas. The old adage “innovate or die” fits well here – if our only goal in life is to check boxes and resist change, guess what? Machines can check boxes faster, cheaper, and more accurately. (In fact, artificial intelligence has already been developed that can read and accurately grade elementary school papers. Bids and proposals aren’t too far from that!) Instead of fighting the change, we need to embrace it and the opportunities that it creates.
To that end, there are a handful of hard skills that we can now begin to grow in our existing staff and look for in new hires to help our offices continue to add value. Each has at least a few – and sometimes many – related training and certification program that can be easily found online with a quick search. I see these skills as becoming increasingly necessary to tackle the procurement work of the future and may not be easily or quickly acquired on the job. It’s important to keep in mind that even when you come across a person that has a knack for one of these skills, helping them to build on it through formal training and certification will give them a framework to take that “knack” to the next level!
With that, here’s what I see as the procurement hard skillset of the (near) future
1. Project Management: Most procurement officers already possess some level of project management skills. The nature of procurement requires team building, organizational, and leadership skills, which form the basis of project management. However, as procurements become more complex and as new methodologies are developed, more formal project management training will become necessary to maintain a structured, standard approach, allowing us to deliver a consistent process to our stakeholders.
2. Data Analytics: Hooray! We’ve got a new e-procurement system and loads of data coming in! Now what!? In order to make sense of all the information coming at us, we need to be skilled in how to break it down, what to look for, and how to interpret it. As more and more processes are automated, our ability to collect data will continue to grow and with it, the sheer mass of data is only going to grow as well. Having someone trained in the techniques of data analytics will be imperative if we are to use this data to our advantage.
3. Process Improvement: Procurement processes are magnets for reactive “band-aids” – we all have experience with outdated policies that cause more work, add no value, and were put in place because something went wrong 20 years ago. Instead of just continuing to follow those policies, we need to get in the habit of asking why they exist in the first place and that’s where process improvement methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma come in. These methodologies provide staff with toolkits and the discipline to ensure that improvements are made in a measured, controlled way, and that a culture of continuous improvement is fostered.
Jason Soza is the Chief Procurement Officer for the State of Alaska, overseeing and managing nearly $2 billion in spend by state agencies and political subdivisions over a geographic area as wide as the 48 contiguous US. He serves on both the NASPO Board of Directors and the NASPO ValuePoint Management Board, helping to produce work that helps advance his state, other jurisdictions, and the procurement profession as a whole. In his spare time, Jason is a hockey goaltender and has learned that this position in sports and his job in procurement have a lot in common – people are always trying to sneak something by you!