Automating procurement? The “Black Box” should be our slave and not our master

One of the psychological phenomena associated with economic downturn and recession is listlessness and lack of inertia. Being less busy should mean, logically, that you get out and about to try and establish/develop more contacts and opportunities. Often, the contrary can be the case – the lack of activity in the market place seeps into the bones and lowers expectations, lowers activity and, in fact, makes it increasingly difficult to respond productively and effectively to the first whispers of shadows of greenish shoots…

…but that’s not what this post is about! Against that grey wall of somnolence, Peter Smith of Spend Matters has thrown some very bright, optimistic paint: the profession of procurement will never be replaced by machines.

This ties into key themes we are following in the industry at the moment: first that of using public procurement (but perhaps domestic procurement also?) as a tool to select for desired social/ economic and environmental outcomes and second that of integrating procurement (across all sectors) more closely with core strategic business activity, making it a “board level” function.

If anything, we have seen for years what “automation” does to procurement (in its broadest sense). EU Regulation has produced a tick box approach to compliance which can (and often does) result in massive additional cost, a dive towards lowest price (with by no means the reassurance that top quality and best fit is achieved as a by-product) and the gravitational pull of spend towards larger suppliers.

Who loses out from a public procurement perspective? The buyer, the tax payer, the public recipient of services/ user of facilities, the local economy which sees public spend rinsed out to off-patch PLC HQ’s and almost all but the largest suppliers. In short, just about everyone who participates in the process.

More automation won’t cure this. Whilst eProcurement (as we have said before) does seem to be an idea whose time has come at last, it is a tool which needs to be wielded by practitioners who can join the crucial dots in the equations which state that MEAT does not always equal lowest price and that fairness means fairness to everyone or it is not fairness at all.

So, we are with Peter – procurement is a profession: the “Black Box” should be our slave and not our master.

His video is well worth a watch here:

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