What is the role of machines in the future of Procurement?

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, bots… are all terms that recently appeared in the mainstream media. Beyond repeatedly winning at the game of Go against the best players, intelligent machines penetrate our work environment. 

No longer reserved for task automation on the factory floor, machines now threaten the knowledge workers.  Able to collect and process more information than we can, able to memorize more than we can, always on, they enable us to do things that were previously impossible. 

Also, they seem unstoppable.

It raises fundamental questions on the future of work and for society in general. As far as Procurement is concerned, Cognitive Procurement will bring massive changes. It also represents enormous opportunities.


The arrival of machines in domains that were, until now, persevered (decisions, creativity…) is inevitable. So, finding the right way to welcome them is urgent. It is also and vital for any profession, and even more so for Procurement.

It is because how machines will transform Procurement is strongly linked to the position (and perception) of Procurement in organizations.

If it is seen as a strategic function and business enabler, then machines will increase even more the value proposition of Procurement. 

If it is seen as a mere procedural and tactical role, it will be a prime target for replacement by machines to automate even more processes.

The optimist in me thinks that it is the second option that will prevail. The future is about people + machines, not people vs. machines.

Some human tasks will disappear as machines do them. Some new activities will appear. Some others will need oversight by people as questions of control, trust, and accountability will be more important than ever. There will be a new distribution of activities and responsibilities:

  • between humans and machines on one side,
  • between Procurement and stakeholders in the other.

So, it is up to us, Procurement professionals (practitioners, tech. providers, …), to write the next chapters and become valued and recognized digital masters. Doing so, we must not forget the central place of people in business and that technology is just a means, not an end. The aim being, more than ever, to provide value to the rest of the organization.

Just like the iconic duo that lead the USS Enterprise “To boldly go where no man has gone before”, we must balance humanness and vulcanness to live long, and prosper.


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