The fear of tech-led redundancy in procurement*

It’s impossible to deny the power of technology as a worthy substitute for manual, process-driven tasks. Over the years the computer has replaced the typewriter, the keycard has replaced the bank cheque and the email has replaced the fax – and alongside this change, there’s a constant fear that we might be the next to go due to the adoption of the next shiny new gizmo.

That fear is understandable. We’ve seen countless examples of digital redundancy: the ATM has replaced the bank teller and the electronic tag has replaced the toll booth operator, for instance.

But technology has no political agenda, and often the fear that it’s here to replace us blinds us to the benefits of what technology can actually provide to the workplace and to our personal workloads. And that fear can often sell short what technology can bring to the table.

Just take a look at the smartphone. You can check emails on the train to work and can send them just as quickly. You can check most of your vital work-related info using the latest app. And technological convergence means you only have to carry around one device. These devices are so commonplace now, it’s now hard to imagine many professionals in any type of organisation living and working without a smart device.

The ultimate goal of a business, organisation or council is to be as efficient as possible within the finite resources they have. That is often the primary reason to adopt technologies such as smartphones in the first place.

Part of the journey towards achieving efficiency lies in the acknowledgement that some tasks are best left to automation, as this allows us to focus on higher-value tasks. For those in the local government procurement space, it might mean that new technology frees up time to explore more innovative supply options, reach out to supply markets beyond our typical print advertising and, in doing so, create a more competitive tender process.

So while the fear in procurement offices that we might be made redundant by technology is tangible, ultimately, it is unfounded because the most important contributions to procurement are still made by us.

For example, while technology can help embed probity and transparency within the local government procurement function, when things go awry, no amount of automation can replace the human insights required for investigation.

And ultimately, procurement decisions have to be made by humans and that’s unlikely to change. For example, award decisions will ultimately come down to the collective experience and strength in attention to detail possessed by any given procurement team. At this stage, no computer program or software package is capable of dealing with the nuance intrinsic to any multi-faceted vital decision.

It is technology that allows us to focus on the things that matter, adding value in the truly distinctive way only we can. It does the grunt work so our skills can be efficiently used for more important tasks, such as making the best possible decisions.

It’s technology that opens the door so our unique expertise can walk through.

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