Why can't the term "buyer" be erased from the sourcing world? Unless you are a buyer of fashion, nothing about this term is sexy. Buyers "buy," that's it. The title is demeaning, it implies that no thinking goes into the process and you do as you are told. Why do we still employ people as "buyers"? Why can't we automate "buying activity" that doesn't require thinking and eventually use artificial intelligence so smart people are not doing dumb work? Smart people don't like to do dumb work-they want challenging, thought provoking and hard work.
I predict (and frankly, hope) that in the next few years, entry level "buyers" will be a thing of the past. As an industry we will realize we need to raise the bar for ourselves and evolve into the strategic type of contributor we know we can be. Until we get rid of tactical activities and retrain these low-level contributors to become high-level contributors we will suffer from being an overhead organization.
With the real possibility of ubiquitous artificial intelligence (AI) finally on the horizon (albeit it has been hovering there for decades), it is becoming more and more clear what low-end tasks can be automated. Tasks that can be broken down unambiguously lend themselves best for today's machines, yet computers are increasingly able to solve more complex issues without clear, articulate rules. With the vast processing powers of computers and the growing abundance of big data, AI is enjoying a rise in its celebrity by creating capabilities thought only possible with a human mind. For example, DeepFace, an algorithm created by Facebook, can now recognize individual human faces about 97% of the time correctly. However, AI is not quite able to mimic the neurons in our brains to the extent that they can replicate human desire, common sense, autonomy or personal interests.
Since "buying" is not a highly technical activity, why can't a computer buy off a purchase order? Perhaps when triggered by an automatic reorder point, it could order from a category playbook from pre-approved suppliers at pre-approved prices with pre-approved terms and conditions? Couldn't a computer perform a three-way match for accounts payable and remove the need for a human touch?
AI is already on the advent of taking over skilled jobs, or portions of them, from call centers to writers to attorneys. As an example, computer-written articles are already being placed in well-respected publications-Forbes, for example. In a recent online article, Brad Merrill shares some philosophy behind its success:
"This is largely thanks to the work of Narrative Science, which trains computers to write news stories. Consider this excerpt from one of their computer-written articles:
'Friona fell 10-8 to Boys Ranch in five innings on Monday at Friona despite racking up seven hits and eight runs. Friona was led by a flawless day at the dish by Hunter Sundre, who went 2-2 against Boys Ranch pitching. Sundre singled in the third inning and tripled in the fourth inning […]'
Nothing too impressive - but can you tell that a machine wrote it? I can't.
Similarly, about 10,000 new Wikipedia articles are written by a bot every single day. That amounts to about 8.5 percent of Wikipedia's content overall."
We are increasingly experiencing computer generated content in our lives and not even aware of it. We think financial advisors create their own research, but that is impossible with the plethora of data they need to synthesize and rationalize. A noted author and economist Phil Parker has created a sophisticated algorithm that can complete an entire book in only minutes. This creation has led to the launch of ICON Group International Inc., a company Parker started that is auto-writing more than a million titles, mostly nonfiction books on very specific subjects. http://readwrite.com/2013/01/15/why-write-your-own-book-when-an-algorithm-can-do-it-for-you
While AI is not perfect…it has come a long way. So my hope is that it can be used to automate entry level "buying" jobs so good talent can be focused on more strategic work. We need to rely more on AI for routine, monotonous, redundant work and realize that our strategic impact will come from applying bright minds to the more complex deliverables that can make the Office of the CPO be seen as the strategic contributor that it should be.