Talk within the acquisition community often includes seemingly abstract concepts such as “innovation,” “change,” “reform,” “streamlining,” etc. For many, these words have been used for so long as to lose meaning or purposeful reaction. However, what legislation, policy and talking points haven’t delivered, technology eventually will.
There are several initiatives underway by numerous companies, from startups to the largest of companies, which will fundamentally alter our view of contract management. Take, for example, the “blockchain,” which is a central component to the digital currency “bitcoin.”
Technology's ever-greater reach will enable automation of all forms of job tasks beyond today's widely used document preparation, technical and cost analysis, reporting, and sourcing tools to include far greater "artificial intelligence" (AI) reach into traditional judgement, decision-making and relationship-building skills residing in the wheelhouse of the professional's individual attributes.
As author Christopher Robey stated in his article, "The Critical Path: A Hypothetical Business Case for AI Implementation in Federal Procurement," from the April 2015 issue of Contract Management magazine, "
AI drives business process reengineering to greater efficiencies in procurement."
Regardless of education, experience and judgement skills, from market research to contract closeout, the cradle-to-grave acquisition process and its professionals are subject to the same threats usually associated with more well-known blue collar labor disciplines and "rust belt" industries.
Researchers at Oxford University believe as many as 47 percent of all jobs in the United States are at risk of "computerization." Yet, just 7 percent of Americans who work in the government, education or nonprofit sectors expect that robots and computers will "definitely" take over most human employment in the next 50 years, while 13 percent of those who work for a large corporation, small business or medium-sized company are certain that this will occur.
So how is this different from when Henry Ford’s "Tin Lizzie" replaced the horse and buggy? Perhaps it isn’t. The sophistication and speed by which automation is occurring should not be surprising to anyone aware of it. However, once aware, the response has to be preparation for it.In a world of such common dissatisfaction with the state of acquisition, whether warranted or not, the allure of technology can be tempting.
The role of contract managers will and is changing. The skill set required for peak performance will align with the growing influence of technology. Organizations will always strive for maximum efficiency, which includes cost. Certainly, the growing role of interpersonal skills, as well as technical proficiency, is assured. The contract manager’s responsibility, influence, organizational position and value-add will be determined by personal acknowledgement and aggressive adoption of those changing skills and competencies.
Those eager to adopt and meet the challenges will thrive. Those threatened by, slow to adopt or resistant to such change will move on to other responsibilities and hopefully avoid the unrelenting march of "disruptive" technological innovation.
Michael P. Fischetti is the executive director of the National Contract Management Association.