Experts predict that agencies specialising in procurement recruitment must respond to the growing need for new data analysis specialists in the profession as it undergoes digital transformation, as well as practitioners demonstrating excellent traditional ‘soft skills’ required for negotiation.

Malcolm Wheatley, a journalist specialising in procurement issues, interviewed a range of experts to tease out how digitalisation is changing procurement jobs, from permanent practitioners to supply chain and procurement interims.

Rob Handfield, professor of supply chain management at North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management, notes that the unprecedented new capacities for data capture and analysis heralded by digital technologies are already driving innovative changes in the structure of procurement organisations, with some setting up internal ‘centres of excellence.’ Digitally-skilled practitioners in these centres pull in data sets from other business departments, from transportation to manufacturing to finance, analysing them for answers to the biggest business questions.

Procurement transformation consultant, Alejandro Alvarez, has seen similar trends, with some procurement organisations setting up specialist units comprised of analytics-savvy experts who function as internal consultants. Even smaller firms, he observes, are setting up data specialist units. Is this creating a divide between older practitioners using the traditional, pre-digital skills of procurement and a new generation of tech-savvy data-crunchers?

David Food, associate principal lecturer in procurement at the University of London’s Royal Holloway College, believes that the former shouldn’t worry unduly. Skilled analysts are not necessarily equipped to be skilled negotiators or supplier relationship managers, and these will remain core procurement functions in the post-digital world. As he says: “Some degree of specialisation is going to be inevitable.”

Meanwhile, Soroosh Saghiri, senior lecturer at Cranfield School of Management’s Centre for Strategic Procurement and Supply Chain Management, warns that some of the newly-required specialisms will not be obvious: the growing dependence on automated e-commerce, for example, may drive demand for e-auction specialists with skills in combinatorial analysis and clustering. The conclusion? Procurement generalists need supplementing with data specialists as never before.