Putting people first

From the June 2024 print edition

As in many industries, technology – especially artificial intelligence (AI) – has become a hot topic among procurement and supply chain professionals.

And like many such hot topics, there’s a certain amount of anxiety that goes along with trying to incorporate new tools and ways of doing things. The potential benefits of technology, not least of which include increased

Michael Power is editor of Supply Professional magazine.

productivity, efficiency, and cost savings, are attractive. Yet concerns linger that tech adoption will lead to job losses among workers. Why hire a human worker to do what automation can do, cheaper and more efficiently?

Indeed, the recent 2024 Annual Industry Report, released during the Modex 2024 conference in Atlanta in April, dedicates a fair amount of its contents to addressing this concern. While the report acknowledges that AI, automation, robotics, and other technologies continue to gain traction, it also stresses the importance of a symbiotic relationship between human workers and such technology. Supply chains must remain people focused, the report says, even as the use of technology takes off.

That means, cultivating supplier relationships will remain important for the foreseeable future, even as technologies like AI make the process easier. Here’s an example. In our profile on page 10, Kelly Singleton describes how AI helped her design a seating arrangement for a supplier appreciation event, reducing the hours-long task to a few minutes. It was a great way to make the process much quicker and easier, yet the important aspect remained the interactions and relationship-building with suppliers at the event.

The human touch remains central to supply chain operations in multiple ways. The pandemic highlighted this. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, many organizations found themselves scrambling to procure goods that were previously easy to get. Organizations with good supplier relations counted themselves lucky, and many had to scramble to set up those relations with new suppliers.

More recently, geopolitical events have spotlighted the importance of those good supplier relationships. In the MHI report mentioned above, geopolitical risks and the need for agility to address those risks is included as one of five major trends in supply chains in 2024.

And there are now, as ever, no shortage of geopolitical issues threatening supply chains, from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, to disastrous weather, to the push to decouple from China. Nearshoring will also mean having to cultivate suppliers, as companies look for alternatives closer to home. These all mean the search for new suppliers and fostering existing relationships.

All of this means that it’s more important than ever to be proactive about both seeking out new suppliers, as well as fostering relations with existing ones. Doing so must remain the norm for procurement and supply chain professionals, even as they further embrace AI and technology in the years ahead.