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Help! A machine has stolen my job!

November 14, 2016

Last week I suggested that at least 35% of today’s jobs in contract, commercial and supply management will have disappeared within 5 years.

The world of work is changing fast. A growing number of voices are warning about the impact of robotics, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics. Some predict mass unemployment; others suggest that the nature of work will radically change. All are agreed that the future will be very different from the past.

Professor Andrew Brown from the Institute of Education is one of those promoting the message of change. He suggests that the top-end of employment opportunities will be filled by those performing ‘knowledge production jobs’. These are in contrast to the ‘squeezed middle’ – the sort of repetitive, knowledge-based tasks that can readily be performed through automation.

This represents both good news and bad news for the role of contract and commercial management. The discipline of contracting has gathered new momentum in recent years. Contracts bind economies; they impose increasingly complex rights and obligations; they provide a framework for managing change. As globalization, outsourcing and contract labor have gathered pace, the world has needed formal structures for their management. And this is why contracts have become more important – and their inadequacies revealed. It has also led to a growing volume of contract management jobs and training, often performed as an element of another role – for example lawyers or project managers.

All the signs point to a surge in automation in this field. For routine transactions involving drafting, negotiation and performance management – the vast majority of business activity – automation is not just possible, it is desirable. It operates with greater accuracy, efficiency and reliability than human resources. But automation has its limits. It does not innovate, it does not design continuous improvement, it does not undertake research.

Trading relationships lie at the heart of human wealth and prosperity. They are fundamental to survival – and hence a critical field for ‘knowledge production’. According to Professor Brown, key skills for the future will be the ability to propose problems, interpret data and communicate results. Such skills lie at the heart of commercial innovation – indeed, they reflect precisely the areas that are tested in candidates for IACCM Expert certification (and if you aren’t already in the program, it’s time to start).

Hence there is a definite role awaiting those who wish to focus on ‘knowledge production’ and who develop the skills to lead and influence innovation and change. Creativity will be key; control and compliance will be the role of the machine.

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