Chatting about the future of procurement with Charlotte de Brabandt

May 6, 2019 | Xeeva Team

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Charlotte de Brabandt, Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars 2017 Megawatt Star and member of ISM’s Thought Leadership Council.

During our discussion, we chatted about the impact of technology on the future of procurement, and how to prepare for these inevitable changes. Check out a snippet from our interview below, and you can also listen to the full 30-minute audio interview here!

XEEVA: As technology is evolving, procurement and supply chain are also evolving at a faster rate. So, taking all of that into consideration, how do you think leadership roles are going to change in the future?

CHARLOTTE: I think the whole role of procurement will change in the future. That’s really because of the transformation which we’re currently going through due to digital technologies. The pace of automation is just going to increase because of autonomous intelligent systems.

Keeping that in mind, the role of procurement will change, and so will the leadership function. I remind myself every day, “what is it that I want to be?” I want to be a leader. Why do I want to be a leader? The definition in my mind of a leader is to go out, find talent, and push them to make them even better than you are. That’s how I see the role of a leader.

In the future, because everything is just going to happen a lot faster, you need multiple skillsets. The job is not going to just be 9-to-5. I think we need to be a lot more flexible in the future. So as a leader, there will be a lot of new challenges coming to us, especially providing the right environment and adapting to that change accordingly.

Related: How AI is shaping the future of indirect procurement

XEEVA: That’s a very powerful statement. I think it’s absolutely necessary to be able to adapt and take a look at the current landscape in terms of the challenges being faced, how they’re being solved, and looking at technology in new and innovative ways so that when the current process changes, you are also able to change and plan accordingly.

It’s such a powerful mindset to be able to look at a world that is dynamic, and you yourself become dynamic. You and I can probably spend hours just talking about the specific tasks that you are doing today that are probably not going to exist soon. But at the same time, that conversation is going to be super insightful, because it’s more along the lines of “what else can I do when I no longer can do those other things?”

For somebody preparing to go into a leadership role, and with technology taking up so much more of our world, what values do you think we should continue to evolve and keep front-and-center in the world of procurement specifically?

CHARLOTTE: Well, I think we should look at all of the trends which are currently happening. We are living in a very connected global economy and mobile has really been a new trend. Very soon, 50% of our workforce is going to be millennials. I think something that is currently happening is with corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and digital trends following speed, flexibility, and adapting to this new work environment which we have in front of us.

For more about how technology trends are impacting procurement, watch this webinar!

But I think something which will be a new window of opportunity for leaders is the whole idea that we are social animals. We need to make sure that we stay human. Humans are there to give us insight and wisdom. In the future, we are going to have new jobs where there are a lot more soft skills needed, and that human touch cannot be replaced by robots.

XEEVA: I think a lot of people will find that statement to be troublesome because it’s one of those things that’s hard to focus in on. One of the things you’ve mentioned is performing in front of 10,000 people. For some people, that’s not part of their repertoire. That’s not what they are good at. But some people – like yourself – are very good at speaking in front of people and are very good at presenting.

So, what are some of those soft skills that people should maybe not necessarily specialize in, but at least be aware that they are lacking in, so they can develop them in order to ensure a successful career in procurement?

CHARLOTTE: That’s definitely a good question! I think one is definitely staying authentic and staying true to yourself. I think having a lot of passion and proactiveness and being able to understand the environment, as well as your coworkers (or as a leader, your talent). A robot will not be able to see whether somebody is sad or unhappy with how they are currently. So it’s important to surround yourself with people that push you to do better and set higher goals. I think this positive energy cannot be obtained from robots or intelligent systems. It’s social integration and being able to understand your coworkers accordingly. I think that’s something that is going to be very important for us in the future. So there are some soft skills there, like patience, surrounding yourself with positive people, never giving up, and knowing it’s ok to fail. It’s authentic. This authenticity cannot be given by a robot.

XEEVA: Yeah, that’s one of the amazing things that is happening with technology. The fact that so much more can be done by technology that’s already available, now you have the time to develop these soft skills. You can devote some time to very specifically try to understand one another to a greater degree and raise that level of conversational and emotional intelligence.

Because some of your tasks are being done by technology, you can actually grow as a human being, not only in your own personal life but also in your professional life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s one of the areas that has driven you towards procurement and technology, and being on top of all the technological advances that are happening.

CHARLOTTE: Yeah, and I think I also have curiosity and a hunger to learn more, discover new opportunities that are coming about. I ask myself whether I am driving change, or am I being driven by it?

The whole role of procurement will change in the future because of the transformation we’re currently going through due to digital technologies.

XEEVA: Because we are in that juxtaposition of new eras, I think sometimes we can be misguided in different directions. Not necessarily for bad or evil, but simply because we just don’t know.

Do you have any examples of (maybe even in your personal life) where you took technology in a certain way and you let it run its course, but you didn’t get what you were trying to get out of it?

CHARLOTTE: You know, we are currently reaching this tornado of change, and I’m definitely open to new technologies, especially having changed to different corporations. We have a different status of incorporating digitalization within our corporation and how we go about it, so it’s important to be adaptable to the change. We have different scenarios where I was curious to find out about this one technology, but then it’s kind of led me to another.

For example, in supply chain and procurement, I was interested in the impact of IoT, but as I did some research, I found out more about AI, deep learning, and machine learning. They are all very much interlinked and I think they all build off each other. They are all building on top of each other and learning from each other to create something even better. I can’t even say what that is yet, but I think it will come very shortly, and it’s going to be a complete game-changer. It’s creating this perfect storm of change. Look at quantum computing and how its fueling big data, or how IoT is fueling AI and deep learning, which is then fueling robotics.

I think something different and something new will happen. It’s all going to be fully automated, but we cannot say yet exactly what it will be. We just have to be careful that the human traits such as creativity, imagination, intuition, emotion, and ethics will stay equally important in the future.

For more on how technology is impacting the future of procurement, check out this webinar!