The skills every business needs to make digital procurement work

A man in a warehouse, holding a laptop, while looking at stacked shelves
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Organizations of every size are looking to transform the way they handle procurement. At a time of rising costs and instability in the global economy, businesses need modern procurement systems that allow them to squeeze the most out of every penny spent.

Most organizations now plan to funnel more resources into procurement in a bid to see off these headwinds and modernize their operations, according to Amazon Business’ 2024 State of Procurement report. It found that 53% of organizations said their budgets would be increasing, with the priority being to increase efficiency and shrink costs, while also staying agile against the competition.

This could be more easily said than done, however. Businesses are increasingly finding the need to modernize is also creating layers of complexity in their operations. This in turn is driving the need for a constant supply of new employees with highly-technical skills. Unfortunately, as few as 14% of procurement leaders believe they have the talent at their disposal to drive future business objectives, according to recent figures from Gartner.

So what skill challenges are businesses likely to face in 2024 and beyond, and what can be done to address them?

What is causing the skills shortage?

Over the past decade, businesses have turned to a growing number of integrated systems, such as ERP, finance, supplier management, and delivery fulfillment. As a consequence, it’s now common to see ever-increasingly complex software handling every part of a business.

This proliferation of software has created enormous demand for technically-skilled staff. In-depth knowledge of APIs, data science, data analysis, and software deployment are increasingly common on the list of target skills. This demand grows as the business scales, as does the need for these employees to work more broadly across the organization as systems become more integrated.

The problem is now being exacerbated further with the onset of AI. Leaders are always on the hunt for the newest capabilities to help their business grow, with 36% of all respondents in Amazon Business’ report describing investment in new technologies as their top priority over the next two years. In 2024 and beyond, that means AI – and often the need for incredibly specialized staff capable of monitoring algorithms and understanding the nuances of AI-based decision making.

According to Gartner, 68% of procurement leaders surveyed said technology and data skills had increased in importance over the past 12 months. By contrast, only 26% said “traditional procurement competencies” had gained importance over the same period.

According to Amazon Business’ report, a staggering 84% of all businesses said that attracting top talent to their business was a top priority over the next two years. The report also found 86% planned to retrain and develop existing staff over the same period.

What are common skills that most procurement departments need?

Not every business will need the exact same set of technical skills, nor are all businesses engaging with more experimental technology like blockchain. There are some common skills that most businesses will be able to benefit from, however.

Data analytics

Perhaps the most important for procurement in the digital age is data analytics. The key to any successful procurement team is the ability to turn raw data into actionable insights. Employees will be engaging with a variety of integrated platforms, and must be able to confidently collate and contextualize data to make informed decisions about their business’ supply chain. This has become critical at a time of cost-cutting and scrutinized budgets, with procurement often one of the first divisions required to deliver efficiencies and savings.

Cyber security

With the sheer volume of data now at the hands of procurement professionals, experience of cyber security or risk management often makes the hitlist. Cyber threats pose a unique challenge for data-heavy businesses and employees must be able to manage safeguards to protect sensitive information, both that of the company and their suppliers. It’s important that leaders understand the unique risk profile that procurement creates and ensure that both new and existing staff have access to suitable cyber security training.

Artificial intelligence and automation

Procurement is better placed than most to take advantage of the advanced analytical capabilities that AI provides, with teams already dealing with vast quantities of data. The technology allows businesses to meet demand for services that are more intelligent, more efficient, and easier to scale. Although that certainly drives growth, it places more pressure on teams to fully understand the technology they’re dealing with.

While AI is perfect for giving businesses greater visibility over supply chains, it also increases the need for staff with experience in automation platforms and managing algorithms. Being comfortable using tools that track the movement of products, monitor communications, manage inventories, and visualize disruption – all in real time – is vital. While it’s certainly true that AI cuts down on manual data entry and processing, the functions of AI platforms still need to be interpreted effectively.

How do businesses deal with talent shortages?

While it’s important that businesses develop a clear hiring strategy that’s capable of securing the right skills for their teams, there are things that can be done in the meantime.

Improving access to internal training schemes can be an effective way to plug gaps in a workforce. Existing employees are likely already experienced with business systems and have bought-in to planned digital transformation.

“One of the biggest things we’ve realized over the last 10 years is the need for a more tech-savvy base of people working in procurement,” said Todd Heimes, worldwide director and general manager of Amazon Business, in a recent interview with MIT Sloan Management Review Connections.

“That’s across all organizations, including Amazon. But it can be hard to find the right talent. So I encourage all procurement teams to focus on that and think about internal training opportunities to grow their own team members, because it’s going to get more and more challenging to find the right skills.”


Heimes adds this can be supported by the creation of internal stakeholder groups that are able to share information to colleagues, and integrate systems across the wider business.

Another way for businesses to deal with talent shortages is to secure a trusted procurement partner. Amazon Business has built a number of platforms and capabilities that organizations can use to help manage their supply chains and simplify the procurement process. Customers are able to benefit from unique shipping options that take advantage of Amazon’s supplier network, as well as access to hundreds of millions of products from sellers across the globe.

Amazon Business’ account management tools also let customers manage permissions, users, buying groups, and suppliers from a single portal, while Amazon Business Analytics allow for the tracking and reporting of spend across the entire organization. For those businesses concerned about cyber security and compliance, Amazon Business’ single-sign-on function allows customers to configure secure, centralized access to every resource.

Ultimately, working with partners allows businesses to reduce complexity, improve efficiencies, and cut costs across even the largest of supply networks. Given the unpredictable nature of recruitment, and the severe shortage of skilled talent, securing a partner may be the surest way to drive effective change across your business.


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