Teeing Up For AI in Procurement: It’s All About One Thing…

The benefit of AI for procurement is clear – the question, then, is what will it take to effectively put it to use?

Over the last year, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have graduated from the class of “emerging tech” – they’re here now, they’re increasingly sophisticated, and their adoption will only continue to accelerate.

We’ve seen machine learning and AI go mainstream in consumer tech environments, and they are rapidly shifting from hype to reality in enterprise environments as well; however, enterprise executives are still working to understand how AI applications can move beyond specific product features to influence broader business functions and strategies.

Let’s take a look at the procurement department, for instance. Procurement and purchasing professionals have a lot to gain from leveraging AI. In fact, AI has the potential to completely transform how organisations manage their spend, from automating invoice coding based on learned criteria, to predicting potentially fraudulent transactions, and preventing rogue spending before it happens.

The benefit of AI for procurement is clear – the question, then, is what will it take to effectively put it to use?

Gartner’s report, “Start Preparing Now for the Impact of AI on Procurement,” states that “technologies’ need for data will force application leaders in procurement to ensure access to the necessary internal and external data sources.”

Essentially, the first step to getting predictions out of AI is to capture all data – internal data, external data and third-party, public data. Furthermore, procurement professionals should be asking themselves if they have the volume, the quality and the completeness of data needed to leverage AI within their department.

Ticking each of these boxes can feel like an arduous process, but a good starting point is to hone in on three particular sources of data that provide the greatest visibility into spend:

1. Supplier Data: This means capturing data from 100 per cent of suppliers in the procurement system. Not just the largest multi-national suppliers who use sophisticated EDI or XML formats, but the whole tail. This should include mid-tier suppliers that may be using online portals or emailing PDF invoices, all the way down to the smallest “mom and pop” businesses, who continue sending paper invoices. Using an open commerce network that accepts and supports all invoice formats and requires no changes on the supplier’s end enables 100 per cent supplier onboarding and captures all transactional data. To gain true visibility and power future platforms, procurement and finance leaders must aggregate as much financial data as possible beginning with supplier data.

2. User-Driven Data: The ability to capture user-driven data–specifically, buying insights that track 100 per cent of all purchasing requests that run through the system, is vital. Visibility into employee spend ultimately depends on how user-centric procurement tools, technologies, and processes are designed. The bottom line is: procurement systems shouldn’t be designed for the procurement department. They should be catered to potentially thousands of employees around the world that are buying things in their organisation.

Searching for orders, dynamic routing and approvals, and guided buying, for instance, should be easy to navigate and fit seamlessly into the way employees already work. The key is to create a system that users adhere to not because they have to, but because it’s the easiest way to get what they want from preferred vendors at the negotiated price, providing another layer of spend visibility.

3. Invoice Data. By nature, the accounts payable function is primed for intelligent automation. There is a huge opportunity to use AI for things like improving processing efficiencies and reducing costs, increasing discounts and eliminating late payment fees, for instance.

But, these enhancements can only be achieved if the invoice data feeding into AI is complete. That means procurement needs to capture 100 per cent of invoices, irrespective of format (paper, PDF, electronic) and irrespective of invoice type (PO-based, non-PO based, invoices for direct spend, for indirect spend, for facilities and utilities, etc) –  truly, any and all. Whatever the invoice, it should be captured.

These three particular sources of data can truly position a company to take advantage of all the benefits AI promises just over the horizon. Elements of machine learning, AI and predictive analytics already exist within procurement today. Forecasting budgets for approvers, alternative cost-effective suggestions during a user’s shopping experience and intelligently aggregating POs based on purchase trends are just a few commonplace applications. But to take advantage of any of these applications, and future opportunities to gain a competitive advantage, data is an absolute prerequisite. Only when armed with data – especially from suppliers, users and invoices – can procurement make the most of their investment in AI technology, enhance spend visibility and optimisation, and ultimately, boost the organisation’s bottom line.

Continue reading Teeing Up For AI in Procurement: It’s All About One Thing…

Tuesdays With Tom: Trump, Trade and Turning Disruption into Opportunity

Institute for Supply Management CEO Tom Derry compares the Trump administration’s trade policies to “self-inflicted friendly fire” in the first of our 10-part Tuesdays with Tom podcast series.

“In military conflicts, one of the outcomes we most dread are instances of ‘friendly fire’, when you mistakenly fire on your own troops. I think the current [trade] policy is almost an instance of self-inflicted friendly fire, from an economic perspective. We might be helping domestic industries like steel and aluminum (although even that’s arguable), but we’re actually damaging the far bigger industries that are consumers of those products; who make household appliances, yellow goods for construction, or automobiles. All of our exports in those areas will suffer with this trade policy.”

In the first of our Tuesdays with Tom podcast series, ISM CEO Tom Derry talks with Procurious Founder Tania Seary about the current raft of trade wars and tariffs that have come about as a result of US policy shift.

Supply management professionals do NOT like trade wars

“ISM publishes economic reports every month for the manufacturing and services sector. Comments have been very consistent: we’re seeing suppliers trying to impose price increases on buyers as they’re buying metals (such as steel and aluminum)”, says Tom. “We’re seeing people anticipating the tariffs, looking to end sourcing from China and look for suppliers elsewhere, and we’re seeing people postpone investments.

“The two most important economic factors in deciding where to locate a manufacturing facility are local taxes and tariffs. If tariffs are uncertain, [companies are] going to postpone decisions about building that next facility, which is not good for the economy in the long run.”

NAFTA renegotiations having an impact

“What’s so interesting about these policy changes”, says Tom, “is that even mere discussion has a real economic impact and causes real dislocation of supply chains. Even before the steel tariffs were imposed, people reacted to the idea of tariffs, and that caused businesses to have to change their plans.”

Historically, NAFTA has resulted in incredibly tightly integrated supply chains in certain industries, particularly the automotive industry. “We do a lot of assembly of automotive in northern Mexico for final sales here in the United States or in Canada, but before you get to that final assembly in those plants, you’ve got components for parts that move across the Mexican/US border four or five times before we get to the final vehicle”, says Tom.

“Imagine what it would be like to impose tariffs in both directions four or five times, and the inspections that would have to go with it, and the country of origin verification that would have to be performed. If NAFTA [fails], it’ll be incredibly disruptive in terms of the auto industry here in North America.” 

Two tips for turning disruption into opportunity

  1. Have a Plan B: “Every good category manger has a Strategy A for expected economic conditions, and Strategy B if there’s an economic downturn or something happens in the commodity markets. You have to have those playbooks thought through and scripted … if you haven’t done that, get to work on that immediately.”
  2. Be prepared to react fast: “If you see a dramatic change, you need to be able to respond to it in the moment. The advantage goes to the company, the organisation, or the individual who can react fastest during times of great change. If you’re late in moving, any potential benefit to be realised will be captured by someone else. Make sure you’ve got that playbook well defined.”

“The advantage goes to the company, the organisation, or the individual who can react fastest during times of great change.”

Tom tells the story of a CPO working at LG Electronics during the 2008-9 recession, who was concerned about securing semiconductors. They were aware that a recession would lead to a drop in consumer demand for electronics and hence a demand for semiconductor chips, so he visited his suppliers in Asia, then managed to convince his executive committee to buy $9 billion worth of semiconductors because the price would never be as low again. LG subsequently posted record profits for 2009 due to that CPO’s business acumen, his understanding of the spot market for semiconductors, and doing his homework. This is how you respond to disruptive events.

“[Procurement needs to] see through the common perception, recognise market opportunities and the dislocation between price and demand, and seize opportunities to turn a perceived threat into a great opportunity for a huge bottom line impact.”


Tuesdays with Tom is a 10-part podcast series featuring exclusive insights from ISM CEO, Tom Derry. Register now to receive an alert whenever a new podcast is released.

Is AI Doing Your Head In?

Seven tips for making headway with your cognitive sourcing project.

I will never forget visiting the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington for the first time 30 years ago and seeing the Apollo capsule. Like so many others, I was amazed at how basic the technology was that took us to the moon.  I remember saying to my travel buddy, “Hey, this looks like my 1969 Toyota Corolla!” (my first car). Of course, back then, that was the very latest technology when humanity had its first “moonshot” opportunity.

My point here is that as procurement professionals, we may be sporting 30, 40 or 50-year-old hardware (our bodies!), but we need to make sure we are using 2018 software (our brains and capabilities) to get the very latest technology embedded in our organisations.

I mean, if cognitive is here, and it’s our moonshot opportunity to change the trajectory of the profession and there’s millions of dollars waiting to be saved, we don’t want to be left back on the rocket staging launch pad as an observer!

The challenge for all of us is to determine whether and how we implement this hot new capability.

Step one is to be clear about your corporate drivers. In my experience, companies are always going through one of six phases (please note the “status quo” is never one of them). Sometimes, they are going through multiple phases at the same time!

These directions are set from the top… hard coded. So if you want to get your cognitive sourcing project off the ground, you are going to have make sure your project aligns with one of these corporate objectives.

One of the key movers in the space, LevaData, is offering a hard ROI of 10 to 30% incremental cost savings, guaranteed. I asked them how we could link cognitive projects into the generic 6 corporate phases and this is what they had to say :-

  • Efficiency – massively reduce manual data validation, spend analysis, and sourcing event preparation activities
  • Compliance – engage approved vendors and qualified alternate sources of supply through auditable RFX process (vs. email and spreadsheets)
  • Transformation – elevate procurement and strategic sourcing as internal orchestrators, working cross functionally with engineering, finance, manufacturing, and sales to managing emerging supply risks and opportunities
  • Innovation – accelerate new product introduction and optimize cost and risk through the product life-cycle
  • Cost-down – improved negotiation insights lead to sustainable cost management year over year, capturing cost reduction opportunities as well as minimizing cost inflation risks
  • Growth – enable scaleability and responsiveness to forecast and market changes from months to weeks or days.

Getting BIG, innovative ideas and game-changing concepts through BIG Companies is not easy.  To successfully land cognitive technology in your organisation, you’ll need to:

1. Have courage and commit yourself. It’s important to have full confidence in your cognitive project and be prepared to put your credibility on the line and stand up for it at all costs. Once you’ve decided that it’s worth committing to, give it everything and don’t give up.

2. Do your homework.Make sure your cognitive sourcing project is closely aligned with a key corporate objective. Collect and scrutinise the data on the benefits of introducing cognitive and make sure your business case is bullet-proof. You need hard-nose, quantifiable benefits to support investing in the cognitive project and these numbers need to be backed up by the people who count (predominantly operations and finance).  Do your pre-work, build your support team. As you work your way around the organisation convincing people of the need to change, refer to your support network often: “Johnny in finance is firmly behind this, he helped me with the numbers”.

3. Think Big, Act Small, Accelerate Fast. Keeping the vision in mind, find a small representative project, experiment and demonstrate the ROI with Cognitive capability. Sell the outcome and accelerate fast. I would encourage you to think about what that project might look like and figure out ways to get it off the ground.

4. Pick a sponsor (carefully!). Think carefully about who would be the best sponsor for your cognitive sourcing project.  Make sure they have power and influence – and make sure they are supporting you for the right reasons and believe the project is important for the business. Try to avoid sponsors who are purely supporting cognitive for their own career advancement (I know this is hard to uncover at the outset). This is because your project will be dumped as quickly as it was taken up if it suddenly falls out of favour – which is another reason to make sure your project is aligned to key, quantifiable business objectives.

ONLY refer back to your sponsor when you reach a critical deadlock at an important milestone.  “Keep your powder dry” throughout the project, otherwise you will be too much of a drain on their time.  You need to make it easy for them to be your sponsor. Bring them in for the photo opportunities and the critical decision points.

5. Create a support network. I’ve often said procurement can be a lonely place, because you may be the only person in your company, or even in your industry, doing what you do! That’s one of the many reasons why I started Procurious, to help people connect and learn from each other.

Procurious is the perfect place for reaching out to others leading the cognitive journey within their own organisations. Over five thousand Procurious members visit our discussion board every month to share ideas and offer advice to their peers. Our blogs are read by thousands of professionals daily and spark debate, with members feeding their own commentary and ideas into the global community.

Our digital Big Ideas Summits, along with all the other networking, discussion and eLearning on the site, inspire a global generation of procurement leaders and business intrapreneurs, challenging them to take a more innovative professional approach.

Your network is also a powerful tool for endorsing what you are recommending, for example you can refer to your network – “I know Janie at ABC company (our competitor) and they are already implementing cognitive”.

6. Be human(!) in all your interactions. Up, down, and across the supply chain, it will be interactions between people that will be the real determinants of success and failure in an increasingly robotic era. To prosper in this next Industrial Revolution, we need to play to our human strengths – collaboration, connection, innovation, influence – the things only we humans can do.

7. When you get knocked down, get back up again. If you’re going to succeed in getting your big idea through a big company, you have to be incredibly resilient. You will have nay-sayers telling you why cognitive is not going to work, so keep going back to the data that demonstrates how this will support the business objectives. That is your strongest defence.

So, like any other project that is doing your head in, the implementation of cognitive can best be tackled by breaking it down into distinct steps. It’s going to take grit and more than a little determination, but the potential rewards are stratospheric.

Tania Seary will deliver the closing keynote at LevaData’s Cognitive Sourcing Summit on 13th September 2018 in Santa Clara, CA. Find out more.

Four Ways To Cultivate Real Confidence And Supercharge Your Career

Often we think of confidence as something that the lucky few are born with and the rest are left wishing for. But this couldn’t be further from the truth…

Think of someone who you say is confident – your boss, a colleague or a celebrity, perhaps. Chances are you’d describe them as poised, hopeful and positive. They know their strengths and they know their weaknesses, too.

Often we think of confidence as something that the lucky few are born with and the rest are left wishing for. This simply is not true. Confidence is not a personality trait or a fixed attribute; it’s the outcome of the thoughts we think and the actions we take. Confidence is learnable.

It also isn’t based on our actual ability to succeed at a task but on our belief in our ability to succeed. It is the expectation of a positive outcome – regardless of whether this relates to our belief in our ability to speak in front of a large audience, to learn new technology, to lead a team, to handle confrontation, to change jobs and careers, or to start a business.

With consistent effort, and the courage to take a risk, we can gradually expand our confidence and, with it, our capacity to build more of it. Here’s how to do that in four ways.

  1. Show up as the real you

Having the ability to show up with real confidence means you know yourself, you can be yourself and you show up as the best version of yourself. This is more than getting out of bed, splashing some water on your face and fronting up at your desk hoping you can cope with what the day throws at you.

You believe you can draw on what you are great at. You believe what you’re good at is important, and that it’s aligned with how you are working. You believe that you are valuable and valued.

Showing up as truly confident over a sustained period of time is something that needs to be built from the inside out. ‘Faking it until you make it’ only gets you so far and for so long. Trying to pretend you have the confidence needed to get the job done can be exhausting.

2. Stand up for yourself

At work, especially if you’re looking to get into a leadership position, you need to speak up when no-one else will. You need to be visible, make unpopular decisions and go slow in order to go fast. You must stand alone in a crowd and have the confidence to believe in yourself. You don’t need to be the Dalai Lama, but you do need to stand up for what you deem right, fair and important.

When it comes to building your confidence in standing strong, ask yourself:

  • What do you VALUE? To speak out, you have to know what to speak about. To stand up for your beliefs, you have to know what you stand for.
  • What is your PURPOSE? Steve Jobs once said, ‘Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.’ That’s a clear sense of purpose. He was clear about what he stood for and why, and you need to be too.
  • How RESILIENT are you? Inevitably, when we stand up, we are putting ourselves at risk of rejection. Building your capacity to get back up again is important in maintaining your confidence during adversity and setbacks.

3. Speak up and have a voice

A sure way to fail in today’s demanding business environment is to keep quiet when you should be speaking up!

People often tell me that they don’t speak up because they are not confident and they fear being judged. My response is, ‘So you would rather be judged on just sitting there and saying nothing instead of taking the opportunity to have a voice and potentially getting it wrong?’ The likelihood is that we are going to be judged one way or another.

Many of us also back away from speaking up to avoid conflict. We see conflict as bad, rather than being able to reframe it as healthy debate. As a result, we keep our opinions to ourselves – thinking that if we just keep doing our job and delivering the outcomes, we will get ahead.

Yet we must be willing to speak up, even when it is hard or unpopular or you feel like it will cause conflict. As Martin Luther King Jr put it, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter’. So, use your voice!

  1. Step up your performance

You need to have the confidence and skills, and the ability to take on an element of risk, no matter what role or industry you work in. To step up confidently, you need to master your mindset, build your personal brand and have great sponsors.

Reflecting on your current behaviours and stepping up as required is critical. You often need to do things differently tomorrow from how you are today. You need to take yourself out of your comfort zone – and be confident enough to do this – and be aware of your context and what the environment requires of you because this is always changing.

If you’ve got your ‘head down and bum up’ all day long, knocking off your to-do list, how will you be able to assess what you need to do to influence and ensure the work makes real progress?

Continue to challenge yourself and ask, ‘If what got me here won’t get me there, what do I need to be doing now to step up?’

When you do this in line with all the other confidence skills, then you start to cultivate your confidence and supercharge your career.

Procurement’s Most Valuable Tool In An On-Demand World

Do you know who your non-employee workers are? Where they are? What facilities, networks, and data they have access to? If not, chances are very good that you need a Vendor Management System.

Bjoern Wylezich/ Shutterstock

For most organisations, human capital expenses constitute the largest single cost of doing business, often up to 70 per cent of operating expenses. Human capital is also a growing source of concern for executives who fear they don’t have – and can’t acquire – the top-tier talent they need to compete and succeed in an increasingly on-demand world.

Companies that have traditionally relied on internal workforces of direct employees are increasingly adopting a more flexible, extended workforce approach that lets them adapt quickly to market changes while effectively managing their fixed costs.

To manage this extended workforce, companies increasingly employ sophisticated vendor management systems (VMS). These VMS solutions can do much more than simply automate the contingent staffing process. They can source and manage all types of talent and deliver a wide range of insights to help organisations make better workforce decisions.

Where does VMS fit in your procurement picture?

Simply put, a VMS is the software that automates the hiring process of an organisation’s non-employee workforce. It is often a web-based application that helps manage and procure staffing services, from requisition through billing.

Most VMS tools are delivered through a Software-as-a-Service model. A VMS provides significant improvements in reporting and analytic capabilities that far outperform manual systems and processes. VMS tools are typically operated externally by a Managed Service Provider (MSP) or self-managed by a program office within the organisation.

This structure enables a streamlined and automated process with real-time of all contingent labor: who they are, where they are, and what access they have to your facilities, networks, and data.  A VMS allows you to see all relevant job orders and accurately assess labor services spend and performance, often leading to significant cost reduction.

Should you implement a VMS?

Typically, large organisations, or companies who employ more than 100 contractors at a time will benefit greatly from a VMS solution. Companies with non- employee workers in multiple countries and varying labor classes can also streamline their hiring, management, and payment processes with a VMS.

Below are some of the top reasons to implement a VMS for your organisation:

  • Cost savings: A VMS helps eliminate rogue buying of labor and maverick spend. You can gain hard dollar savings by consolidating suppliers and benchmarking rates to gain negotiated savings or volume/early pay discounts, as well as soft dollar savings through process improvements like consolidated invoicing, reduced timecard and invoice errors, and compliance tracking.
  • Visibility: Cost savings from a VMS are driven by the analytics and reporting, which help reveal where and how you are spending money on contract and project-based labor in order to make better decisions for the future.
  • Compliance: Transparent analysis of all stages of the procurement lifecycle provides greater control and ability to enforce procurement strategy and policies. By implementing a VMS and gaining full visibility into your staffing spend and activity, you can ensure that all labor is properly categorized and mitigate risk of potential exposure to co-employment and tenure litigation.
  • Quality: A VMS allows you to measure and monitor the performance of your suppliers and non-employee workforce to ensure there is an efficient process in place for acquiring the best talent at the best rates (through self-sourcing or using staffing suppliers) and a strong program for sourcing and managing statement of work (SOW) contractors.
  • Operational efficiency: By implementing a VMS, you can automate many steps in the procurement process.

How to select a VMS provider

There are many VMS providers in the market today, ranging from software solutions offered by MSPs or ERP providers to independent contingent workforce specialists. Make sure you choose wisely.

Here are eight things you will want to consider when selecting your VMS provider:

  1. Trusted partner commitment: It is critical to find a partner that is willing to invest in a relationship with you, to work with you, and to support your program’s changes, including geographical or labor category expansions.
  2. Financial stability: Your VMS provider should be a viable choice for today, tomorrow, and over the next decade.
  3. Flexibility: VMS providers should understand trends, emerging talent acquisition models, and how best to facilitate sourcing talent.
  4. Expandability: The tool should have the ability to accommodate all labor categories and easily expand to include SOWs, not just contractors on a time and materials basis.
  5. Global reach: Select a provider who understands the tax and labor laws in all geographies where you do business.
  6. Visibility: Robust reporting and analytics capabilities are critical to maximising the value of your investment.
  7. Ease of use: The tool should be intuitive enough so that users can learn about 90 per cent of the functionality on their own. Training, online help, online tutorials, and help desk assistance should be available for the remaining 10 per cent.
  8. Technology compliance: The vendor you’re considering should be certified by an independent service auditor to ensure they have undergone the most rigorous data security assessments and compliance

Now more than ever, contingent workforce managers, procurement teams, and human resource professionals need a significantly enhanced toolkit to address business executives’ priorities. They need innovative solutions that can dramatically lower costs while boosting productivity. They need to find and engage the right people with the right skills – quickly – to deliver better customer value in an on-demand world.

Most of all, you need solutions that will help your companies turn your workforce into a competitive advantage, differentiate your business, and set up your organisations to win. A VMS is that kind of a solution.

For information about the value a VMS can offer your business and how to build a winning business case for a VMS in six easy steps, click here.

Doug Leeby will be speaking at Big Ideas Chicago on 27th September. To follow the action live from wherever you are in the world, register as a digital delegate.

Now, More Than Ever, It’s Time For Procurement To Go Digital

At a time when technology is transforming nearly every aspect of the enterprise and its approach to buying and selling, the role of the procurement professional — already central to any organisation — has become even more strategic, more consequential, and more indispensable.

By linking together vast troves of data across enterprises and unlocking meaningful insights, cloud-based applications have freed up procurement professionals from the tangle of day-to-day tactical activities so that they can focus on strategic responsibilities such as supply chain resilience and flexibility, brand protection, and new sources of innovation.

Key Accelerators for Digital Transformation

The transformation is just beginning. As emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things and blockchain begin to take hold, procurement will become even smarter, faster and more connected. And beyond savings and efficiencies, it will open the door to innovations that improve customer satisfaction, and ultimately, impact revenue generation.

Another accelerator in digital transformation in procurement are business networks. They are driving totally new way of interacting and expanding the value that procurement can deliver across the enterprise.  Just like their social counterparts, they bring together millions of buyers and sellers and provide a community in which they can shop, share and consume. On a true many to many platform, trust and transparency are the benefits the network participants find.

Managing Supplier Risk and Corporate Responsibilities

More than ever, customers, regulators and investors hold companies accountable not only for their own ethical conduct, but for that of their suppliers and their suppliers’ suppliers. Companies with strong supply chain practices invest to mitigate any risk and respond to adverse events and recover from the any disruption faster. With business networks, companies can gain the transparency needed to ensure that they are not only in compliance with laws in every locale they operate in, but that they are upholding and advancing their own corporate social responsibility goals.

Leveraging real-time and historical purchasing data, supplier intelligence and business network content, procurement can shine a light on the materials, regions, and suppliers that are most likely to have issues or challenges with unexpected natural disaster, forced labor or conflict minerals. To drive a positive impact, companies may launch campaigns to connect diverse suppliers on the business networks in underdeveloped markets where a little assistance goes a long way.

Supplier Insights for Innovation

Take product design. Suppliers can be rich providers of design ideas, providing insights on new technologies and innovation while improving costs given their technical knowledge of manufacturing processes. Adopting the Design to Value approach, companies involve procurement organisations in the product development process far earlier.

Through business networks, procurement gain significant supplier insights quickly and potentially open the door to new, more innovative and cost-effective ways of producing products and components.  With a better collaboration with suppliers on the networks, the companies can even invent a new product or services and create a new business model. Finding new sources of supply in a global operating environment is exponentially easier with a business network.

Procurement Leading the Digital Transformation

This enhanced visibility and insights in supply chain through data may have once seemed a luxury, but business networks and the technology underlying them make it easier to achieve today. Procurement organisations that embrace these ideas can continue their digital transformation journey and lead their companies to new worlds of operational and performance excellence.

Pat McCarthy will be speaking at Big Ideas Chicago on 27th September. For more information and to request an invitation to this leading CPO event, click here.  

Helping Procurement Professionals Embrace AI

Given the inevitability of emerging technologies transforming businesses, how can you prepare your company for AI’s impact on procurement and mitigate employees’ fears?

Haywiremedia / Shutterstock

Artificial intelligence (AI) has begun to infiltrate all areas of businesses – and procurement is no exception. In fact, studies show that 88 per cent of business leaders believe automation will significantly impact the procurement space within five years.

The biggest projected impact that advancements in AI technology will have on procurement is increasing the number of activities that can be automated within this space. It’s expected that 60 per cent of source-to-pay processes can be fully or largely automated using emerging technologies, including AI.

The promise of AI technology and automation in the procurement space is exciting – it offers opportunities for increased efficiencies, greater visibility, fraud prevention, cost savings, and more. However, it also induces a level of fear and uncertainty around how it will impact the role of procurement professionals.

Given the inevitability of emerging technologies transforming businesses, how can you prepare your company for AI’s impact on procurement and mitigate employees’ fears?

1. Distinguish “tasks” from “roles”  

When AI and automation enter conversations about how work can be transformed, they bring with them a sense of fear and unease. It’s only natural that people begin to ask themselves, will there still be a need for manual and human skill? Will my role be replaced by a machine? Will I soon be out of a job?

Easing these concerns will require focusing on what exactly will change. AI, as the building block for automation, fundamentally affects how tasks are performed. That’s why companies should emphasise automation’s potential on impacting tasks within procurement, rather than looking at how roles themselves will change.

It’s hard to say which – if any – roles will go away over time due to automation. However, it is safe to say that every role will likely still exist in some capacity, but that certain tasks within each role will be automated, thus redefining existing roles and opening the door for employees to focus on higher priority responsibilities.

Rather than allowing employees to become fearful, help them prepare for change by empowering them to understand which tasks and activities in their roles are and are not likely to be touched by automation. For example, the majority of tasks within the vendor selection and negotiation process can and will be automated, meaning that role will shift to incorporate other tasks that couldn’t have been part of the role before, given the volume of manual vendor selection tasks.

Moreover, identify the skills that will be required for employees to excel in their shifting roles – such as data analytics and collaboration skills – and invest in training employees on those skills. This will ensure that employees can work effectively with AI and automation technology, and ultimately feel prepared for the inevitable shift.

2. Stress the importance of human critical thinking 

Another way to prepare your company and its procurement professionals for AI and automation is to turn the definition of AI upside down, taking negative assumptions about how this technology impacts professional roles and asserting a more positive interpretation and understanding of this change. Instead, business leaders should discuss how AI will be used to augment their own intelligence.

While employees may wonder whether they will be replaced by AI and automation, it’s important to stress to them that people will continue to play a critical a role in whether these technologies can even be successful. For instance, while AI can make recommendations around business decisions and procurement processes, the AI is not responsible for executing these recommendations – people are.

To help employees overcome fears around AI and learn to better work with this technology, companies must place an emphasis on the importance of the critical and systemic thinking. By teaching people how to recognize biases and heuristics in their own decision-making, employees will be well-positioned to critically review AI’s suggestions, and connect information from the real world to make optimal judgements. AI will not replace managers – but managers that use AI will replace those who don’t.

3. Go beyond the business case

 The business case for automating procurement with AI is already there – that’s why 51 percent of today’s accounts-payable organisations are already prioritizing the link between procurement processes and associated automated systems. What’s important now is getting your employees to buy-in and fully embrace AI to ensure successful implementation of and execution with this technology.

While initial reactions may be full of fear and skepticism, business leaders must remember to communicate with employees empathetically, helping them understand anticipated changes, investing in preparing them for these changes, and re-positioning the impact of this technology more positively so that it becomes something employees can get excited by.

By getting procurement professionals ready for AI’s impact, business leaders can empower them to do their jobs better and grow with the company as it undergoes this inevitable transformation, all the while setting their business up to reap the benefits of AI and automation.