Tag Archives: AI

Facebook AI Research Team Shuts Down Negotiating Robots

Facebook has shut down two robots after they abruptly stopped using English and invented their own language while conducting a negotiation exercise.

There have been a flurry of reports over the past week about Facebook’s decision to shut down two chatbots – named Bob and Alice – after they developed a coded language that was incomprehensible to humans.

The initial experiment involved a simple conversation between one human and one chatbot where they negotiated the sharing out of some items – books, hats and balls. This conversation was conducted in English, along the lines of “give me one ball, and I’ll give you the hats”.

So far, so good. But when the human was removed from the conversation and two chatbots were directed at each other, the way they communicated immediately became difficult for humans to understand.

Bob: i can i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

Bob: you i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

Bob: i i can i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Some media commentators have labelled the development “sinister”, with frequent references to Terminator, Skynet and – of course – Frankenstein appearing in related coverage. But Facebook researcher Dhruv Batra told Fastco that there was simply no guidance set for the robots to stick to the English language. “Agents will drift off understandable language and invent codewords for themselves.” Essentially, the bots found a more efficient way of communicating with each other.

Setting parameters

The topic of negotiation and AI came under discussion at a recent Negotiation Roundtable organised by CABL (Conti Advanced Business Learning). The attendees agreed that if a robot is going to run a negotiation, it requires very clear guidance around the parameters and objectives.

Another concern about AI being involved in commercial negotiation is that at present, they are unable to understand emotional intelligence. Thierry Blomet, Senior VP of Global Sourcing at Kemira, says that “Until we completely remove the emotional aspect, AI cannot run negotiations. Body language and emotional reactions are intangible, and are most unlikely to be modelled by programmers.” In the case of Facebook’s Alice and Bob, the human factor was removed.

Blomet points out that AI can play a valuable role in complex scenario modelling, which would be “much more complex than even the smartest procurement brain could manage. Whatever might happen in the negotiation would be included in that model, with the answers already pre-empted.”

Laurence Pérot, Head of Global Supply Chain Procurement at Logitech, agrees. “Big Data and AI will lead to much more efficient scenario modelling, particularly with supply chain, logistics and transportation bids.”

Orestes Peristeris, Supply Chain Expert at Yale, comments that ultimately, it’s about quantification and sophistication of statistics. “Do you have the data in the same place and in one system? What can be quantified and what cannot be quantified objectively? There are some things that can be used, some things we know will happen with some certainty, and some things that can’t be quantified. Finally, we’ll always need humans to take the outcomes of Big Data and apply it to the business context.”

As for the future of procurement negotiation, perhaps one day we’ll see buyers and suppliers lining up their chatbots against each other and letting them negotiate in rapid, complex code.

May the best bot win.

In other procurement news this week:

Hackett research reveals dramatic savings from digital transformation

  • New research from The Hackett Group has shown that the potential cost take-out opportunity through digital transformation is up to 24%, through the implementation of robotic process automation, advanced analytics, cloud-based applications and other approaches.
  • The research has also revealed that world-class procurement organisation now operate at 22% lower labour costs, have 29% fewer staff, and generate more than twice the ROI of typical organisations, with over $10 in savings for every $1 of procurement operating costs.
  • The Hackett Group’s Christopher Sawchuck commented that procurement technology has reached an inflection point: “World-class organisations can continue to reduce costs by embracing digital technology, and typical procurement organisations can leverage the same technology to catch up faster at less cost.”

Download the research here: http://www.thehackettgroup.com/research/2017/wcpapr17/SalesForce-World-Class-Advantage-17Q2-PR.html

Collaborative Robots to Boost Warehouse Productivity

  • In a shift away from the apparent race to replace humans with robotic workers, firms are designing robots to work alongside people in warehouses and boost productivity.
  • “Collaborative” robots can have a variety of uses, including leading human workers to the exact location of a product, or carrying goods from one part of the warehouse to another. DHL, Bonobos and Zara are known to be experimenting with the technology.
  • The robots – costing tens of thousands of dollars – are relatively cheap when compared with the vast amount of conveyor belts and automation systems included in a typical warehouse.

Read more: The Wall Street Journal

Interested in attending a CABL Negotiation workshop? Visit http://www.cabl.ch/ to find out more. The founder, Giuseppe Conti, has over 20 years of Procurement experience with leading multinationals and over 10 years of negotiation teaching experience at leading Business Schools (including Oxford, HEC Paris, IMD and ESADE).

IBM Global Procurement’s Radical Transformation

Transformation has become the new norm as organisations respond to an onslaught of shocks. But is there a best-practice way to go about transforming a procurement function? We interviewed Procurious Partner, IBM Global Procurement, to discover why they’ve been recognised on the global stage for their approach to the challenge.

If you were to stop any procurement professional on the street and ask what their function is currently up to, you’re unlikely to hear the reply, “Oh, you know – business as usual”. Instead, you can expect to hear a description of some sort of transformation. Whether it’s enterprise-wide or procurement-led, everybody’s doing it. In fact, you could argue that the process of transformation itself has become business as usual, especially if you’ve ever worked in a company where one transformation follows another, ad nauseum.

Where once your organisation may have needed to reinvent itself every few decades, today, an onslaught of shocks – technological, cultural, economic, and regulatory – is forcing companies to transform every few years. Five to ten years ago, your CEO might have become a business icon through a single transformation. The minimum requirement now is being able to execute multiple transformations, while success today is measured in your ability to foster a culture of continuous reinvention.

Showing how it’s done

IBM Global Procurement recognised the need to transform as market dynamics put increased pressure on its customers, which consist of internal IBM business units and external clients. Graham Wright, Vice President, Global Procurement and IBM Procurement Services, described some of these pressures. “We realised that our internal and external clients needed less complexity, more transparency, consistent processes executed with speed, and new solutions. The challenge was to find new ways to stay relevant and be successful – that’s why we launched a radical transformation not only to address the needs of the business but to keep pace with smaller, more agile competition and remain an industry leader”.

The team went about this by ramping up activity across three key areas:

1.Innovation: Leveraging strategic partnerships and key relationships to drive innovation.

The team unlocked the value of supplier innovation by implementing a state-of-the-art Supplier Enabled Innovation (SEI) program and using new, engaging tools, including cognition. The SEI initiative included 3rd-party ‘Voice of the Supplier’ surveys, supplier incentives including annual awards, and clear performance metrics.

2. Engagement: Delivering simple, engaging user experiences.

After identifying key client pain points around complexity, slow execution and delayed problem resolution, IBM Global Procurement followed a mantra of speed and simplicity to improve visibility, enhance workflows and reduce cycle times. Innovative engagement solutions, such as an “Ask Procurement” chat function for clients, have contributed to an impressive improvement in client satisfaction. The chat application is highly intuitive – it suggests self-service solutions for users, and provides direct access to live agents who can answer questions simply and quickly.

3. Analytics & Cognitive: Capitalising on foundational analytics and cognitive solutions.

No mention of IBM Global Procurement would be complete without a reference to its not-so-secret weapon – the Watson Cognitive Platform. Through catalog data enrichment and cognitive procurement solutions which provide users with refined real-time data for risk mitigation, market and supplier insights, pricing information and recommendations, the team realised significant efficiencies including hand-free POs and greatly improved process compliance.

As an extremely positive side-effect of this transformational effort, Wright reports that the team’s efforts are being recognised within the wider organisation. “The transformation has helped change the perception of procurement evolving from a cost centre to a value centre.”

While internal recognition of the procurement team’s value is gratifying, the Global Procurement Team was even more delighted to see their efforts celebrated at Procurement Leader’s World Procurement Awards, where the team won the award for “Transforming External Partnerships (Pioneering Business Impact)”. The team’s submission went through a rigorous 3-stage judging process including online judging, peer review and a face-to-face regional debate.

And that’s not all – amongst 350 submissions across 15 categories, IBM Procurement was short-listed for each of the 6 entries it entered a submission for, and picked up 2 major awards – the Transformation award, and another for Risk Mitigation.

Procurious is working with our Knowledge Partner, IBM, over the next 12 months to promote cognitive procurement to our global community. To learn more about IBM Global Procurement, click here.

7 Ways IoT Is Already Changing the World

From connected healthcare to retail and water management, the IoT will revolutionise the way we live. It’s already having some pretty major impacts…

This article was written by Gauri Bapat.

The wave of connectivity had extended beyond phones, laptops, and tablets and is permeating into our daily lives. With an explosion of connected devices in the market and a healthy adoption rate, we can safely assume that we are taking confident strides into the ‘connected life’ made possible by the IoT.

A report by Gartner suggests that by the year 2020, the number of connected devices across technologies will touch 2.6 billion. As we move towards an increasingly automated world, this technology will be used to improve the productivity and quality of life and industries alike. The IoT is poised to grow from a technological phenomenon to one with a more global and social impact…and the cogs are already turning in that direction. Things that we once saw only in sci-fi movies and Steven Spielberg specials are a reality today.

Let’s take a look at how the IoT is already changing the world we live in.

Manufacturing

IoT in manufacturing is ushering in the fourth Industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) that aims to make manufacturing smarter. Smart manufacturing involves the use of sensors that are retrofitted on existing manufacturing equipment to improve efficiency and performance. Siemens ‘ PLC manufacturing plant in Amberg, Germany, has implemented the principles of Industry 4.0 and has completely automated the production of their automation systems. Post this implementation, they witnessed a 99.99885 per cent “perfect” production quality rate. Now that’s impressive!

Airlines

The airline industry has seen massive adoption of the IoT in order to increase operational efficiency and drive the age of ‘connected aviation’. Virgin Atlantic has every single component of its Boeing 787 attached to a wireless airplane network. These incredibly connected airplanes use IoT data to evaluate everything right from the airplane’s performance to issue identification.

So, if a Virgin Atlantic jet reveals low-performance mid-flight, this information is related to the ground staff real-time. Thus, when the flight lands, the airport engineers are ready to solve the problem. Other airlines such as KLM, Qantas, Lufthansa, and Delta are also using IoT to improve aircraft performance, discover new business insights, and maintain greater efficiency.

Airports such as Miami airport, London City airport, Helsinki Airport, amongst otherS, use IoT to track passengers, prevent bottlenecks and queues, offer personalised services to the customers, track assets and also deliver location-based services to the travellers.

Water Management

One of the areas where IoT has made a tangible difference is in water management. Proper use and management of water have been a problem that many cities across the globe have been battling. IoT has been put to work in cities such as California and Bangalore in India to not only identify the cause of water shortage but also to identify avenues as to how water management can be optimised. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB) employed an IoT monitor to manage the complex water distribution system by creating an operational dashboard using IoT. They realised that almost 45 per cent of the water supplied by BWSSB is unaccounted. San Francisco employed smart meters to measure water consumption and notify their customers when their water consumption exceeds the specified limit or if, for example, the water is left running continuously for 24 hours.

Retail

The retail industry has witnessed a huge adoption of IoT. IoT implementation in retail has been done to not only improve the supply chain or to create more engaging and tailored marketing campaigns, but also to make shopping a more interesting experience. Retailer Rebecca Minkoff created the ‘connected store’ using RIFD tags on each piece of clothing and used smart mirrors in the dressing rooms. The customers could try on the product, and also take a look at other looks, available colors and sizes without even leaving the dressing room!

Target has been using beacons across 50 stores to provide personalised offers and present their customers with hyperlocal content to make shopping more exciting for their shoppers. Ralph Lauren’s Polo Tech apparel, which is a smart workout shirt, monitors vital activities of the user on a real-time basis and enables ongoing health monitoring.

Connected Energy

2016 saw us looking towards connected energy solutions to help us save energy. IoT products such as Google Nest, ecobee3 thermostat, the heating system Hive by British Gas have seen huge adoption to track and measure energy consumption. 46 per cent of technology enthusiasts in Germany and 42 per cent in the US already own a connected energy solution and save almost 72 per cent on their monthly utility bills – that amounts to a USD $80 reduction in the monthly bill.

Lighting Control

Moving beyond the smart lights of a connected smart home, smart lighting control can generate huge financial savings by controlling street lights. Mayflower CMS successfully employed IoT to control and monitor an excess of 180,000 street lights, bollards and signs in the UK and Ireland with its largest installation in Hampshire that has over 90,000 nodes. The Hampshire City Council has been able to reduce energy consumption by 21GW/hr per annum which is a reduction of 40 per cent and has successfully reduced carbon emissions by approximately 4000 tons per year.

Connected Healthcare

The global IoT healthcare market is expected to touch USD 160 billion by 2020. The last few years healthcare has witnessed wellness sensors to surgical robots to improve efficiencies and better patient outcomes. Ingestible sensors help measure if patients are taking their pills on time and helps medical practitioners manage their patients remotely. Barton Health, a 62-bed health system in rural Lake Tahoe, California, is one of the first users of the ingestible sensor by Proteus Discover, a Digital Medicine to help patients suffering from diseases of the central nervous center such as schizophrenia and place the patient in the driver’s seat regarding their health management with the help of technology.

“When wireless is perfectly applied, the whole earth will be converted to a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of the distance.”– Nikolai Tesla

This famous statement by Nikolai Tesla predicts the invention of the smartphone at a time when the mere thought of such an advanced device was nothing but unimaginable. Take a closer look at the statement and you can see that Tesla foresaw the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT)… a world that becomes so connected that it becomes one ‘huge brain’.

What Tesla spoke of decades ago, we are experiencing today

Gauri Bapat is Director, Strategic Business at Inteliment. This article was orginially published on LinkedIn.

Surviving The AI Revolution

Will you be a survivor of the AI revolution? You’ll need to be well equipped and prepared for anything…

 

This article was written by Naveen Joshi.

Artificial Intelligence is speeding the robot revolution and can be responsible for replacing a huge portion of the human workforce with machines, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, other than preparing for AI revolution.

Artificially intelligent robots are finally set on replacing humans in the labor pool, and due to this, the society can shift dramatically. Until the AI revolution is complete, humans can either try to slow the automation of the workforce or start preparing for AI.

If the popular media are to be believed, AI is coming to steal your job and threaten your life, as we know it. The AI revolution is indeed underway and for ensuring that you are prepared to make it through the times ahead, we’ve listed a few guidelines for you.

Recognising the AI Revolution

The first step for winning every conflict is to understand your target. It is important to acknowledge that the concept of AI is not in the future; it is already here and people are using it on a daily basis. For example, because of the AI technology, Netflix knows what to suggest you watch next, and Google predicts where you are heading when you jump in your car. AI also encompasses disciplines such as machine learning, using which companies are finding patterns in data and learning to predict trends, as well as speech processing, computer vision, and robotics. Moreover, it also encompasses deep learning, which is inspired by the model of the brain. Deep learning systems work by mapping inputs to a set of outputs based on features of the thing being examined.

Identify where AI Thrives

With sufficient knowledge of AI technology, you can now start to understand where AI is optimally positioned to take over. Have a look at your market trends and conditions and take note of tasks that require huge amounts of big data processing. For example, companies are now looking through everyone’s click patterns on Google to figure out what someone wants.

Essentially, AI works best for any task that requires a huge amount of repetitive processing. If this sounds like your job, you might have to start thinking of a survival plan. You can also access websites that evaluate your automation risk, to find out what researchers have calculated for your field.

Devise an Action Plan and Start Preparing for AI

The best strategic action plan is to form a treaty. You should accept that AI will increasingly become a part of our society and look for possibilities to collaborate. There is a huge potential for AI to assist in places where humans are today falling short, precisely because of the processing power. Companies are already using AI for aiding clinicians in medical diagnosis, personalizing customer experiences, and creating agricultural methods that reduce the cost to the environment. AI has the ability to learn very well but it cannot learn flexibly. You can. There are new jobs now available that did not exist a few years ago. If you are allowing AI to do the grit work, this can create an opportunity to embrace the attributes that humans excel at, namely social intelligence and creativity.

As with every big and impacting change, there are fears about new technology like AI. Ultimately, the way you can survive the impacts of an AI revolution is by embracing the partnership. By understanding the potential that AI has to improve the world, you can look around for those opportunities to implement positive change.

Naveen Joshi is Director at Allerin Tech Pvt Ltd. This article was orginally published on LinkedIn. 

How Algorithms Will Add Super-Intelligence To The Way Your Company Spends Money

As algorithms, virtual assistants, and bots infiltrate conversational interfaces across business applications, in the crosshairs is company spend tracking and control. This is the panacea we’ve all been waiting for to an age-old problem.   

Messaging services like Slack are ground zero for a new generation of integrated bots in the workplace. Most have stopped trying to trick users into thinking they’re chatting with humans while new features like message menus (dropdowns) integrated into the AI-generated text help  users make nuanced decisions.

Driving the conversational UI behind the scenes is an-ever evolving mix of machine learning algorithms for pattern recognition, natural language processing, and other associated technologies. Together, they deliver a contextual experience that helps business users make smarter and faster decisions.

One business workflow rife with inefficiencies and errors is corporate buying and expense tracking. Pointing chatbots, or the next iteration of them that we’ll call AI assistants, in that direction will benefit everyone in the requisition and approval flow, from end users to the head of finance or the treasury boss.

The appeal of AI could be even greater for smaller businesses since most lack formal spend management policies, but still need to see who charged what and when on the company credit card. AI assistants enabled by emerging algorithms can arm every purchase decision with intelligence, in effect, augmenting human judgement every step of the way.

AI assistants can add intelligence to everyday tasks

In the realm known as transactional procurement and travel and expense (T&E), solutions with AI assistants could help with general questions, such as clarifying budget status or a spend limit. A user would be able to simply ask the robot a question within the same messaging interface where they chat with colleagues and then get an instant response.

For payments, an AI assistant could learn how you buy and then make recommendations based on context, supplier or product data, budget levels, working capital, and other factors one might overlook or simply not be privy to when initiating an everyday purchase for work.

In another scenario, a user could request an approval for a purchase, but before doing so, summon an AI assistant to verify if a similar request was made by a coworker to avoid a duplicate purchase. That way the user wouldn’t have to waste time and go digging for that info herself.

Finally, AI assistants can facilitate the buying process by generating a payment method such as a virtual credit card after the transaction gets approval from a manager on behalf of the requestor. Upon approval, a user would receive an encrypted virtual card with a spend limit to use as payment against a corporate account, massively simplifying what is typically an arduous back-and-forth process.

The AI opportunity goes well beyond transactions

In time, AI will evolve to allow organizations to make strategic buying decisions and respond to changing business conditions and market variability instantly. To get there, it will first remove the bottlenecks of repetitious decisions that occupy our time, like those mentioned earlier in this article. Then, they could be programmed to help make ever more strategic decisions.

In the sphere of sourcing and procurement, that could mean super-intelligent agents sourcing the highest quality rubber from a stable region, determining which short-listed supplier is most likely to honor their contract, forecasting supply chain disruptions and make recommendations weeks in advance, and so on.

Think that level of knowledge work is impossible for algorithms? Think again. Researchers at Google Brain have already developed software that designs machine-learning software with better results compared to machine-learning software designed by the boffins themselves!

We are well on our way to developing new types of non-conscious intelligence that will be able to handle increasingly complex tasks. In his best-selling book Homo Deus, author Yuval Noah Harari, drives the point home: “The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking.”

With that thought, we can return to our original premise and have little doubt that the rise of AI will mean all of a business’s spending will get smarter. AI expert Stuart Russell puts AI next to the discovery of fire in terms of impact on civilization. If AI will change the world, then it certainly will change business commerce.

Christopher Jablonski is Director of Content & Communications at Tradeshift, a cloud-based business commerce platform connecting buyers and suppliers.

The New Age Of Procurement Technology

Procurement technology went full sail and you eagerly jumped on board. But now 90 per cent of all technology is about to become obsolete. Are you prepared for the new age? 

As the vice president of Basware’s Purchase-to-pay solution it goes without saying that I’m involved in a lot of procurement technology selection decisions. And over the years, I’ve noticed a recurring pattern in the process, across numerous organisations. It tends to play out a little bit like this:

A CPO of a large organisation is at the end of their tether thanks to a messy purchase-to pay process. It’s the age-old story with AP and procurement operating independently, maverick spend with unapproved suppliers, late payments and paper absolutely everywhere.

The easiest, and seemingly smartest, solution to the problem is the implementation of a new purchase-to-pay system, which said CPO requires, being extra savvy, to be a Software-as-a-Service solution. The CPO knows they can get a decent ROI on whichever supplier they choose.

So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, our CPO is only looking 5 inches in front of their face! It’s no exaggeration to say 90 per cent of today’s procurement technologies will be obsolete in the coming years. And so procurement needs to start looking much further ahead!

Remember Siebel? We can’t either…

You’d be pretty hard pushed to find an organisation that uses Siebel nowadays. You might even struggle to find someone who knows what it is!

Siebel was the cream of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) crop in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It was the absolute best at its time.  Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on licensing and implementing Siebel, with the promise of visibility, efficiency, and improved customer satisfaction.

Fast forward a mere ten years and…nobody uses it.  It turned on a dime thanks to Software-as-a-Service and, more specifically, Salesforce. An enormous technology shift took place, and suddenly Siebel and everything like it was utterly obsolete. More than a few CMO’s were fired as a result.

What can we expect from the next tech shift?

What can we expect from the next technology shift? We hear about  AI, machine learning and cognitive computing all the time and there’s a lot of concern amongst procurement professionals that it’s going to displace our workforce.

But it’s coming to procurement whether we like it or not. There’s a glaringly obvious application of AI for procurement professionals.

One word: data.

When today’s CPOs try to objectively evaluate the functionality of potential new solutions, they’re often bypassing  a crucial aspect (opting to solely measure tactical functionality); the game-changing competitive advantage their organisation can achieve through the power of the data.  There are two major considerations to be made here.

  1. Is the system architected for centralised data capture?

    The system should be able to capture your data, the data of all organisations using the solution  and, ideally, be able to connect with other solutions.  The more the system is designed for centralised data capture, the better chance you have of being able to take advantage of the latest  data-driven tech changes.

    My advice is that you eliminate anything that focuses solely on you and your data.  If it’s not central, you can be sure you’ll get stuck behind and end up like one of the organisations using Siebel.   But, of course, design alone is not enough.

  2. Does the system actually capture that data?

To capture all of this data, there are three parties that matter: suppliers, requisitioners, and AP. This is where tons of business cases fall apart.

  • Suppliers: To capture data you have to get all your suppliers on the system. Not just your big sophisticated suppliers, every single one! You have to get them connected, or you will fail, if not today then most definitely in the imminent future
  • Requisitioners: Who are the worst employees when it comes to using a procurement system? It’s fair to say that it’s often the sales and exec teams;  the people driving revenue for the company. These groups are only going to use a new procurement system if it’s the easiest and fastest way for them to get their jobs done, which means it has to fit in seamlessly with how they work.   If you don’t give them a system that they want to use, you won’t have them, and again you won’t be capturing the data from their transactions.
  • AP:  This is probably the most important part but so often an afterthought when looked at from a Procurement perspective. Consider how many hundreds of thousands or millions of invoice transactions are processed within your company. Now multiply that by the thousands of other companies out there and you’ll get a sense of how quickly that data can scale. Most P2P systems can’t process all of those different kinds of invoices. And that’s where we end up in Siebel world, yet again!

By committing to finding and using a system that captures all of this data, and does so not just for your organisation, but in a truly centralised platform, procurement will soon be able to achieve the following:

  • Fraud detection
  • Machines that know when you need something. Doesn’t it seem miraculous when Amazon knows what you need and presents it to you when you login?  Let me tell you that it’s not. It’s data
  • Dynamic discounting marketplaces
  • Exceptions handled without any human intervention, based on patterns of prior behavior in the data. This might not be behavior that humans can readily identify, but machines can with ease by crunching all of that data

Procurement would do well to remember that, In today’s world, the big value is in the data, not in tactical functionality.

Eric Wilson is the head of Basware’s Purchase-to-Pay business for the Americas and APAC. 

The Rise of the Procurement Robots

Yes, robots may be on the cusp of usurping the roles of many procurement professionals, but are the tasks being automated those that we really want? 

In 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” the Terminator character, played by a certain Austrian bodybuilder/actor/governor/reality star, revealed how Skynet computers became self-aware and began waging war against the humans.

Is that the future of procurement? Will The Machines, not content with the procurement duties they’ve already taken over, rise up to enslave us? Will they take away our coffee?

If that seems far-fetched and silly, that’s because it is. The future is not set, but procurement professionals should feel confident about their place in it. The importance of human beings in procurement roles will only increase, not diminish, in the years to come.

For evidence supporting that prediction, we need only look at the trajectory of the procurement function over history. Like most important developments in civilisation, it all started with the Egyptians.

The Pharaoh’s Supply Chain

One of history’s greatest capital improvements was the construction of the Great Pyramids. From a procurement standpoint, there was a lot to coordinate. Materials like limestone and alabaster had to be brought in. Hieroglyphics had to be planned. Thousands of slaves had to be managed.

While the Egyptians didn’t follow today’s strategic procurement processes, they did in fact task scribes with recording material and labour on papyrus. And the procurement business was born.

Over the millennia that followed, the role of procurement evolved from recording supplier information to influencing business decisions. The annals of procurement history are cloudy on where and when strategic procurement began, but it seems likely it happened during the 15th century in France.

That’s when French military engineer Marquis de Vauban began qualifying suppliers of buildings and fortifications in his efforts to strengthen France’s defences. About 200 years later, during the Industrial Revolution, businesses recognised procurement as central to their operations.

The first 5,000 years of procurement history yielded only a few milestones. It’s only been very recently that the real change has taken place.

In More Recent History

In the last few decades alone, products and services have become dramatically more complex. As consumers demand more innovative and personalised products, they have become more intricate and varied. At the same time, the demand for business-oriented products and services has followed suit.

This has led to a broader range of materials, components, services and suppliers. Companies have more to consider when sourcing the right products and materials to support their missions. There are also more external factors to consider. Sustainability and corporate social responsibility are becoming more important in how companies are perceived.

On top of that, organisations have more constrained resources than ever before. With increased competition from emerging markets, and volatile changes in the marketplace, companies need to be smarter and more strategic with their sourcing.

All of these trends are being driven and facilitated by the use of computers, the internet, the cloud, and other technologies. Information technology and globalisation have spurred the biggest change to procurement in decades.

People Can Do Stuff

Without a doubt, automation will continue to take over most of the fundamental functions of procurement, displacing humans. We know this because it’s happening in industries like journalism, where computer programs are writing stories.

This is not a cause for concern, but instead a cause for celebration. We have to ask, are the procurement tasks automation is taking over the tasks we really want? In the automated journalism example, computers are writing mundane stories that reporters would sooner “poke their eyes out with sharp objects” than write themselves. They much prefer to write in-depth stories that make use of their intuition and analytical skills.

We have to ask, are the procurement tasks automation is taking over the tasks we really want?

In the same way, automation enables procurement to spend more time developing strategy, building relationships, and evangelising the function. You know, stuff that people can do.

Specifically, there are five areas where procurement will have a significant impact on business in the very near future:

Five Ways Procurement Will Impact Business

  1. Predictive Analytics/Cognitive Procurement – When companies can gain a detailed understanding of the dynamics that impact material pricing, they can see changes earlier, manage around negative events, and gain a competitive advantage.
  2. Agile Procurement – Negative market events can also present an opportunity for flexible procurement teams with the ability to respond and capitalise on them.
  3. Advanced Sourcing – Today, many companies are optimising their supply chains, but only one section at a time. Through advanced sourcing, companies will be able to optimise their entire supply chains simultaneously.
  4. Supply Base-Driven Innovation – Where procurement in the past has been responsible for cost reduction, in the future it will impact the top lines of companies, as well. Managed by procurement, the supply base can provide ways to change the selling channels or even offer innovation to create new products or categories.
  5. Supplier Relationship Management – For companies with many suppliers, managing them – communicating with them, managing risk, segmenting, evaluating performance – is a daunting, but important task.

Let’s see a robot try to advise the CEO on how to adapt to market changes or select suppliers that can help the company innovate!

Transforming Procurement

And that’s just the beginning. New ideas, solutions and technologies have the potential to transform the procurement function in untold ways. What that will be one can only guess, but the result will certainly be greater convenience, efficiency and transparency into the supply chain.

Procurement will play an increasingly vital role in modern business operations, now and in the future. In the coming years, procurement will have a seat at the table when it comes to setting companies’ strategic direction, help them adapt to market changes, and innovate to take advantage of opportunities.

Procurement has come a long way in 5,000 years. While the future is uncertain, it seems likely that the importance of the procurement function – and the people who perform it – will only increase.

Skynet will have to look elsewhere in its quest to enslave the human race. Perhaps the marketing department…

Christopher Thiede is a staff writer at Jaggaer

Best of the Blog – 3 Ways To Build A Match Fit Procurement Team

You never know what’s on the horizon, so you need to be prepared for anything. For procurement that means staying agile and always being match fit.

Everyone loves a good throwback article, which is why we’re hopping in our time machine to bring you back some of the biggest and best Procurious blogs. If you missed any of the golden oldies, look no further!

This week, we’re revisiting an article about procurement agility in the digital age, featuring advice from Chris Sawchuk, Principal and Global Procurement Advisory Practice Leader at The Hackett Group.  

Given the pace of change in the external environment, being agile means constantly changing, never standing still. It’s not about putting out fires, it’s about ensuring that fires never start in the first place.

For procurement, this means creating and maintaining agile teams, and staying match fit for what comes next. Staying ahead of the curve, be it change, risk or technology, is critical for the future of the profession.

Procurious has spoken to Chris Sawchuk, Principal and Global Procurement Advisory Practice Leader at The Hackett Group on a number of occasions about why procurement needs to put agility at the centre of all its activities.

This year, Chris took the conversation one step further, discussing ways to enable agility through digital transformation and creating an agile team. However, to do this procurement needs to ensure it’s thinking ahead, not just looking at the problems it needs to solve now.

Chris outlines three top tips below on how procurement can be prepared to handle any future issues.

  1. Be Match Fit

As we’ve said above, the key to being agile is ensuring flexibility. A quick way to lose agility is to create a rigid environment that doesn’t allow trying new things.

Define what procurement can and can’t control, and what activities it can drive. Make sure that your procurement team is aligned to the corporate strategies and objectives. It’s a good way of making sure that new ideas will be fully considered as part of the overall organisational strategy.

For example, if Procurement decides they want a diversity programme and the CEO isn’t behind it, it will never reach its full potential. The same goes for technology. If the CEO isn’t invested, the project will never get off the ground.

But even if your company isn’t focused on technology yet, you can be sure it will be in the future. It might be six months, or it might be five years, but it’s better not to be forced kicking and screaming into this new era.

Procurement needs to be ready to go when the business is. You don’t want to be asking for six more months of planning if your CEO wants a transition now. Be ready – have a list prepared of the top three initiatives for technologies, and how they will be implemented. That way you won’t be caught short.

  1. Educate Yourself

If you want to be prepared, you need to be in the know. Don’t be scared of new technology and bury your head in the sand – be aware of what’s out there. Have a list of the most relevant and best technology and know what it can do for you.

Part of that awareness is also preparing for new technology. Procurement teams need to know what’s happening in the market place, and how it impacts them. You don’t need to know everything, but you at least need to be cognizant of it.

That way, procurement can look at the big issues in organisations through the lens of how technology can help. Is there a technology out there that could help with this issue?

If global collaboration is a major issue, there are social platforms that could help connect all your teams to each other, and even their suppliers.

Maybe there’s a technology that could augment (not just automate) a procurement activity that you are performing today. You might finally have access to all kinds of data, but it’s about knowing what you can do with it to extract competitively differentiating insights.

  1. Create Agile Teams

If you aren’t agile then you can’t prepare for any of this. In fact, it’s unlikely you’re even in a position to be ready to start preparing.

To create agile teams you need to have the basics in place, get ahead of these issues, and aim to be predictive. If you knew what was going to happen (sadly crystal balls are in short supply), you would have the ultimate level of agility, and be able to get ahead of any issues.

However, it’s critical that procurement retains the ability to deliver against organisational objectives at the same time. There’s no use being agile if it means that procurement fails to deliver on the basic requirements.

If you can’t get the basics done, then there’s no point in even trying the ‘fancy’ stuff.

Reimagining What We’re Trying to Achieve 

The main problem at the moment is that we can’t even imagine what is going to be possible in the future. The pace of change is so fast that technologies are adapting and evolving in a matter of months, rather than taking years as it did in the past.

It is critical that procurement becomes more adaptable, and ensures that professionals are as informed as possible. Until you have this understanding of technology, you’re losing out. It’s not about the problems you want to solve, it’s also about the problems you’ve not even thought about yet.

The future is an ‘Unknown Unknown’, but with a match fit, agile procurement team, at least you’ll be prepared for what comes next.

Can Procurement See Past The End Of Its Nose?

Procurement must learn to think the unthinkable, predict the world weather forecast and look further than the end of it’s own nose when it comes to technology in order to remain relevant!

The Procurious London Roundtable was sponsored by Basware

Procurement 4.0, Cognitive Procurement and Thinking the Unthinkable were among the hot topics canvassed at last week’s inaugural meeting of the Procurious London Roundtable.

Packed with leading-edge speakers, a ready supply of valuable expertise, peer-led market intelligence, and networking, CPOs were unanimous that a reimagined Procurement must be the business’ source of market intelligence on these issues – if it is to secure and maintain a “seat at the table”.

Speakers addressed everything from global politics to AI and making it ito the C-Suite. If you’re intrigued to hear what they had to say, look no further; we’ve managed to pack the finer points into one, handy article!

Learning To Talk Across The  Lily-Pads

Nik Gowing, BBC Broadcaster,  Visiting Professor at King’s College and Big Ideas Summit 2016 Speaker,  joined the roundtable to provide an update on Thinking The Unthinkable.  Unthinkables are critical events that are not being considered or prepared for by organisations or by our governments around the world.

From Brexit to the election of President Trump;  from Putin’s invasion of Crimea to upcoming European elections, unthinkables have been occurring frequently over the last few years and they’re not letting up! In fact, if anything, unthinkable events are happening more rapidly than ever before.

Nik firmly believes that, in a world of social-media, time-scales for unthinkables which were once 20 years could now be 20 months, 20 days or as little as 20 minutes!

Take the infamous United Airlines (UA) flight as an example. Last month,  a passenger was violently dragged off a plane, the incident was filmed and then instantly shared around the globe. In a matter of minutes, UA’s reputation was destroyed and has perhaps threatened  the way airlines will operate in the future.

Nic’s advice for preparing for the future? Instead of destroying mavericks within our organisations, we need to turn them into visionaries and harness a culture where they can thrive. Nic has likened the current situation to frogs on lily pads – everyone is sitting in the same pond but not talking to one another – we need to find a way to come together and talk.

Grab An Umbrella And Face The Future

Justin Crump, CEO Sibylline, shared Nic’s concerns for the future and expressed his desire for organisations to address the current void of awareness about, and study of, the corporate security intelligence environment.

An intelligence-led approach to managing risk and predicting disruptions to your business  is absolutely the  way to go. It allows you to work out when you might be forced to take risks and when it’s worth taking them!

But how do you go about doing this? It all starts with reading your morning paper with purpose! Justin suggests you ask yourself why you’re reading it  and how and why it’s relevant or interesting to you. Consider where your clients work and where your supply-chain  is based. If missiles started flying over a particular country, would it be critically damaging to your business?

It’s possible, and preferable, to turn reading the news into a data-collection process by collating information and highlighting the important areas to disseminate to people within your organisation.

If in doubt, implement the ADAM model:

ASSESS – Understand your business and your world and what these interactions mean to you

DECIDE – Derive actions to help mitigate risks and refine into an achievable plan

ACT – Implement planned actions

MONITOR  – Use ongoing world risk register outputs to understand what is changing in your world. This will help you predict the world weather forecast and figure out when you’ll be needing an umbrella!

Looking Further Than The End of Your Nose

Eric Wilson, head of Basware‘s Purchase-to-Pay business for the Americas and APAC, discussed the critical actions CPOs can take today in order to safeguard against technology obsolescence. When 90 per cent of technology is about to become irrelevant can procurement implement a watertight process that evolves with industry trends?

Eric asked our roundtable attendees to consider the following scenario:

A new CPO comes into an organisation and instantly sees that there is  a problem with procure-to-pay and maverick spend.  They know they can save a whole load of money for the business. They challenge their employees to develop a business case, which a cross functional team evaluates and a score-card of criteria is developed.  Whilst this might sound like a totally reasonable approach there is a one major problem. Eric explained that the challenge with this process is that it focuses five inches in front of the CPO’s face; they’ve seen a problem and they’ve fixed it.

Remember Siebel? Not so long ago it was the best CRM system you could possibly use and was responsible for shifting the entire workplace environment into customer relationship management. Anyone who hadn’t bought Siebel already was about to and huge investments were made.

But, almost overnight, it became completely obsolete thanks to arrival of the Cloud. Siebel went bust, many a CMO lost their job and money was wasted, all because no-body looked further ahead.

Eric explained that the next wave of procurement technology is not just about the traditional goals of visibility, control and savings.  Harnessing the value of the transactional data running through the system will be key.

Given the way tech is trending, particularly AI, within three years 90 per cent of procurement tech will be obsolete.  People will not raise requisitions – robots will! And procurement must prepare for that.

What’s Holding Up Cognitive?

Pascal d’Arc, former GM of Cognitive Scale, talked us through the journey to cognitive and what some of the practical applications are in today’s world. Is cognitive really all the fuss it’s hyped up to be?

Judging by some of the fascinating examples Pascal gave us, absolutely! One such example was a cognitive system that had been given the ability to experiment with building a drone. The resulting machine had a frame shape which was modelled on the pelvis of a flying squirrel, representing something very close to nature.

But why is the progress of advancing and using cognitive tech so slow, what’s holding us back in procurement? According to Pascal it comes down to a number of things:

  1. The technology so far has been very experimental. There has been a sense of frustration towards IBM but they are still experimenting
  2. Expectations are huge. We are often missing the low hanging fruit when it comes to deciding what to tackle
  3. Procurement isn’t a key investment area…yet! Fintech and healthcare are the current priorities

Aiming For The C-Suite

Damian Walsh, Partner at Heidrick & Struggles,  gave our CPOs some top tips on what it takes to get to the very top. How do you successfully move on to a bigger CPO role, step up to CEO or take on a non-executive role.

  • Whatever it is you want to do, tailor your approach accordingly
  • Be clear about what you want and position yourself for it
  • Be clear about what you have to offer – think in terms of business solutions. There is no such thing as a “transport”company any more
  • Get your CV in order and make sure it’s accurate- so many people don’t!
  • Manage the search firms – be selective and understanding and clear about what you’re looking for
  • Work on your personal brand- thought leadership, speaking engagements etc.
  • Work your business and personal networks

The Procurious London Roundtable was sponsored by Basware

If you’d like to secure your seat for our second London Roundtable on 11th October 2017, please register your interest with Olga via Olga.luscombe@procurious.com

Do CEOs Dream Of Robotic Sheep?

…Or are they kept awake at night worrying about how to adapt their business to a robotic-centred future? KPMG Australia Chairman Peter Nash reveals two concerns playing havoc with the sleep patterns of business leaders.

How can I adapt my business to a robotic future?

The thing about technological disruption – and machine intelligence in particular – is that people tend to regard it as a challenge to deal with at some point in the future. The key to understanding the scope of the challenge is to break it down into two categories – disruption that we’re already dealing with, and disruption that is yet to emerge.

Robotic process automation (RPA), for example, has been around for decades, with disembodied robot arms a common sight on production lines. Typically, they automate a series of existing processes that were once carried out by humans. We’re just starting to realise the full potential of RPA, with the emergence of bots that sit inside software to automate administrative labour becoming more common.

From his viewpoint into many of KPMG’s client organisations, Peter Nash has seen what an RPA bot is capable of. “If you go into any call centre, you’ll observe staff doing a series of processes as they engage with customers – typically around data capture and data entry. Through observation, you can create “process flows”, and then build software that can be inserted into the call centre and automate the data capture. That’s a classic example of robotic process automation, and it’s happening at pace.”

Interestingly, RPA is resulting in the reshoring of capability from overseas. Nash comments: “You can track the life cycle of offshoring and reshoring. 10 years ago you may have had 100 people doing a job in Australia for the cost of $5 million. Those 100 jobs were offshored to India, resulting in costs being reduced to $1 million. Today, with robotic help, you can have only 10 people doing the same work that 100 used to do – at a cost of $0.5 million. Yes, 90 jobs have disappeared, but there’s the exciting potential for completely new jobs to be created with each technological leap.”

“Artificial (or Cognitive) Intelligence, for example, is only just beginning to emerge. People are very excited about AI’s enormous potential, but at present it’s essentially a solution looking for a problem.”

How do I effectively harness innovation?

Nash comments that there are several models that have emerged in the ways corporations seek to harness innovation. “Many CPOs look for innovation to emerge from down the line, and encourage people, whether they’re in-house employees or suppliers, to bring ideas forward. Other organisations set up innovation capability ‘hubs’ or ‘accelerators’. Another approach is to acquire, or partner with, innovation capability outside of your organisation. Some business are doing a mix of all three.”

“What’s encouraging is that most businesses understand that today, it’s innovate or perish. A culture of innovation, partnered with a culture of flexibility where people have the ability to react and respond to disruptive technology, will ensure businesses are able to take advantage of anything that comes their way.”

KPMG Australia Chairman Peter Nash will deliver a keynote speech at PIVOT: The Faculty’s 10th Annual Asia Pacific CPO Forum.