Tag Archives: AI

4 Reasons Supply Chain Professionals Should Embrace AI

Embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI) will re-invent the way supply chain professionals work and help them to add enormous value to their organisations.  

In our hyper-connected global economy, where customers have endless options and high expectations, supply chain leaders are increasingly under pressure to fundamentally transform their operations in order to deliver on their brand promise and stay nimble in the face of rapid changes.

This is a significant endeavor. Supply chain professionals oversee complex, multi-enterprise ecosystems. They must ensure the quality, delivery, and availability of supplies, all while reducing costs.

Every day is an exercise in mitigating ordinary and extraordinary disruptions, too many of which they never see coming such as delivery delays, quality defects, political unrest, and natural disasters.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has enormous power to reinvent the way supply chains do business and deliver an incredible competitive advantage for practitioners.

1. Find the Right Data

 The skyrocketing amount of data scattered across supply chain operations is overwhelming and runs the risk of leading to greater inefficiencies as it inhibits access to real, relevant insights.

Supply chain leaders need end-to-end visibility with real-time, contextual insights that reduces the amount of effort required to see what’s happening across their network. Advanced AI can improve the ability for companies to combine and correlate vast amounts of external data like weather, customs clearance, and traffic with their own corporate and client data to get a complete picture.

AI means that supply chain leaders can see what they didn’t before and they don’t have to stitch together information from various data sources and transactions.

2. Act Faster to Mitigate Risks

AI gives supply chain leaders the confidence to act faster as they can now proactively predict and quickly assess aspects of their operation, such as responding to customer inquiries and adapting to changes in their business environment.

This is no small feat. Increased visibility and insights mean that manufacturers can drill down to any event and quickly understand the potential financial and customer service implications in real-time and receive recommendations on how to respond. The learning nature of AI enables greatly increased response times to future events as the system learns from each past mitigation.

Today, most manufacturers are reactive to supply chain disruptions – socio-political events, natural disasters or even daily occurrences like power outages and harsh weather. All disruptions force leaders to make last-minute decisions with little-to-no data, which can greatly affect the brand.

AI can comb the digital universe for indicators that those activities are presenting a supply chain risk. Not only can AI alert practitioners of the growing risk, it can also generate impact notifications and a playbook on what steps to take to mitigate the risk.

3. Uncover Opportunities to Drive Cost Savings

Finally, AI’s ability to identify opportunities to streamline supply chain operations allows for greater efficiency – often uncovering hidden opportunities to drive down operational costs.

One such example is helping supply chain leaders and their IT counterparts save crucial time by getting immediate answers to questions that matter most to their jobs, which in turn optimizes their decisions and actions.

Today, when a customer asks a simple question about the status of an order, a customer service representative has to pause and enter an IT request, a process that can take days. The IT Department then has to spend more time searching across multiple systems to piece the information together. The information is not searchable or readable to the business person.

AI uses natural language search to allow an employee to inquire about the order, without a go between in IT and get the answers faster.

4. The Smarter Supply Chain

A smarter supply chain is designed with disruption in mind. It connects disparate systems and events both in and outside of a partner network. It taps all the right data – even unstructured – and extracts actionable insights from it, in context, at astonishing speeds.

Practitioners can proactively identify, assess, and mitigate disruptions and risks today – and have confidence that they’ll do it all faster and more effectively tomorrow. AI provides the technology, tools and real-time, actionable insights to extend collaboration and achieve unprecedented visibility, while driving new levels of transparency and trust. The result? A supply chain architected for advantage now and well into the future.

Continue reading 4 Reasons Supply Chain Professionals Should Embrace AI

Data: You Complete Me

AI has the potential to shoulder a vast amount of the #procurement workload. But machines can only do the work for you if you capture all the data in the first place.
Last month Procurious hosted the very first Procurement Thought Leadership Forum in Chicago to discuss the evolution of procurement; what the future holds for the profession; how we can effectively determine the size of the global market; the importance of professional associations and maturity levels across the globe. 
The event, sponsored by Basware and attended by a number of the world’s leading procurement consultants, sparked some fascinating discussion and debate.

Dealing with Data

Remember that Tom Cruise movie – Minority Report? Eric Wilson, SVP Basware North America, certainly does. “In the movie Tom Cruise swipes things on a giant screen, he then predicts a crime and the team prevents it before it happens. It was pretty cool. Especially, back in 2002 when we didn’t even have touch screens on our cell phones and artificial intelligence (AI) was in the realm of science fiction.”

Of course, today we all use AI in our daily lives, whether we realise it or not. As Eric asserts “AI is the new electricity. When we replaced steam powered machines with those using electricity, we transformed transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare and so on; increasing efficiency tremendously.  AI has the same, huge potential, but nobody truly knows yet how it will change the world.”

Indeed, as  Eric pointed out it’s difficult to think of an industry that is not being impacted by AI;  IT, FinTech and Healthcare, to name just a few, are all being totally transformed. Self driving vehicles is an industry that is built entirely on AI.

But holding the right data is critical in order to harness the benefits of new technologies. If an organisation can turn all the data they hold into tangible customer value by leveraging machine learning and AI they can actually begin to benefit from these technological advances in the market. But to do so relies on having the right volume, quality and completeness of data .

“If you don’t have a view to the future when you are evaluating automation options, not only will you not achieve your business case for today, but three years from now, your system will be obsolete,” states Eric.  “It will be obsolete because it did not capture all of the data in the first place.”

In Eric’s mind there are no two ways about it: you can’t use AI if you don’t have the centralised data for those machines to learn from. “And so, my key takeaway now and always is: when you are putting together your RFPs for systems, data better be first and foremost on your mind!”

The conversation century

Elizabeth Linder, Founder and CEO of The Conversational Century joined Youtube in 2007 and often thinks back to that year, a significant time for Youtube, in order to understand the social media space.

It was an exciting and life-changing time for skilled amateurs. A time that had millions of people singing in their bedrooms or racking  up millions of video views for a commentary on something they would never otherwise have been considered an expert in. Youtube ultimately offered them the opportunity to be heard.

Elizabeth is a strong believer that the internet is the best place to build trust. “The people” ( i.e. you and me) have already got this all figured out. But the reason so many people still believe the internet is destroying trust is that our leaders are still so far from getting it right! We simply don’t have leaders at a political level that have invested in a voice on social media.

Some key things to remember when trying to start conversations online:

  • Most leaders fear that they have to move at an increased pace because of today’s internet culture. You don’t. Go at your own pace but keep people informed as you do it. It’s ok to communicate to people that “the discussions are still in progress” or “we don’t have information on this yet” so long as you’re communicating something!
  • Believe in the power of primary sources because the public certainly do. Hearing directly from the source rather than a paper adds a lot of value to your communication. If you’ve ever been quoted in an article, blog or feature you’ll know the producer of that piece never quite gets to the meat of what you were trying to say because youdon’t own the conversation or drive the discussion – they do!
  • Embracing in the hacker culture, i.e. making it up as you go along, is key. EU politicians, for example, only see social media as a tool for outbound communications and not for their inbound policy making. Hacker culture dictates that they need to consider the latter.

Elizabeth’s take away advice on owning the social media space? “Be yourself online and talk to people in a way that lets them in but not in a way so casual that you’re treating them like family.”

The value of professional certifications

Rick Blasgen, CEO – Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) and Tom Derry, CEO – Institute of Supply Management ISM led a session on the evolution of procurement  and supply chain and the value of professional certifications.

Both leaders are very optimistic about what the future holds for procurement and supply chain professionals . “I think [these professions]  will be an embedded feature of every competitive global company around the world because they see so much of what goes on,” argues Rick. “We see it really growing into the fabric of successful companies.”

And Rick believes professional certifications “are a normal part of continuing to educate yourself and continuing to be knowledgeable about such a dynamic and ever-changing field.”

“One of the things important to CSCMP is to advance the logistics, supply chain and procurement professions and the careers of those working in them. The only way we do that is by being thought leaders and thinking about using the new technologies and tools that have never before existed.

“Our certifications will educate you on these things and then test that you have the understanding and can utilise the complexity within them.”
“An association used to function as the place where people felt obliged to belong,” says Tom. But nowadays he doesn’t believe professionals feel such a sense of needing to belong to an association  just for the sake of belonging  “They need value for money and they expect a professional body to provide tools and skills that enable them to be successful at a critical moment in their career.”
Sizing up the procurement market
Braden Baseley, ProcurementIQ Analyst discussed the size and maturity of the global procurement market, revealing preliminary  insights from their specially commissioned research report.
The research reveals…
  •  There are 554, 560 procurement pros working in the US, which make up 0.4 per cent of the workforce
  • The average salary for a US procurement professional is $72,199, which is pretty good considering the average US salary is approximately $55, 000
  • California, Texas and New York employ the largest number of procurement professionals
The report will also explore how procurement skills are changing and evolving and the skills that are most desirable in procurement teams.
The Procurement Thought Leadership Forum was sponsored by Basware. 

Transactional Supply Chain Activities: Your Days Are Numbered

The days of transactional activities in supply chain management are numbered and look set to exit our organisations very rapidly…

Chris Crozier, Chief Digital Officer – Orica International has seen first-hand how the perception of supply chain management has changed over the years.

As little as thirty years ago he can remember there being “very little recognition [of the profession] and the nuances around the skillsets required. In fact, most people talked about the smartest people in the room being in marketing and I saw that there was plenty of opportunity around skillset affirmation around supply chain.”

On Day Three of Career Boot Camp we speak to Chris about the evolution of the supply chain management profession, the importance of embracing new technology and implementing digital transformation.

Supply chain management across company borders

As someone whose, very impressive, career has criss-crossed several industries, Chris is a keen advocate for supply chain professionals working across functions.

“Supply chain is such a beautiful function where you do get that end to end view of an organisation,” he explains.  “We need to make sure that we leverage that and the relationships we have with other functions [including] any career opportunities  – not just for ourselves but for our teams.”

He warns against leaders becoming too defensive of their supply chain talent; “I think that’s a real blind spot in some of the supply chain functions as they stand today. So share the talent and surround yourself with highly capable people but be prepared to move them in and out of supply chain.”

In seizing any opportunities to move talent in and out of teams supply chain pros are facilitating the creation of “a really virtuous cycle of understanding” and ensuring that there are “supply chain evangelists in other functions.”

Indeed, working in both tech and supply chain has proved to be the perfect balance for Chris, “one of the things you get from working in supply chain is a broad analysis and encompassing oversight of the organisation and I think that’s what technology also requires. So there was a lovely fit between the technology understanding that was necessary in a CIO role and that broad business perspective you get from [working in] supply chain.

“Having that very broad business understanding meant I could provide that bridge between business requirements and a technology outcome.” 

The impact of technology on supply chain  

As is the case with every single function in every single organisation, supply chain professionals will be significantly disrupted as a result of incoming technologies.

And Chris, a self-proclaimed advocate and evangelist for the technologies coming through his door believes it is imperative for supply chain professionals to have a decent understanding of the latest technology in order to be successful in the long term.

Professionals need to know “how to apply it, where to apply it, how to leverage it most effectively and, most importantly, what’s coming in in the future that can help you to be even better in your role and therefore have a more productive organisation and ultimately underpin the broader company that you work for.”

Chris believes that the days of transactional activities in supply chain are numbered and will exit the organisation very rapidly, which is, of course, bad news for the supply chain professionals who are doing these transactional activities! “We will move to the world of the seamless end-to-end supply chain, which we were talking about in 1998-1999! We were all talking at that stage about real-time supply and demand activity.”

And Chris believes we’re fast approaching that point today with “the compute power that we have available, the network capacity we have available and the technology we have available.”

“People will talk about blockchain and other technologies and, yes, that’s all part and parcel of the way forward. But ultimately supply chain professionals now need to continue to go up the value curve.

“A lot of the things we do around competitor intelligence, around negotiation strategy and so on will be superceded by the technologies coming through the door.”

“Those things are just going to become endemic as tools for professionals in supply chain so we need to be on top of that, prepared for that and able to leverage that because it’s going to hit us very soon.”

Chris Crozier is speaking on Day Three of Career Boot Camp 2018. Sign up here (it’s free) to listen to his podcast now.

The Making of a Supply Chain Leader

What are the key skills  supply chain professionals should be developing in an AI-enabled future?

Ekaterina_Minaeva / Shutterstock

“I’m a great believer in great passion,” says Ron Castro, Vice President, IBM Supply Chain. And it’s just as well given that Ron is responsible for all strategy, execution, and transformation of IBM’s US$70Bn global end-to-end supply chain, delivering to clients across more than 170 countries.

“Always be as bold and as fast as you can,” he says. “I’ve never looked back in a transformation and thought ‘Darn it! I wish I had gone slower.’ There’s always room to be bolder and to go faster.”

On Day Two of Career Boot Camp, Ron speaks to us about the greatest challenges and complexities of his role, the importance of leadership, and the key skills that supply chain professionals should be developing in an AI-enabled future.

Building a cognitive supply chain

“We’re at a point when new technologies are truly enabling us to take advantage of all kinds of data and giving us actionable insights close to real time,” Ron says.

“In our case, it all started several years ago when we built our transparent supply chain across [all] processes and systems, which gave us an excellent platform to apply advanced analytics and manage our business by exceptions. We set a very clear goal to become the first cognitive supply chain. This is based on our strong belief that with machine and human interaction we can truly augment supply chain professionals’ daily decision-making,” he says.

Ron points to several emerging technologies that provide incredible opportunity – AI (Watson, in IBM’s case), machine learning, blockchain, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, and 3D printing.

“Humans and machines always get a better answer than machine alone or human alone. With that principal we’re training Watson with our best supply chain experts [and] letting it observe our decision-making in digital resolution rooms,” Ron says. “Watson is learning in real time with us so it can help us to identify risks, predict issues and, as a trusted advisor, suggest our best course of action. How were similar problems tackled in the past? What are the risks or alternatives? Who should be involved or advise us on what actions we should be taking to manage the situation better and faster?”

“As we map the future of our supply chain it is crystal clear that we are getting the most value of our capabilities as we start to stack technologies together,” he says.

The challenge that’s keeping supply chain leaders up at night

“I have the pleasure of leading one of the most talented supply chain teams in the world,” Ron says. “I really love the adrenaline and all the variables that you need to be able to optimise it and the challenge of ensuring the right balance between demand and supply while [delivering] the highest quality and [focusing] on managing revenue cost.

“We are sensing and responding fast in the most intelligent way to any changes in the supply and demand equation, whether it be the introduction of new products, reacting to a natural disaster, geopolitical issues or supplier constraints,” he says.

But Ron also acknowledges that the tech industry is changing by the minute.

“[T]he challenge that keeps me up at night is are we transforming, are we moving fast enough and, more importantly, are we giving our team the tools they need to be successful?” he asks. “At the end of the day [are we building] an organisational culture that’s primed to leverage new technologies, unleash innovation, and challenge the status quo? Do we truly have the skills for the future?”

The making of a supply chain leader

 Ron always sees the need for strong leaders. “Some of the fundamentals [of leadership] don’t change; passion, perseverance, global and holistic thinking, collaboration and the value of diversity, [and] building a culture of feedback and continuous improvement,” he says.

Ron believes all these factors, indicative of a high-performance culture, will become even more critical in an AI-enabled future.

“We need leaders that take risks and drive a clear vision around digital supply chain and the need to be innovators; leaders that value experimentation over perfection [and] are willing to try new things and correct fast as needed,” he says.

Ron believes that leaders need a deep understanding of technology and where the trends are heading.“Disruptions are coming and they will hit us faster than ever so the ability to react becomes essential,” he says.

Ron advises aspiring supply chain professionals to take a step back and ensure that they are holistic, global, and horizontal thinkers. He encourages them to embrace new ways of working and collaborating with one another in order to become agile thinkers.

“In this new world the basics of supply chain are still critical so you can optimise a supply chain holistically from an end-to-end perspective. But you also need to be technically savvy,” he says. “The machine-human interaction will continue to increase and all these technologies will continue to become even more critical in supply chain.”

Data scientists will also be highly valuable, Ron says, as the ability to gather insights and ask the right questions will become critical for supply chain professionals.

Ron Castro is speaking on Day Two of Career Boot Camp 2018. Sign up here (it’s free) to listen to his podcast now.

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…

How to Prepare Your Organisation for the Cognitive Revolution

Everyone procurement team is talking about AI, cognitive technology and machine learning. But for these technologies to work at their best, your business needs to be prepared… 

Image: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock

There is a lot of talk these days about Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Sourcing, Machine Learning, and data-driven procurement.

Almost every major procurement organisation in the world talks about how their organisation uses these tools to make decisions.

The direction of procurement is almost certainly towards data-driven decision-making.  This is a reality we all need to embrace.

I certainly subscribe to the notion that the best procurement decisions come from fact-based data-driven strategies and I firmly believe that over time, cognitive tools and technologies will become better and more effective than they are Today.

The truth is that we are not there yet.

As someone who’s industry is in the cross-hairs of cognitive technologies, I have been exposed to more than a few examples of how this technology works.

The category knowledge that these tools will draw from to generate their insights currently resides with guys and gals like me.  As such, we (the subject matter experts and category leaders) of the procurement space hold a special and specific set of keys that unlock these technologies.  It is with that focus that I would like to proceed.

In order for these technologies to work best there are certain fundamental elements that must be right in order for the tool to generate the best insights.

Good Data

Well organised and structured data is an essential foundation for cognitive technologies.

When it comes to any form of data analytics, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” still holds .  Unfortunately, the vast majority of organisations simply have poor data.

Before you can point any cognitive tools at your data set, the data needs to be scrubbed and normalised.  This is still done manually by a team of people.  I’m sure one day this will be 100 per cent automated and perhaps technology will find a way to avoid these errors in the first place.  The fact is that whenever we receive data Today, it is highly flawed and requires weeks of work to make it usable.

Here is a good primer on data collections.

Be sure you allow sufficient time for your data to be cleansed before you deploy your cognitive tools.

Define your Benchmarks

The greatest value that AI and cognitive will bring is being able to benchmark your organisation in ways never before possible.

In a recent article I wrote on how to use bench-marking to develop cost estimates, but cost estimating is not the extent of how you can use bench-marking with AI.

Consider the value of bench-marking your organization against a competitor’s current performance.  Cognitive tools allow you to bring in publicly available information in real time.

Imagine that you are an electronics manufacturer and your closest rival releases their financial report.  Cognitive tools can seek out these reports and extract data from them to benchmark against your performance.  You can also combine cognitive tools with web crawlers that seek out competitor’s pricing information.  Without cognitive tools, this kind of information would require weeks or months of manually collecting data.  Cognitive tools allow this kind of analysis to be done instantly.

To take advantage of AI, take time to consider all the different ways you can measure your performance and see if you can come up with a few you never thought possible before.

Market Indices

All goods and services are affected by market forces. Staying on top of market indices is important for making strategy decisions.

An effective cognitive data strategy uses data from market indices.  Market Indices will enrich your own data and allow you to forecast into the future.  Adding this level of depth to your cognitive platform will reveal the actionable insights that cognitive data promises.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is great resource for all kinds of indices.  If you are in construction, there are a number of private organizations that publish various indices to help forecast the future.  Look at the AIA, Dodge, and AGCjust to name a few.

Add market indices to your data set to enrich your analytics and strategise with forecasting.

Category Expertise

Cognitive technologies offer beautiful data outputs rich in data and content, on their own these outputs are just eye-candy.  The interpretation of that data and content must be made by skilled experienced subject matter experts.

Eventually we may get to the point where computers can read the data and a clear strategy will be automatically spit-out for anyone to act on.  Even then, how you act on the data will require some expertise.  Until such time, you must have your cognitive data interpreted by a human with category expertise.

It’s too easy for data to be misinterpreted and for an organisation to run-off in the wrong direction.  Even the most advanced Artificial Intelligence we have Today is unable to interpret the various human factors that go into strategy making and for that reason, Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) are still required.

Be sure you know that the person who will receive and interpret your data has the skills needed to execute a sound strategy.  After all the time and energy you invest in cognitive tools, you need to be sure your direction is sound.

Closing

The future of AI and cognitive is bright.  We are heading in a great new direction where information will rule.  Today there are a few trail-blazers paving the way for us all.  Those using these new technologies Today are sure to be better prepared Tomorrow as they find new and creative ways of using data to guide their business decisions.


This article was originally published on Luis Gile’s website. Check out more of his content here. 

Sign up for next week’s webinar: Clean Up Your Act! Category Management AI-Style. 

Can Category Management Clean Up Its Act, AI- Style?!

In a post-AI world, the cards are up in the air and everything is up for grabs. Can category management help the procurement profession to scrub-up and embrace these changes?

Our webinar,  Clean Up Your Act! Category Management AI-Style is available on Procurious now. Listen here

How are large corporations managing and recruiting their workforce in the age of the gig economy?

Can cognitive tech help marketers connect the dots and better understand their customers?

Will we require architects in the future to design our buildings, or can we ask bots do that for us instead?

AI and cognitive technology will impact all corners of the business whether it’s construction, labour or marketing. For procurement’s category managers, technological advancement provides the chance to reinvigorate the profession and develop innovative ways of working.

But there is also a legitimate fear of the major disruption AI brings. Which services and industries will we lose entirely? How many roles will be made redundant?

The cards are up in the air and procurement prosperity is there for the taking. Can category managers help the profession to scrub up and seize this opportunity?

This month, we’ve enlisted the help of three category management experts to advise you on how to clean up your act and get the most out of AI!

Last month we hosted a webinar – Clean Up Your Act! Category Management AI-Style – in partnership with IBM.

With a focus on construction, labour and marketing, we discussed:

  • What common problems have category managers faced in old-world procurement, pre-AI?
  • How is AI impacting these categories; what sort of disruption can procurement professionals expect?
  • How can AI help procurement professionals in construction design, build and maintain their projects?
  • How can AI assist procurement professionals working in labour to attract, recruit and retain talent?
  • How can AI help procurement professionals working in marketing to strategise, create and manage optimal marketing campaigns?

Who is speaking on the webinar?

  • Tania Seary, Founder – Procurious
  • Luis Dario Gile, Global Category Leader (Design Construction and Real Estate) – IBM

Help! I can’t make it to the live-stream

No problem! If you can’t make the live-stream you can catch up whenever it suits you. We’ll be making it available on Procurious soon after the event (and will be sure to send you a link) so you can listen at your leisure!

Can I ask a question?

If you’d like to ask one of our speakers a question please submit it via the Discussion Board on Procurious and we’ll do our very best to ensure it gets answered for you.

Our webinar,  Clean Up Your Act! Category Management AI-Style is available on Procurious now. Listen here

4 Reasons Why Your Organisation Isn’t Embracing Cognitive

In the battle for capital, how does procurement ensure its cognitive projects come out on top?

At last month’s London CPO roundtable; Amit Sharma, Global Procurement Practice Leader for Cognitive Process Services (CPS) –IBM led our attendees in a discussion on how procurement leaders can ensure their cognitive projects come out on top.

There is so much potential in cognitive technology to transform the role of procurement. It will allow professionals to do dynamic forecasting, telling you when to raise acquisition and awards contracts to a particular supplier based on a triage.

“For procurement, maintaining our relevance to the organisation beyond cost savings is imperative” said Amit.  “[Procurement pros] need to embed the latest in technology as best practise into the business as it will free up our time and help us to move from transactional to strategic management.”

“The logic is unquestionable.  We know the sophistication of AI is going to come. It’s a question of when, not if.”

But when it comes to making the leap to cognitive, which can do a world of good for analytical and predictive analysis, organisations are still hesitant.

Procurement needs to make the business case for how cognitive can add long-term value and, as Amit reminded us, “If you’re not convinced, you can’t convince someone else”

Throughout our discussion, four key reasons for an organisation’s reluctance to embrace cognitive tech became apparent.

1. Remaining skepticism at the value of cognitive

As Amit explained, cognitive technology like Watson can help procurement professionals to analyse reams of data. It would, for example, allow users to plot the price at which they are being charged for something by suppliers and analyse how the index has moved in past [x] years. Five years ago this process would have been extremely time consuming but with the index data, the system can quickly tell you exactly where you’ve been overcharged.

So it all sounds great. But in reality, business leaders are often skeptical about the actual cost savings brought about by this kind of analysis.

Do you genuinely make better decisions in the long term by having so much data at your fingertips? Or can you have just as much success through effective negotiations with your suppliers?

Amit’s response to this “If you’re not doing spend compliance – you don’t know if you’re compliant. If you’re not analysing this data, you don’t know the potential cost savings.”

“I spoke to a CPO who thought their processes were good. [But it was discovered that] there was a 40 per cent unit price difference across the company in the same category, simply because the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing!”

2.  Spend within organisations is fragmented

One key problem for procurement, when it comes to implementing cognitive technology, is that the CPO doesn’t always have the authority to drive transformation. Perhaps they are reporting to a CFO who doesn’t see value in cognitive tech or the spend might simply be too fragmented across the business. When it depends on lots of other people, procurement are unable to drive change effectively.

As one of our roundtable attendees pointed out “there are organisations I know who can’t justify the need to implement Ariba to their CFO- let alone cognitive technology!”

3. Trouble looking at the bigger picture

Several of our roundtable attendees cited short-termism as a key reason for their organisation’s lack of cognitive adoption. “The mistake we make is that we look at opps in a tactical way and not at the bigger picture,” said one CPO.

“For example, we know that there will be headcount reduction in the coming years and we will benefit hugely from cognitive tech, but articulating that at a hollistic level to the CFO and explaining it as a 5-year journey is the challenge”

4. Confusion about AI

Remarkably, one of the biggest challenges remaining around  the uptake of cognitive technology is a universal lack of understanding of what it actually is and the distinctions between different terms.

“You can start talking to a group about AI and within a few minutes people are talking about blockchain, as if the two are interchangeable,” said one of our attendees. “People need to have a clearer understanding of the buzzwords ; AI, blockchain cognitive etc.”

Of course, there are people who know a little and people who know a lot. And that’s a challenge in itself.

Read more here on the insightful discussions had at our London CPO roundtable. 

Driving Change The Procurement Way

At yesterday’s London CPO Roundtable we explored how procurement teams can drive big change in their organisations whether it’s through Brexit policy, implementing cognitive technology or smart hiring…

When was the last time you took a wild punt in your hiring process?

Is your procurement team under more pressure than ever to cut costs?

How can CPOs make the business case for cognitive technology to their CFO?

Will there be a second EU Referendum?

These are just some of the questions we discussed when we gathered a dozen procurement leaders in London yesterday for a CPO roundtable sponsored by IBM.

We discussed the implications of Brexit and how procurement professionals are preparing, how procurement can make sure its cognitive projects come out on top in the battle for capital and  why employers need to be far more open minded when hiring new talent.

Surviving the Perfect Storm

Nick Ford, Co-founder – Odesma gave us an overview of his organisation’s latest Brexit survey; Surviving a Perfect Storm.

Many would argue that Brexit is the biggest negotiation to ever  take place in UK, but the path ahead is still very unclear. And that’s presenting some major challenges for procurement teams.

Indeed, 45 per cent of Odesma’s survey respondents (300+ procurement executives primarily from the UK/EU ) admitted that Brexit was hampering their procurement strategy and 82 per cent claim that they have felt under more pressure to reduce costs for third party good and services.

Nick highlighted some of the changes procurement departments are attempting to implement in order to prepare for life post-Brexit:

  • Contingency Planning – including managing an mitigating risk, moving supply chain out of Europe etc. : 27 per cent
  • Investigating new suppliers:  9 per cent
  • Re-negotiating contracts with existing suppliers: 9 per cent
  • Reviewing country location for procurement operation: 6 per cent
  • Re-evaluating inbound supply chain: 6 per cent 
  • No changes to supplier base: 15 per cent

On a positive note, 73 per cent of procurement professionals believe their organisation sees procurement as an important part of its post-Brexit preparation process. As Nick highlighted, it is a fantastic opportunity for re-negotiation of supplier contracts, a chance to do a thorough supplier clean- up or develop new suppliers entirely and it gives your organisation a competitive advantage if your procurement team is in good shape – given that only 40 per cent of businesses have  started putting plans in place to prepare for brexit.

Read more from Nick Ford on how procurement can prepare for a post-Brexit world.  

The Battle For Capital

In the battle for capital, how does procurement ensure its cognitive projects come out on top?

Amit Sharma, Global Procurement Practice Leader for Cognitive Process Services (CPS) -IBM addressed how difficult it is for procurement leaders to communicate the need for, and value of, cognitive technology to their business.

“The problem for procurement” he argued “is that the CPO doesn’t always have the authority to drive transformation. It depend on lots of other people and that stops them from driving change.”

“For procurement, maintaining our relevance to the organisation beyond cost savings is imperative. [procurement pros] need to embed the latest in technology as best practise into the business as it will free up our time and help us to move from transactional to strategic management.”

The logic is unquestionable.  We know the sophistication of AI is going to come. It’s a question of when, not if. But when it comes to making the leap to cognitive, which can do a world of good for analytical and predictive analysis, organisations are still hesitant.

The CPOs in attendance were in agreement; citing short-termism, lack of buy-in from the CFO and a limited understanding in the business about cognitive technology.

Procurement needs to make the business case for how cognitive can add long-term value and, as Amit reminded us, “If you’re not convinced, you can’t convince someone else”

Brexit: What Happens Now?

Professor Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs, Kings College led a session discussing the long-term causes of Brexit and their future implications.

“Hand on heart I don’t know [what’ going to happen] – if i could answer that I’d be rich and famous!”

It’s the most uncertain moment in British politics since World War Two and what’s striking is that,  two years on from the referendum, nothing has been decided.

A key reason for such uncertainty  is the nature of the referendum itself.  As Anand explained, the referendum packaged so many different options and outcomes  into a binary choice; leave or remain.  No one understood quite what they were signing up for and since the results Brexit has largely been defined by whichever adjective most aptly applies to specific people or groups; black brexit; white brexit; hard brexit; soft brexit; white red and blue brexit… the list goes on.

Does the UK want to establish a relationship with the EU like Norway, like North Korea or will they define something wholly new.

Anand admits that due to the Brexit process being so complex and all-consuming, there is no avoiding a messy process. What goes on throughout the next couple of years will largely be determined by politics.

  1. Theresa May

The UK Prime Minister relatively quickly defined what she meant by Brexit (leave cutoms market,end free movement etc) and her position has remained relatively unchanged since. Whilst she is unpopular with many in her party, it is unlikely her critics will choose to get rid of her yet. As long as she in place, she is a powerful force for stability.

2. The Conservative Government

There is a significant number of Tory MPs who want a much softer Brexit than the Prime Minister is proposing so it’s possible they will vote against May’s Brexit deal. However, if May loses this vote there is no question that she has to go; after all, her whole mission as Prime Minister is Brexit. If that happens, the Conservative Party will either elect a new leader or the UK will face a new general election. And the one thing no Tories want is another general election.

3. The Labour Government 

In the last general election, Labour picked up votes from both remainers and leavers. As such, the party have been careful to keep their Brexit policies ambiguous. Whenever Corbyn speaks about Brexit, he speaks in ambiguities.

Ultimately the real danger for the UK’s economy, Anand warns, is that the negotiations go pear shaped, the UK crashes out of the EU in March 2019 and they end up with no wiggle room to extend the UK’s transition period.

His advice to procurement organisations trying to prepare? Plan for a World Trade Organisation outcome from 2021 – “That, I think, is the most likely outcome.”

The Drive Project

The Drive Project is an award-winning, creative social enterprise. They work alongside charities and businesses to inspire and empower people with creative projects, training and talks. We were joined by one of their speakers Darren Swift (“Swifty”).

On 25th May 1991 Swifty was injured by a terrorist attack that resulted in him losing both his legs above the knee.

Within seconds of being hit by an IRA coffee jar bomb he went, he jokes, from being 6 foot 2 to 4 foot 6; his left leg completely gone and his right hanging on by a thread.

During his extensive rehab, when he was forced to confront his new reality, Swifty made the decision to not let his injury affect his life or career going forward.

Since then Swifty has gone on to achieve a huge amount including taking up skydiving, becoming the first ever double above knee amputee snowboarder and taking up a career as an actor. Swifty’s unique and inspiring story reminded us that employers need to be far more open minded when hiring new talent.

When it comes to hiring our organisations need to be ‘blinkers off’ people; asking ‘why not?’, rather than having a ‘you can’t’ attitude. You don’t know what’s possible with a potential hire until you take a punt and give them a chance.

Without this outlook employers could miss an extraordinary talent.

As Emily Shaw, Director- The Drive Project,  pointed out “[We should] give people a chance not to be a victim – because they can achieve so much more.”

Find out more about The Drive Project and the amazing work they do here. 

“Wat the?” 5 things I learnt about Watson Supply Chain in Vegas

Rather than adopting the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mantra, I wanted to share some new insights into Watson that I gleaned at IBM’s mega thought leadership event – Think 2018.

1. Watson needs education – but it’s a fast learner!

When you think of Watson, you probably think of a computer that can win Jeopardy and has a PhD in a whole lot of things…but in reality, when Watson enters a new profession, it is like a child that needs to learn.

As humans, we learn from birth and can only pass on that knowledge to someone who in turn spends time learning.  AI, like Watson, is similar. It learns by gathering information (i.e. data) and interacting with humans.

You could liken Watson Supply Chain today to a  5th-grader, but its rate of growth is so exponential that it will have a Master’s Degree in Supply Chain within the next three months.

How? Because IBM’s own supply chain practitioners are training it daily by feeding their US$30Bn spend through Watson, pushing through millions of documents, data elements and hundreds of real life supply chain challenges that are resolved each day in the Watson Resolution room. Last year, Watson supported $71.7 billion in revenue, managed 150,000 contracts, and supported 20,000 professionals and 11,000 suppliers to ensure 5,000,000 deliveries were made.

With every insightful response and interaction, Watson is getting smarter. The more Watson is used, the more knowledgeable and insightful it becomes.

I first met Watson at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive conference in London last year. Catching up six months later at Think 2018 in Vegas… even I could see the growth.  Watson is now answering supply chain questions in natural language (plain English), and can curate what is most critical for you to pay attention to – alerting you to an impending disruption, immediately assessing the financial impact of the disruption and will help you drill down effectively to understanding what the issues are that you want your team to resolve, and quickly. Watson does this through opening a resolution room, quickly providing answers that typically reside in different system which reducing the time needed to write emails, make phone calls and follow-ups.

The team at IBM told me that their own implementation of Watson has seen disruption mitigation time reduced from days down to hours – or even minutes in some cases – which is critical when you’re moving inventory in the millions of dollars.

“Watson is brand new every day.  Every time you go away, it grows and becomes more interesting, because it is constantly learning.  You come into the office and there will be a new API. Watson doesn’t take a day off, it is adding knowledge and features 24/7/365.”

Watson Supply Chain Program Director, Rob Allan.

2. Watson Supply Chain is helping save lives

… literally. One of the first user test cases for Watson is a global philanthropic organisation working to improve vaccine distribution in Kenya. Local African pharmacies battle constant low stock of critical medical supplies due to lack of inventory and poor visibility across the supply chain.

It is still early days, but the IBM team is really motivated and engaged with this important humanitarian project. I caught up with IBM Watson Supply Chain’s Program Director Rob Allan, who was energised after a recent visit to Kenya. “It’s great to be putting Watson to work on such a worthwhile project. In Africa, it’s not uncommon for a mother to walk half a day to get medicines, with no guarantee that she will be able to secure what she needs. Our program will deliver vaccines and supplies to more than 4,000 delivery points in Africa. This should make a huge difference to access much needed healthcare. We really hope we can make an impact.”

3. The proof is in the pudding.

 Leading companies, like Lenovo, have started mapping their thinking supply chain journey with Watson…but the biggest proof of concept is IBM itself who has been using Watson to manage its multi-billion dollar global supply chain for the last 18 months.

We all know that necessity is the mother of invention and this was certainly the case for the creation of this product. You may not know that it was actually IBM’s internal supply chain team that created Watson Supply Chain Insights.

If you listen to this webinar, you will learn that IBM’s VP Supply Chain at that time, Joanne Wright, had an “aha” moment back in 2011. A series of unthinkable events prompted Joanne to look for a solution. The Japanese Tsunami had wiped out components globally, volcanic eruptions in Iceland disrupted Nordic freight lines and floods in Thailand destroyed disc drive head production.

Joanne’s team struggled to get the right data and she dreamt of a day where she could get a smartphone alert prioritising supply chain failures, present the relevant data and even suggest solutions.

It wasn’t perfect at first. The team had to find and clean the data and learned that you must train Watson … that can’t be underestimated. They consulted the Watson Health cancer team and understood how to train Watson to talk supply chain.

It would seem that it was worth the effort, as it helped IBM’s Supply Chain save millions in inventory and freight costs, not to mention IBM reduced their supply chain data retrieval times by 75% using Watson – and helped build the technology that will drive supply chain into Industry 4.0.

4. It’s not a big a deal as you think!

From everything I have learned in the last 12 months, implementing Watson Supply Chain may not be as onerous as you think. In terms of time to implement, from London, Raleigh to Vegas I have asked numerous executives and they’re all convinced that they can overlay Watson on existing clients’ systems and have a meaningful dashboard up and running within a month.

5. Blockchain … coming soon.

Having been a Queen B2B in the late 90’s, I have long known the value of having common language and data for taking friction out of business transactions. That’s why I’m excited about blockchain. There’s certainly been a lot of hype, and, of course, the bitcoin currency part is totally out of control… but the idea of having a common ledger or “one version of the truth” for all B2B transactions, with the ability for business partners to get in and view the same information, is very appealing.

Watch this space! IBM previewed a new, blockchain-based offering called “Shared Ledgers” at Think.

Taking the plunge…

There’s definitely been a lot of hype about Watson, but there are some real reasons to start your thinking supply chain journey, powered by AI.

In explaining why Lenovo took the plunge with Watson, Bobby Bernard said, “This space is evolving quickly.  We want to be an influencer about these new supply chain technologies.”

With most technology introductions, most organisations have been able to wait out the early adopters and jump on-board when the technology is mature and in widespread use.

But IBM is warning that this is not the case with AI. According to Watson Customer Engagement GM, Richard Hearn, “Everyday you’re not using AI is another day your competitor or upstart might be leveraging AI to learn, adapt and disrupt your market and you!”

Procurious Founder Tania Seary is an IBM Watson Customer Engagement Futurist and attended #think2018 as an #IBMPartner.