Tag Archives: cognitive technology

Does Your Procurement Team Have The Human Touch?

We’ve had quite enough of the scare-mongering out there that says the robots are coming to steal our jobs! We’ve got some inside info that suggests having a human touch in your procurement team is by far the most important thing!

Our webinar, Beat The Bots: How Being Human Will Win The Day, takes place at 1pm BST on 24th October 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here. 

We’ve heard it all before, right? Cognitive technology is coming and, in case you hadn’t gathered, it’s a pretty big deal.

By 2020 all of our important procurement decisions will be made with the assistance of artificial intelligence. We know that our teams must “transform or die” if we don’t want the function reduced to the back office,  facing extinction.

Given the scare mongering and hype around AI, most procurement professionals have accepted that they must map out their cognitive journeys, hone their skills and prepare for a very different future.

But what does that future look like?  Are procurement teams of the future made up entirely of savvy data scientists? Can you even have a future in procurement if you’re not a data whizz?

Can you beat the bots with the human touch?

Our latest webinar, in partnership with IBM, takes the more optimistic, and realistic, approach that humans can, and will, win the day!

The idea that everyone needs to be a data scientist is a total  fallacy. In reality, only a very small percentage of the workplace actually needs these skills. The rest of the procurement workforce will need to be managing relationships with the supply chain ecosystem.

If cognitive technology like IBM’s Watson can handle the sourcing, the market intelligence and the data, the biggest gap for procurement to worry about is soft skills.

Beat The Bots: How Being Human Will Win The Day examines how procurement’s role is transforming. We explore why the function needs to develop arelationship with the organisation that is much more strategic, placing it in a partnering and consultative role.

Think you could do with learning more about the importance of soft skills in the cognitive age, and which ones you should be concentrating on within your teams?  Sign up for our webinar on 24th October and check out our FAQs below for all the information you require:

What content can I expect from the webinar?

We’ll be discussing:

  • What cognitive tools are on the horizon?
  • How will the advancement of cognitive technology be an enabler, and not the disabler, of your procurement career?
  • Why  is the most robotically advanced procurement team in the world, focusing on their employees soft skills?
  • How can procurement teams map out their cognitive and talent journeys alongside each other?
  • If soft skills are king, which ones should you be developing?

Who are the guest speakers?

Tania Seary – Founder, Procurious

A true procurement entrepreneur, Tania is the Founding Chairman of Procurious, The Faculty and The Source. Throughout her career, Tania has been wholly committed to raising the profile of the procurement profession and connecting its leaders.

After finishing her MBA at Pennsylvania State University, Tania became one of Alcoa’s first global commodity managers.

In 2016, Tania was recognised by IBM as a #NewWaytoEngage Futurist and named “Influencer of the Year” by Supply Chain Dive. She hosts regular procurement webinars, and presents at high-profile events around the world.

John Viner-Smith – Principal, Mercer 

John earned his masters in international procurement from Kedge Business School in Bordeaux in 2003 and went to work at JPMorgan Chase as HR Sourcing Manager for EMEA.

After a couple of years at JPM he moved into consulting with ATKearney, specialising in Procurement work and stayed in Consulting until 2009 (he moved to Deloitte) until moving back into industry with Dixons Stores Group, where he was Senior Category Manager for Marketing and IT.

After that he spent two years as a Principal at KPMG in Shared Services and Outsourcing Advisory, where he became involved in work around Robotic Process Automation and Cognitive Computing in Shared Services environments before moving to Mercer to focus on a commercial excellence again.

He writes and lectures in leading business schools on the topic of Commercial Negotiation. John  currently live in Oxfordshire with his wife and two children.

Justin McBryan-  Learning & Development, Strategy, Communications Manager, IBM

Justin has 20 years of Supply Chain experience and currently serves as IBM Procurements Learning & Development and Strategy Leader at IBM.
He has most recently been a Supply Chain Consultant for IBM specialising in logistics and procurement across numerous Industry verticals around the globe, including extended work in China, Mexico, Canada and Europe.
Justin’s passion for learning and development stems from his desire to collaborate and scale expertise through large organizations. Justin is a proud graduate of Loyola University-New Orleans and currently resides in New York City with his wife.

How do I register for the webinar?

Registering for our webinar couldn’t be easier (and, of course, it’s FREE!)

Click here to enter your details and confirm your attendance. We’ll send you a confirmation email with a link to the webinar platform and a handy reminder one hour before we go live!

I’m already a member of Procurious, do I still need to register?

Yes! If you are already a member of Procurious you must still register to access the webinar via this platform. We’ll send you a confirmation email with a link to the webinar platform and a handy reminder one hour before we go live!

When is it taking place?

The webinar will take place at 1pm BST on 24th October 2017

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’re listening live, our speakers would love to hear your questions and we’d love for you to pick their brains . Questions can be submitted throughout the live stream via the webinar platform, or via Twitter when you tag #Beatthebots @procurious_

If you think of a brilliant question after the event, feel free to submit your question via the Discussion Board on Procurious and we’ll do our very best to ensure it gets answered for you.

Our webinar, Beat The Bots: How Being Human Will Win The Day, takes place at 1pm BST on 24th October 2017. Register your attendence for FREE here. 

4 Cognitive Tools That Are Advancing Procurement

Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the magnitude and potential of cognitive technology. The greatest journeys start with that all-important first step and, when it comes to AI, you just need to get started!

We’re live from the Big Ideas Summit Chicago! Register now as a digital delegate to follow all of the day’s action!

There’s a lot of buzz around how ready our industry is to start using some of the newest cognitive technologies. But the time really is now for CPOs and procurement organisations to put a stake in the ground on where they want to go in the future with regards to digital and cognitive capabilities, to put the roadmap in place for how they want to get there.

We feel your cognitive pain!

Graham Wright, IBM Vice President, Global Procurement and Cognitive Procurement Services, fully understand procurement’s pain points and challenges when it comes to implementing cognitive technology and digitising the function:

  1. Outing the analog!–  Many procurement teams are still working in a reactive and transactional world without digitised processes to automate transactions.
  2. Powering the marketplaces!– From Graham’s experience, he sees very little in the way of supplier catalogs and automation driven from those catalogs. “In a digital world we should be leveraging marketplaces – ensuring   we make content available to all of the users so they can find what they need, click on it, and drop it in their shopping basket easily.
  3. Predicting demand – Current practice is to look at the spend information from historical data in order to make decisions. Nowadays, there are ways to anticipate and predict demand so procurement can look forward, instead of back.
  4. High value contribution – Lack of digitisation and lack of insight means that key personnel in strategic sourcing and category management are not able to focus on stakeholder management, interaction with the user, and negotiations with the supplier

4 cognitive tools you can use…NOW! 

But in spite of these challenges, and whether you like it or not, cognitive technology is coming to change the world.

Not everyone will be ready to jump into the cognitive capabilities. But it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition; you can plug in cognitive at any step. Many of these tools are proven and in use through IBM Procurement today and are being prepared for a broader market. Graham took us through four of these cognitive tools.

  1. Supply Chain Risk Insightscognitive solution fetches unstructured data from social media and creates alerts ahead of time for category managers who can take preventive action to reduce or eliminate impact from such challenges. Effective demand forecasting and proactive risk management is critical to a responsive and cost effective supply chain.
  2. SupplierIQcombines data gleaned through unstructured sources (e.g. social media, news feeds, competitor websites, corporate social platforms, blogs and forums etc.) and contrasts that with other data sources to generate insights that were earlier not accessible. A category manager could actually stumble upon a new supplier for a category that was not being considered; or actually drop an existing supplier because of the potential risk an existing supplier by connecting performance with market information.
  3. PricingIQ can save category managers millions of dollars by tracking contract prices in contrast with dynamic market prices rather than sticking to contract prices that are struck for a number of years. This tool allows IBM Procurement Services category managers an additional 3 – 10 per cent in savings in key spend categories over and beyond what’s already been saved. Pricing IQ was awarded Most Innovative Use of Technology by CIPS in 2017.
  4. Cognitive Buying Assistant(CBA) drives user adoption and spend under management and ease of use. IBM are designing superior user experience by applying cognitive tools on a mobile app that can recommend most relevant items to buy based on user profile, usage patterns as well as sentiment analysis gleamed out of feedback from other users. Ordering something in your professional capacity will soon be as easy as ordering products in your personal life. This is a critical driver of user adoption since a better buying experience will lead to better compliance and better savings for the user and business.

Your path to cognitive 

Everyone’s roadmap will be different and every procurement organisation comes into this maturity scale at different points. Where some larger procurement teams are already embracing technologies like Blockchain and Dynamic Marketplaces, others are not quite there.

If you’re of the latter group, start by asking yourself how you can get more out of the data you’re sitting on. How can you gain better insights and advanced analytics from all the spend and transactional data that flows through procurement?

Lastly, consider whether you have the right talent to help you along on your journey.

With more robust data and insights, the more you will free up your people to do what they are meant to do!

Live From The Big Ideas Summit

Want to hear more from IBM’s Graham Wright? On 28th September, Procurious is bringing The Big Ideas Summit to Chicago.  Register now  (It’s FREE!) as a digital delegate to gain access to all of the day’s action and LIVE video from our speakers and attendees. 

 

Against The Clock: 60 Seconds With IBM….

What makes for an exciting workplace, how do you identify the great leaders and what skills are crucial for procurement? We put IBM’s Graham Wright to the test in a round of quick-fire questions.

Register now  as a digital delegate for The Big Ideas Summit Chicago!

With less than two weeks to go until we launch The Big Ideas Summit in Chicago, we thought we’d have a quick catch up with some of our keynote speakers to discover what makes them tick, where they see the procurement function heading in the near future and how they would reflect on their successful careers.

First in the hot seat is Graham Wright, IBM Vice President, Global Procurement and Cogntivie Procurement services. He’ll be enlightening our Big Ideas audience on Procurement’s Radical Transformation and the impact of cognitive technology.

But today, we want to know what makes him excited about his work, what he wishes he’d known at 20 years old, and the key skills he’s looking for in a killer team.

How do you stay relevant in a world of fast-paced innovation?

Firstly, client interaction. This gives you exposure to a huge variety of approaches by industry, country and company to innovation. You have to remain selective.

Secondly, you cannot read everything.  Instead, take the time to focus on the few key areas you want to learn about.

Thirdly, make time to network and engage through all types of media and professional and industry associations to get the information and bounce ideas to ensure you have learnt and can develop your points of view.

Finally, take the time to think !

What makes you excited to go to work on a Monday morning?

  1. Desire to win.
  2. Clients, my team and the engagements.
  3. Excitement of driving an agenda through IBM that can truly change the world through data, the next natural resource.

What skills and talents contribute to an all-round, great team?

  1. Self motivated, client focused individuals with an operating environment allowing learning from mistakes.
  2. Soft skills, but I’d call them consultative!
  3. An enquiring, questioning mind with the ability to apply innovative, design thinking.
  4. Passion and drive for the business, profession and self.

What 3 attributes make a great leader?

  1. Confidence to lead and use multiple styles.
  2. Being a good listener and a coach.
  3. Communicator with the strength to give “Straight Talk”

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were 20?

  1. Time goes very quickly. Have a plan and follow your dreams. Experience as much as you can.
  2. All those successful Internet Stocks !
  3. The benefit of exercise and healthy balance.

Want to hear more from Graham? On 28th September, Procurious is bringing The Big Ideas Summit to Chicago.  Register now  (It’s FREE!) as a digital delegate to gain access to all of the day’s action and LIVE video from our speakers and attendees. 

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.

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 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.

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.