Tag Archives: cognitive technology

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? 

Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

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.

 

IBM CPO: You’re Finished If You Think You’ve Finished!

Even in a world where data is king,  IBM CPO Bob Murphy believes there is nothing so important as professional development and human relationships.

Graham Needham/Shutterstock.com

The numbers are eye-watering. IBM CPO Bob Murphy looks after a $70 billion spend – $25 billion internally and $45 billion 3rd-party. The company has around 150,000 contracts across 17,000 suppliers, with its flagship cognitive technology, Watson, reading 900 million pages in multiple languages per second.

As we prepared for our interview with Murphy, it’s understandable, then, that we expected to find him entirely focused on data analytics, automation, AI and the other tech that’s rapidly impacting so many professions. We were wrong – what comes across loud and clear is that this is a charismatic, engaging leader where people and relationships matter.

Think 40 and other professional development

Talking to Bob, it becomes immediately clear that his personal commitment to professional development is enormous. “If you want to be a leader, you have to stay current and replenish your IQ through learning and new knowledge. Ultimately, talent development is about making sure you have excellent people to replace outgoing leadership – it’s also vital for driving innovation.”

IBM’s Think 40 program mandates a minimum of 40 hours per year of self-initiated professional development. For the procurement team, this means having the option to select from a range of internal and external courses (often online), including offerings from Six Sigma, Procurement Leaders and ISM. For Bob, it comes down to inquisitiveness and a love of continual learning.

“We look for logical, friendly, humble, smart and inquisitive people. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of supply management can be trained to become outstanding procurement leaders. Making people aware of what is possible is absolutely critical – most successful people around the world put aside time to regularly read and educate themselves. They’re inquisitive; they enquire after things.”

Two critical skills for future leaders in procurement

  1. Digital literacy

“Data”, says Murphy, “is omnipresent and omnipotent.” He stresses that leaders who want to thrive in the procurement profession need to develop an understanding of:

  • Data analytics – we can gather data but how do you use that data to gain insights?
  • Robotic processes – how can you automate tactical processes so human capital is used to the greatest effect?
  • Cognitive computing – understanding how to digitise a process end-to-end so it is interconnected and insightful.
  1. Relationship building

Murphy tells Procurious that while leaders need to be able to use technology to get the insights and knowledge they need, their main focus should be on developing their emotional intelligence (EQ) rather than their IQ. “You need to have the ability to talk to clients in a consultative manner. We have one mouth and two ears, and that’s how we ought to apportion our time in any discussion. When we’re talking, we’re not learning.”

How can you train someone to be adept at building relationships? “It’s about attitude, not aptitude”, says Murphy. Whether leadership is innate or taught, the results are the same. You need to be able to work collaboratively with your suppliers, show them what’s important to you and understand what’s important to them. “Your relationship-building skills will ultimately enable your suppliers to drive innovation. For example, we have 17,000 suppliers at IBM. I want each one to wake up every morning and think: ‘How can I make IBM better’?”

Have you got a cognitive journey map?

Where is your organisation headed with cognitive procurement technology? Where do you want to be? How will you use people, processes and technology to get there? What can we automate?

Murphy recommends that every procurement team should have a roadmap that lays out the strategy for its data, analytics and cognitive journey. “All CEOs need a vision for their cognitive journey, and every function needs one too.”

According to The Hackett Group’s 2017 Procurement Key Issues research, only 32 percent of procurement organisations currently have a formal digital strategy in place, and only 25 percent have the needed resources and competencies in place today.

In reality, we can’t all be first-movers. But even if your company isn’t yet ready to act on cognitive technology, CPOs will be rewarded for raising the question, thinking through the issues and putting the challenge on the Board’s agenda. Most importantly, there needs to be milestones and deliverables, as Murphy warns: “Strategy without execution is a daydream”.

To end on a gem of a quote from Murphy, he spoke about how the constantly evolving nature of technology means a never-ending journey. “’Journey’ is a good description, because it is never finished. Anyone who thinks it is finished, is finished.”

Fancy Sharing The Procurement Workload With AI?

Technology will help procurement pros to do their jobs faster and more efficiently, lessening their workload. What are the key AI trends we can expect to see in the coming months?  

MielnickiStudio/Shutterstock.com

Nearly every day we encounter stories and predictions about how artificial intelligence (AI) will fundamentally change a variety of industries. The challenge is explaining what this type of technology could do to improve certain functions and jobs. Let’s take a look at the trends we can expect over the coming months.

Artificial intelligence will expand in analytics, intelligence gathering and visualisation

We’ve already seen speculation about the industries who will benefit the most from AI, and we’ll continue to see improvements as more and more companies adopt the technology. We will further see the expansion of the way humans in the workforce interact with AI-based solutions.

When it comes to the analysis of data, especially unstructured data, AI can be taught the nature of words and sentences and string together concepts and gists within the text. This goes far beyond the basic keyword search functions most people are familiar with. AI can then present the information to business users, and not just highly trained data scientists, in a format suitable for them. In understanding the contents of extremely large numbers of documents, AI can take a huge workload off human reviewers and help them do their jobs faster and more efficiently.

Through the use of AI, companies will have an advantage on a competitive global stage, without sacrificing the well-being of their employees, and these applications alone will be the first area of widespread use this year.

M&A activity in 2017 will rebound with a record year

Last year was a disappointing year for mergers and acquisitions. Between the broken deals with Allergan and Pfizer, Halliburton and Baker Hughes, and many more, investors and companies alike were starting to panic about the future of the economy. This year things will quickly change and we’ll be on the rebound with a record M&A year.

According to a new Deloitte report, 86 per cent of private equity and 71 per cent of corporate dealmakers are expecting to close more deals in the next twelve months. While many people feared the uncertainty of major events like Brexit, it will present a whole new opportunity for M&A deals in 2017.

Contract intelligence solutions can help to alleviate some of the challenges M&A brings. By gaining a much stronger insight into the contract portfolios of companies they are targeting for acquisition in the due diligence phase, they dramatically reduce the risk and liabilities they may be acquiring. This insight is fast and efficient, and provides significant transparency in to contract obligations while keeping the deals on track.

Contract Management – CLM will need to change

Contract lifecycle management (CLM) vendors manage contract processing through technologies such as document repositories, workflow, and authoring. It has been recognised that the utilisation and ROI provided by these CLM technologies is not where it needs to be, and they are lacking in the management of contract data. These systems provide user defined fields, and users must manually input this data to manage obligations and run analytics on key fields such as term, renewals, counterparty information, pricing and incentives. The data manage with CLM is generally inconsistent, error prone, and inefficient, and organisations with CLM systems will clearly struggle with understanding the data in their existing contacts as they go into the CLM, but also new contracts.

This year, organisations will realise CLM only solves part of the problem they are working to solve, and complement CLM with contract discovery and analytics tools — based in AI technologies. The combined solutions will create the needed efficiencies in the contract lifecycle, but also allow them to dynamically extract the data they need from contracts, when they need it, allowing for deeper analytics and increased insight into critical business relationships. The old way of data management with contracts will be considered obsolete this year, and richer analytics will become the norm.

Contracts – the “new source of Business Intelligence”

Right now, businesses spend a lot of money and time extracting insight from structured data. The current “big data” solutions process sales data, manufacturing data, financial data, social data, etc., but not the data buried in unstructured documents. Solutions exist now to analyse data from large quantities of documents and provide very valuable insight that can be used for effective decision making.

This is especially important when it comes to contracts. Instead of legal teams reviewing contracts to ensure an organisation is complying with the law or with new or changing regulations, contracts will be seen as a valuable new source of business intelligence.

Dashboards are now being created that bring together structured and unstructured data to provide new views into the business that were not possible before. Contracts will be appreciated as a new, and untapped source of business intelligence that a new generation of technology can now mine in a very intuitive and cost effective way.

This article was guest-written by Seal Software, a leading provider of contract discovery. Seal Software uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to help companies efficiently uncover what’s in their contracts.

The Big Ideas Summit 2017: Welcome to the Party

They say there ain’t no party like a Procurious party. Thank goodness you’re all invited to The Big Ideas Summit!

Want to follow all of the action today? Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

It’s not every day you invite more than 50,000 people to join you online for a procurement event. It’s going to be a whopper of a party and we’re so glad that you’re able to join us.

The Big Ideas Summit

Today, Procurious is gathering fifty of the world’s most influential Procurement & Supply Chain leaders in London. For the third year running we present The Big Ideas Summit – the world’s first digitally led procurement think-tank.

Procurious’ Big Ideas Summit now has a global reputation as the most innovative leadership event for the procurement profession.

Today we need your involvement. Together we are going to spark vigorous discussions, light up social media across the globe and crowd-source ideas for the future of procurement.

What’s the aim of the game?

Our aim is to inspire a new generation of business intrapreneurs, people who can think outside the box. These forward thinkers will  drive innovation and lead change into the future.

Now with 20,000 members from 140+ countries, Procurious is well on the way to becoming a United Nations, in kind, of procurement professionals.

We’ve made it possible for you to attend one of the best procurement conferences in the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re siting at your desk, lounging on the sofa or on the go. There’s a lot of ways to get involved throughout the day and have your say.

Get involved, get ahead

If there’s anything you’re burning to ask one of our procurement thought leaders, why not put them to the test? Ask them the toughest questions you can possibly muster.

Or, if you’re looking for a way to build your personal brand and market yourself as a global procurement superstar, send us your Big Idea. It might not be Hollywood, but putting your video up in lights on Procurious offers an unprecedented chance to grow your profile as a thought-leader and a true influencer in procurement.

You can submit your questions, comments or your Big Idea videos via the Procurious twitter account, @Procurious_ using the hashtag #bigdeas2017 or on the Procurious Big Ideas Summit group.

Procurement 4.0

What are the Big Ideas that will disrupt and transform the procurement profession in 2017?

This year’s conference is primarily focused on uncovering the mysteries of Procurement 4.0. We don’t want you to feel intimidated if you haven’t yet got robots running your production floor and Watson doing your negotiations!

In fact, one of our key goals for Big Ideas is to determine exactly where the profession should be in the journey to Procurement 4.0. We want to help the profession get calibrated.

Procurement 4.0 is something we are consistently discussing on Procurious but confusion remains about the term’s definition. Procurement 4.0 simply describes what the profession will look like in Industry 4.0. From the creation of digital networks, to the increasing use of technology and digitalisation in all facets of business – it represents a transformation in how businesses will run.

The Big Ideas of Big Ideas 2017

What are the top themes and discussion points for this year’s event?

  • Courage is the number one attribute required for procurement pros wanting to succeed in the future world of Industry 4.0. We’ll be giving you a wake up call to be brave and embrace the future.
  • We’ll also be narrowing our focus as we learn about the unexpected shifts in the geopolitical landscape. How will this will affect your supply chains and global trade? Last year we talked a lot about Thinking the Unthinkable. We considered how procurement must stay agile to respond to unexpected macro and micro economic changes. Well! Our advice couldn’t have been better timed given the series of political events in 2016.
  • It wouldn’t be a procurement event without discussing cognitive technology. How things have changed in the past year! Last week more than 600 people registered for our webinar, Man and Machine, with IBM. This is testament to the global interest in this critical topic. We want to help procurement understand how artificial intelligence, such as IBM’s Cognitive Technology solution Watson, is going to help make more informed decisions, with deeper insight and greater certainty.
  • In the face of all this uncertainty, companies’ ability to anticipate and swiftly respond to change is more important than ever. To tackle Industry 4.0 head-on, we will need to build agile, creative and diverse teams.
  • Another new term you will hear today is “neuro diversity”. Britain’s intelligence agency today employs more than 100 dyslexic and dyspraxic spies. They say many of their most talented code-breakers have trouble reading or interpreting words, but this can help them crack codes because they see things others do not.

Taking procurement out to the abyss

We’ll also be talking about unleashing our inner creativity in the workplace, sustainability, reinventing the public sector procurement wheel and how procurement teams can shape their workforce in preparation for workplace 4.0.

And, once we have taken you out to the abyss, to the brink of what is possible in the coming 50 years, we will bring our conversation back to the here and now. We’ll discuss why procurement teams should be focused on ‘doing the do’ and getting the basics right whilst still keeping their eyes on the horizon.

Don’t forget to register as a digital delegate so you can keep up with all of today’s events.

The Big Ideas Summit 2017: We Have Lift Off

The Big Ideas Summit will take flight in just a few hours time.  Want to know what’s in store? Look no further…

Register as an online delegate for the London Big Ideas Summit 2017 here.

The big day is finally here! Procurious is all-set to spark vigorous discussions, light up social media across the globe and crowd-source ideas for the future of procurement.

We’ll be addressing everything from Procurement 4.0 to Cognitive Technology and Global Economics. We’d also still love for you to submit any questions for our speakers via the Big Ideas Summit group.

Here’s what’s coming up today!

Part One Pivot – Rethinking What’s Possible

 Be Brave Or Dead – Mark Stevenson, Futurist

Mark is an entrepreneur, author, broadcaster, musician and expert on global trends and innovation. Mark would describe his role as helping people and organisations to ask the right questions about the future.

Mark’s Big Idea

Be brave or be dead! Wherever you work and wherever you end up in the next 15-20 years, remember that it’s going to be a very turbulent time. Ask yourself: what’s my best effort for myself, my family and for society (and remember they’re all related). If you don’t, you can prepare to be very irrelevant and very unhappy!

Trumpism In the Supply Chain – Linda Yueh, Fellow at Oxford University & Adjunct Professor at London Business School

Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty is how Linda explains 2017. At the moment, it’s over President Trump, European politics: elections and Brexit, and the slowdown in growth of China and other major economies. Thankfully Linda’s message to CPOs is one of caution but reassures that it’s not time to panic.

Linda’s Big Idea

Keep calm but be sure to keep an eye on what’s happening around the world as the globalisation landscape is shifting significantly. Global trade won’t end tomorrow but it is going to look rather different in the coming years.

Part Two Scrum – Procurement in the Digital Age

Watson: What’s The Big Idea – Barry Ward, Senior Procurement Brand Manager, IBM Global Procurement

Barry has drawn a parallel between the cognitive technology journey of Watson and the space programme and moon landing journeys of the last century. For IBM, developing and deploying Watson is something like the moonshot in the 1960s where IBM technology helped NASA make the lunar landings possible. 

Barry’s Big Idea

Cognitive technology is merely in its infancy in terms of where it can go. This journey will mostly likely take 50 years or more to be fully realised. Millennials have the chance to be there at the outset. They will see cognitive technology evolving and developing throughout their entire careers. But first we need to know how to get on them on board and enjoying the journey. 

Creating Agility In The Digital Age – Chris Sawchuk, Principal and Global Procurement Advisory Practice Leader at The Hackett Group

Chris has nearly 20 years of experience in supply management, working directly with Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies around the globe. He believes that agility is the defining trait of the procurement team of today and the future. He reminds us that many of the problems procurement will face in the coming years have not even been thought of yet!

Chris’ Big Idea

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

Reinventing The Public Sector Wheel – Paul Smith, Executive Director YPO & Board Member SOPO 

Paul has been the driving force behind Procurious’ first private, “corporate” version of the platform, which launched in January 2017. SOPO are using social media to reinvent the way in which public sector procurement professionals work , network and collaborate.

Paul’s Big Idea:

Bring together local government via social media to collaborate and network

Part Three Reboot – Building Your Workforce

Unlocking The Creative Genius In Your Procurement Team
James Bannerman, Creative Change Agent. 

James Bannerman is author of non-Fiction best-seller Genius: Deceptively Simple Ways to Become Instantly Smarter. He believes the maxim that organisations must innovate or die has never been more true thanks to rapid technology developments and fierce competition. In procurement, CPOs need to foster their intrapreneurs and work to achieve what James calls a ‘return on inspiration’.

James’ Big Idea

Miraculous and fully-formed ideas won’t simply land at your feet. Procurement pros must attempt, what James calls, “deliberate creativity.”

Unlocking The Case For Neuro Diversity – John Floyd, Headmaster at Bruern Abbey

John wants to dispel the negative connotations that are so often associated with conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD. He explains that neuro-diverse profiles are actually a bonus for employers because of their different approaches to solving problems and finding answers. 

John’s Big Idea

One in every ten team members should be someone with a neuro-diverse profile.

Panel Interview – Graham Lucas, Managing Director at Michael Page

What are the best Procurement Teams already doing to set up for success? What are the trends in creating more innovative and engaging Procurement workplaces?

Graham believes that for procurement to survive in the digital age, it might not even be called procurement! Those who try to resist the coming changes, are more likely to be part of the redundancy.

Graham will be joined on the panel by Gautam Singh, The Smart Cube and Juliet Sotnick, Babcoc.

Digital Procurement Transformation – Paul Blake, Senior Manager, GEP 

Paul Blake leads the technology product marketing team at GEP. He’ll be addressing the topic of digital procurement transformation. Paul believes that if procurement continues to accept the technological status quo as some kind of given, it’ll continue to be fed the same poor diet. Procurement must start to challenge the hard-and-fast rules we’ve adopted for so long without question.

Paul’s Big Idea

There is no point continuing to do things as we have always done, just because that is the accepted status quo. Instead we should be embracing change and adapting to future possibilities.

Procurement Talent 4.0: Future Skillsets to Build Your Procurement Organisation – Deb Stanton, Executive MD, CAPS Research

Following conversations earlier in the day about what will evolve in the next 50 years, Deb will bring us back to the here and now. Procurement teams should be focused on ‘doing the do’ and getting the basics right whilst keeping their eyes on the horizon 

Deb’s Big Idea

“Be bold, but nice” is my favorite motto and advice that I give all supply chain professionals.  We need to be bold enough to challenge, ask the right questions, and bring new ideas forward; yet do it in a way that people still want to work with us.

Leadership, Tough Love and Long-Term Partnerships – John McFarlane, Chairman, Barclays PLC

With a background that includes being Chairman of Aviva and CEO of Australia & New Zealand Banking Group, leadership is an area in which John has become an expert. But guess what? He has also worked in procurement! In 1969 he joined Ford as a buyer!

John’s Big Idea

I would encourage longer-term partnerships with supply chains and encourage procurement to approach this with a win-win mentality. It’s win-win or no gain. Aim to be the customer of choice so suppliers approach you with best products.

Stay up to date with the day’s events and submit your questions for our speakers via our Big Ideas Summit Group. Follow us on Twitter via  @Procurious_  using the hashtag #bigideas2017

Are You A Procurement Starter Or A Finisher?

Are you a starter or a finisher? According to IBM’s Barry Ward, you’d better be both! Barry discusses the key skills most critical to procurement in the coming years.

Anton Brand/Shutterstock.com

Barry Ward, Procurement Brand Manager, Global Business Services at IBM is a keynote speaker at Big Ideas Summit 2017.  He’ll be explaining the big ideas behind Watson and the opportunities that cognitive tech presents to procurement. When we spoke to Barry ahead of the event he was keen to remind us that, despite rapid tech developments, traditional procurement skills are far from being made redundant.

How do you stay productive and current in a world of fast-paced innovation?

  • Collaborating with colleagues
  • Networking with others – using social media and other channels
  • Building and nurturing an ecosystem of organisations that are leading or developing solutions that may have or will have an impact in your function

What key skills are critical for procurement in the next 5 years?

We will always need traditional procurement skills such as the ability to be a strong negotiator, to communicate well internally and externally, to be a starter and a finisher. But, on top of this I think the importance of an open mind and curiosity in terms of the role that technology can play in the future is going to be more important than ever.

There will be an increasing need for project management skills, change management, relationship management skills. This is on top of the usual and still critical traditional procurement skills such as category expertise or negotiation skills. I can also say that there is a growing importance in soft skills: communication, teamwork and collaboration and problem solving.

How has technology, the Internet of Things and e-Procurement affected IBM?

Technology has placed a key role in IBM’s transformation over the past 20 years or so. Its importance is perhaps more critical in the the current phase of our procurement transformation. Understanding how digital technology can transform the supply chain and our source to pay activities is critical in terms both driving our efficiency and effectiveness but also to showcase how procurement can drive value throughout our organisation.

This positions Procurement in a much more strategic role than ever before. Procurement data is much more visible than ever before.  Insights through combining unstructured and structured information augment our knowledge, with alerts being posted to mobile devices instantaneously means that buyers can have much better assurance of supply continuity, of being able to understand price opportunities and to focus their time and energies on higher value activities than ever before. Lower value work will become automated or systems-driven. This is all good news for Procurement.

One clear impact of this transformation is that our key stakeholders now have very high expectations of high performance from Procurement personnel, perhaps more so than ever before, but the rewards are clearly evident in terms of the value that individuals can bring as well as the procurement organisation as a whole.

How valuable have mentors been in your career?

Mentoring is a highly personal thing. Some people need to have guidance and direction particularly in an organisation that may be widely spread and fast-moving, and if you are looking to move around different functions. Similarly for those who are in a smaller organization, mentors can bring an external, broader perspective.

Others are confident of their own abilities in charting a course for their own development and progression. I have had mentors in the past, particularly when I was in the early stages of my career. The more confident you are of your attributes and ambitions the less I have found that I needed mentoring. I spend time mentoring others mainly from within IBM and mainly from other geographies.

How did you first become interested in procurement?

I didn’t know very much about Procurement in my time as an undergraduate. It was not a profession that had much coverage when I was at University, unlike Finance or Engineering.

My first job as a business graduate was as a Purchasing Analyst running Bill of Material queries in a MRP system for a large manufacturer. This brought me into contact with many parts of the organisation including procurement. The procurement manager at the time was quite an intellectual and gave me a broad view of the role that procurement can play in an organisation.

Clearly he influenced me as I have spent my subsequent career in procurement and supply chain roles!

How will cognitive technology impact procurement professionals?

Cognitive technology will transform the role of the procurement professional and the impact that he or she can make for their organisation. It will be able to remove some of the more prosaic parts of the procurement role, such as data gathering and analysis, together with augmenting a buyer’s knowledge thus enabling them to spend more time on higher value tasks and ultimately make better decisions and be more effective.

Procurement professionals will need to understand how cognitive technology works – so they can be alert to potential mistakes that can happen from cognitive solutions, so that data input from these solutions is relevant and accurate.  It will eventually help, and force, them with their career progression as well as developing their expertise.

Join the conversation and register as a digital delegate for Big Ideas 2017

Cognitive Technology Is A Bicycle Built For Two

By 2020, every important decision will be made with the assistance of cognitive technology but that doesn’t mean the  procurement function will be replaced altogether. instead, Man and Machine will work in tandem. 

Watch our free webinar, “Man and Machine: Redefining Procurement’s Role in the Digital Age”, here.

When someone like Ginni Rometty, the current CEO at IBM, says this, it’s worth paying close attention. As we have explored in the past, artificial intelligence and infinite data means endless opportunities, both personally and professionally.

Rometty also speaks from a position of authority and experience. IBM’s Cognitive Technology solution, Watson,  is already transforming fields like health care, finance, entertainment and retail.

The system has the potential to understand, learn and think through any procurement issue or question presented, offering detailed answers, analysis, or solutions, just as human can. But the difference is that Watson can do this on a scale and speed that outstrips the human brain.

Man and Machine – What’s Procurement’s Role?

This presents great opportunities for procurement, helping make faster, more informed decisions, with deeper insight and greater certainty.

However, as with any new technology, opportunities also come with uncertainty and challenges. Does procurement truly have the agility, and desire, to embrace this new technology and remain relevant?

And what is the role left for procurement professionals, when the smartest guy in the room is Watson?

Procurious teamed up with experts in the cognitive field to help procurement professionals get to grips with this tricky topic. Joining us for the webinar were:

  • Nathalie Fekete – Worldwide Cognitive Procurement Subject Matter Expert at IBM
  • Manoj Saxena – Founding General Partner at The Entrepreneur’s Fund
  • Pascal d’Arc – General Manager at Cognitive Scale

Cognitive – Big Ideas and Significant Shifts

“This is one of the most significant shifts in human history.”

So what’s the Big Idea behind Watson? Well you may not be aware of it, but Watson has probably already touched your life, and the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

According to Nathalie Fekete the core concept driving Watson is its ability to interpret vast quantities of data, and think and reason like a human being. The machine is built to mirror the same cognitive learning process that humans have, even following the same “Observe; Interpret; Evaluate; Decide” process we use for decision making.

And it’s this adaptive nature, including the ability to augment human intelligence that makes Cognitive so important. Manoj Saxena believes that it’s the fourth biggest shift in human history, behind only the discovery of alphabets, and the inventions of the printing press and the Internet.

The Sky’s The Limit

“A little bit of AI can go a long way.”

According to Saxena, not only is AI already all around us, but we’ve also only just scratched the surface. What’s different now, and will be huge over the next 3-5 years, is the impact of AI on the enterprise.

AI and cognitive systems have already produced successful results in leading global companies across the financial services, retail, and healthcare sectors. And this innovation will only develop in years to come as we progress to super-intelligent computers.

However, Saxena was also quick to point out that the hype surrounding the topic might be unhelpful. To him, it’s about separating super-intelligence in computing from awareness and consciousness.

Hollywood and the media might have their own thoughts on this, but humans are yet to fully understand awareness and consciousness in themselves, let alone give this power to computers.

We also need to better understand the key terminology across this topic too. Saxena helpfully laid it out like this:

  • AI is the mega-term. It’s the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, particularly intelligent computer programmes.
  • Machine Learning is a sub-set of AI. This is a science involving the development of self-learning algorithms where the system learns from experience.
  • Cognitive systems are next-generation IT systems that emulate human cognitive functions and software. Cognitive systems are essentially the practical and applied applications of machine learning and AI into specific industries and business processes.

Got it now? Now you’re in a better position to understand the impact on procurement.

Cognitive and Procurement – Impact and Benefits

“Putting the person front and centre of how we apply this new technology.”

Cognitive systems, as well as AI, stand to overturn the norms for procurement, bringing a huge number of potential benefits. Nathalie Fekete stated that one of the primary benefits relates to the analysis of data.

Using vast amounts of structured and unstructured data will help procurement with supplier evaluation, risk management, and benchmarking. This data, and the systems, will also provide a new gateway for innovation. Procurement will be able to find new routes and ideas for savings and opportunities, using cognitive technology.

Pascal d’Arc built on these themes too, highlighting the growing excitement in procurement around cognitive technologies. d’Arc talked about three key themes developing in this area:

  1. Putting the person at the centre of the technology
  2. Delivering a more personalised experience of how employees interact with or run procurement
  3. How cognitive technology is delivering adaptive and agile processes, as well as reducing the time taken for traditional tasks.

Man and Machine in Tandem

“Start now, because it’s happening very quickly.”

Are you worried you might be replaced by a computer? You shouldn’t be. Cognitive technology can eliminate, automate, reduce and empower jobs roles, says Nathalie Fekete. But the good news is that what it’s removing is the hazardous, dangerous, repetitive and manually intensive parts of the role.

Within procurement, this means that time can be saved on some tasks, and better spent elsewhere. The key for procurement professionals is to ensure that they have the right skills to do the new role. And to understand this and start up-skilling now.

Fekete and Pascal d’Arc expanded on this, highlighting key skill areas future professionals will need:

  • Traditional procurement skills such as negotiation, Category Management and Supplier Relationship Management
  • Collaborative working
  • Project Management and Change Management

Learn More

What we’ve outlined above is just a small fraction of the great knowledge shared in the webinar. To access the full discussion, as well as other key insights from our experts, you can register here.

And the learning doesn’t stop there. If you have any questions, please let us know below, and we’ll make sure it gets passed along to the experts.

Watch the full webinar here.