Tag Archives: cognitive

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).

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

IBM & SAP Ariba Join Forces To Transform Procurement

Procurement today needs to be about insights and intelligence. Will a new SAP Ariba and IBM collaboration be the function’s force for good?

Last week, tech giants IBM and SAP Ariba made the announcement that they would be joining forces to transform the future of procurement.

Together, the two will launch a hub for delivering cognitive procurement solutions to redefine the source-to-settle process. Additionally, the companies will launch a Cognitive Procurement hub to further the development of intelligent procurement solutions and services.

SAP Leonardo, IBM Watson and SAP Ariba will be used  to pool together intelligence from procurement data and predictive insights from unstructured information.

Procurement, according to IBM, is about to get smarter, faster and more efficient.

“Today marks a major milestone for procurement,” said Alex Atzberger, President, SAP Ariba. “With the deep horizontal integration capabilities native within SAP Ariba’s mature platform and the innovative capabilities of SAP Leonardo and IBM Watson delivered by the industry’s most experienced and trusted providers, companies can realise an even more intelligent source-to-settle process for managing all categories of spend that creates value across the entire business.”

What does the future hold for IBM & SAP Ariba?

IBM Watson represents a new era in computing called cognitive computing, where systems understand the world in a way more similar to humans: through senses, learning, and experience. Watson solutions are currently being built, used and deployed in more than 45 countries and across 20 different industries.

On the SAP Ariba Network, buyers and suppliers from more than 2.5 million companies and 190 countries can discover new opportunities, collaborate on transactions and grow their relationships.

By partnering, SAP Ariba and IBM will use their data insights to increase procurement efficiency and intelligence, as well as improving spend visibility.

“We’ve built a cognitive procurement platform trained specifically to understand procurement transactions and unstructured data such as weather, non-standard part numbers in contracts and complex pricing structures,” said Jesus Mantas, General Manager, Cognitive Process Transformation, IBM Global Business Services. “By combining the power of IBM Watson on the IBM Cloud with SAP Ariba, we are leaping existing procurement benchmarks and delivering unprecedented value to our joint clients.”

Watch below to hear Jesus Mantas and Alex Atzberger discuss the partnership in more detail:

What’s the media saying?

IBM Emptoris customers are sure to be questioning what this announcement means for them.  Part of the deal includes IBM gradually retiring Emptoris products over a multiyear timeline and encouraging its customers to migrate to SAP Ariba.

As Jason Busch points out on Spend Matters “it is clear that the partnership provides significant time for current IBM Emptoris customers to fully evaluate all of their options, including the potential to transition to SAP Ariba or to select other providers.”

An IBM spokesperson, speaking to The Register,  commented that “we are encouraging Emptoris clients to transition to SAP Ariba. We will work closely with them providing support and transition services. Clients can continue to use Emptoris.”

Duncan Jones, Vice President, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research questioned the details of the announcement.  He wrote, “the press release does not say when the collaboration will deliver anything that customers can actually implement.  SAP has a long history of premature announcements and releases, so I’ll wait to see actual software being used by real customers before I get excited about this initiative.”

What do you think about SAP Ariba and IBMs’ partnership?  Is it something to be excited about or are you, like Duncan Jones, a little skeptical? Let us know in the comments below. 

In other procurement news this week…

The Future Belongs to AI

  • 19-year-old world champion Ke Jie upon commented that the “future belongs to AI” after losing a game of ‘Go’ to Google’s AlphaGo robot
  • Go is an incredibly complex Chinese board game whose conquering by computers is seen as kind of a holy grail, and was not expected to be possible for another decade
  • The AlphaGo robot “learned” by speeding through the equivalent of playing 80 years straight to develop its technique and strategy
  • A robot that can learn from experience to handle new situations can tackle any problem a human could

Read more at The Hustle 

Slavery Referrals On The Up

  • Kroll’s analysis of National Crime Agency data found there were 1,575 referrals for labour exploitation in 2016
  • 70 per cent of these (1,107) were adults and 30 per cent (468) were minors
  • Kroll said the increased numbers cast a spotlight on an issue that is of increasing concern to businesses, particularly in sectors such as retail and manufacturing
  • Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 businesses with an annual turnover of £36m or more must make public the steps they are taking to ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their business or supply chain

Read more on Supply Management 

Amazon to Open First Store in New York

  • Last week Amazon officially opened its first brick-and-mortar store in New York City – its seventh in the US
  • The physical location uses millions of Amazon customer ratings and reviews as its guide to providing customers with a unique shopping experience
  • The shop houses 3000 books organised into categories that you wouldn’t find at your typical bookstore such as  “Books with More Than 10,000 Reviews on Amazon.com”
  • Amazon Books is planning to open five more locations soon, including stores in New Jersey and another in New York City.

Read more on UK Business Insider

Can Procurement See Past The End Of Its Nose?

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

The Procurious London Roundtable was sponsored by Basware

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

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

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

Learning To Talk Across The  Lily-Pads

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

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

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

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

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

Grab An Umbrella And Face The Future

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

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

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

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

If in doubt, implement the ADAM model:

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

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

ACT – Implement planned actions

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

Looking Further Than The End of Your Nose

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

Eric asked our roundtable attendees to consider the following scenario:

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Holding Up Cognitive?

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

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

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

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

Aiming For The C-Suite

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

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

The Procurious London Roundtable was sponsored by Basware

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