Tag Archives: cognitive

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? 

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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?

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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!

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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 [email protected]