Tag Archives: IBM Watson

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.

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. 

A Whole New World: The Cognitive Computing Era

The age of cognitive tech is coming, whether procurement likes it or not! How can we be ready for the changes coming our way? 

Register your attendance for our free webinar, Man & Machine, which takes place on 8th February 2017. 

A New Era Of Computing

 We’ve entered into a new era of computing: “the cognitive computing era”, which follows the eras of programmable and tabulating systems and represents a massive jump forward that will transform how enterprises operate.

This new era is defined as such because there is a fundamental difference in how these systems are built and how they interact with humans. Traditional programmable systems are fed data, knowledge, and information, and they carry out and return results of processing that is pre-programmed. In this case, humans are doing most of the directing.

Cognitive technology is different; it accelerates, enhances and scales human expertise to solve more complex problems by understanding language and interacting more naturally with humans. It can reason to find patterns and form hypotheses, making considered arguments and scenarios planning. And this is exactly what Watson is about.

Watson is a cognitive technology that can think like a human and is available as SaaS products and a set of open APIs (Applications Programming Interface) such as natural language classifier, speech to text, text to speech, visual recognition, etc.

What Does Watson Mean For Procurement?

This disruptive technology, by creating a new digital ecosystem, is pushing Procurement to create a new business model, moving away from objectives centered on cost take out and taking a new customer centric and revenue growth approach. CPOs must employ the right strategy, structure, skillset and cognitive technology if they want to be in a strong position to demonstrate their relevance and value to the organization.

Procurement organizations and their leaders need to embrace the reality and potential for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive procurement as readily as they would accept other technologies and developments. AI will bring changes and challenges but it will also bring amazing opportunities for the profession.

As we apply AI to certain procurement tasks and processes, we will begin developing internal capability and expertise.

Applying Cognitive Tech To Procurement

Cognitive technology has already proven to be particularly helpful at helping procurement with a number of specific tasks and programs. These include:

  • Quickly sorting through very large amounts of structured or unstructured data. This is especially useful for benchmarking and supplier analysis
  • Providing very detailed supplier assessments of a single supplier, a group of suppliers or the whole supply base
  • Providing in-depth risk assessments, identify hidden risks, and calculate rate risks
  • Supporting and validating decision-making during supplier selection

More generically, cognitive computing will undeniably be a key ingredient to innovation, helping to find new ways of operating, providing new insights, uncovering new opportunities and last but not least it will elevate procurement professionals to the well-deserved advisor role by extending their capabilities and growing their experience.

How Can Procurement Prepare For The Changes That Are Coming? 

The question that so many procurement organisations are asking is how can they make cognitive tech a reality and where to start?

Adopting and integrating cognitive solutions into an organization is a journey and not a destination.

Firstly, CPOs need to be clear about what matters the most. In order to grow their company’s business and best benefit from the technology, they must set realistic expectations and develop long-term plans with incremental milestones

Secondly, transformation doesn’t happen by itself. It requires the vision and support from the top. As an example, Bob Murphy, IBM’s CPO, is the biggest driver of change in terms of transforming his organization. He saw the potential in cognitive technology and the prospects for Procurement and became an evangelist within the team; encouraging, sponsoring and demanding we embrace this opportunity.

Thirdly, leveraging big data is a key area to take advantage of, especially in data management. This ensures that organisations have the right structure and strategy. At IBM, we have appointed a Procurement Data Officer and also hired data scientists within the procurement team as we understood that procurement needed to take a more active role in extracting and analyzing data to demonstrate its value especially by leveraging the data we are managing and generating. (i.e data in RFP answers, ….)

The Race Is On – Can Procurement Shape Up In Time?

With cognitive technology, procurement teams will be equipped with the tools to navigate the procurement process quickly, easily and more compliantly. This will allow more time for procurement teams to focus on strategic supplier activities after contract signature, such as performance management or supplier collaboration and innovation programs. But is the function ready for this shift?

Embedding such advanced technology requires some serious changes in skills and competencies within our teams. Procurement leaders will have to search for procurement professionals not only focusing on their core competencies, such as category expertise, negotiation skills or market knowledge, but it will be more and more important to hire people with the “right” soft skills. The function must onboard and retain people with excellent relationship management and analytical skills and with a high aptitude to work with advanced technology and financial acumen.

The procurement landscape will have to reshape to a more business leading capability that has to operate in a much more virtual and networked environment where emerging roles of data scientists, business relationship managers and innovation scouts, to mention a few, will be increasingly required.

In short, beyond just being capable of creating visible savings, the role of the procurement organisation will have to shift its focus beyond cost reduction efforts, and move towards a trusted advisor role; accurate, fast and efficient.

There’s no doubt about it, late adopters of the digital transformation or organisations failing to take into consideration the growing exigencies such as speed, value for money, collaboration will be soon perceived as road blockers rather than enablers.

Join Procurious’ free webinar, hosted by Tania Seary with Manoj Saxena, Pascal d’Arc and Nathalie Fekete to make sure you’re ahead of the cognitive technology game. 

 

 

No More Supply Chains? Another Procurement Term Bites the Dust

With the advent of the supply ecosystem, the concept of the linear chains is outdated and misleading. Perhaps it’s time to let this term disappear.

broken supply chains

Introducing Watson Supply Chain from IBM. Get to know Watson here.

The thing about chains is that they’re linear.

No matter how complex they might be, supply chains are sequential by definition. They stretch from one geographical point to another, each link representing one of many upstream or downstream businesses that make up the whole.

But in a hyper-connected, interdependent world, the concept of the chain no longer does justice to the complexity of a supply manager’s role. Any attempt to map out a modern international supplier network will end up looking more like a cluster diagram, or a series of cogs and gears.

Or, to take an analogy from the natural world, a “supply ecosystem”.

Supply Ecosystems versus Supply Chains

To unpack some of the key differences (and similarities) between ecosystems and chains, let’s examine some key terms.

  • Interdependency

While a single link in a supply chain is only directly connected with its two immediate neighbours, each part of an ecosystem relies upon every other. This has been referred to as “super-connectivity” or “hyper-cooperation”. This comes with enormous benefits in terms of visibility, data collection and knowledge transfer.

  • Cooperation

Rather than having a single purchasing organisation sitting at the top of a supply chain, a supply ecosystem may involve a network of competing business with shared challenges. Collectively, they create and nurture a sourcing base that will benefit their individual businesses and the ecosystem as a whole.

  • Fragility and resilience

When a link in your linear supply chain snaps, the whole structure is at risk of collapse. A supply ecosystem is similarly fragile, as each component has its own important part to play. However, the difference is that the entire extended stakeholder network can work together to rapidly replace any missing part.

  • Knowledge

While organisations are eager to unlock potential innovation among their suppliers, they are often frustrated by a lack of visibility beyond the first-tier, or the neighbouring link in the chain.

Within the super-connected ecosystem, there is an increased flow of data, and better exchange of skills and knowledge. This means shared challenges are more likely to be solved through crowdsourcing among the entire network’s talent pool.

Again, problems will be tackled and solved with the conviction that what is good for the overall ecosystem will also benefit every member therein.

IBM Watson Gets It

IBM Watson helps supply professionals illuminate risks and opportunities to make better decisions through a proactive, predictive and innovation supply network.

The cognitive procurement technology leverages the entire ecosystem rather than the usual first-tier suppliers. This enables collaboration across every supplier organisation in your network to identify gaps, share capability and mitigate risks before they become obstructions.

The Supply Management Lexicon is Changing

The procurement and supply management profession is changing rapidly, and the language we use is changing with it. In 2016 alone we’ve gone so far as to declare obsolete three frequently used terms in procurement:

Do you agree that these terms have passed their use-by date? What other frequently-used supply management terms are also likely to disappear within the next decade? Leave a comment below!

Procurement exists in an ever-changing environment. Keeping up to date, even with terminology and concepts, can be a struggle. However, technology, like Watson Supply Chain, can help by making information available wherever we are. Find out more here.

Getting Ahead of the Cognitive Technology Wave

There’s a paradox in artificial intelligence and cognitive technology. They can help us stay ahead, but also be the cause of major disruption.

cognitive technology

Introducing Watson Supply Chain from IBM. Get to know Watson here.

“The future always comes too fast.” Those are the words of Alvin Toffler, the best-selling author and futurist known for his works examining the impact of technologies.

It seems paradoxical that the technologies that help us stay competitive in today’s global business environment can also disrupt industries.

For example, if your career spans 25 years, you probably have some personal perspective on this disruption. We’ve seen the Internet, enterprise software, and mobile phones emerge and evolve – and now could never imagine doing business without them. They’ve not only transformed our businesses and industries, but our lives and our world.

Some technologies cause ripples, some cause waves. Some businesses and industries benefit from the resulting changes, and others fall behind. A few businesses see changes on the horizon and take action. Yet others get swept up in the tide.

The Next Wave: Cognitive Technology

What’s the next wave? The next game-changing technology on par with the Internet, enterprise software, and mobile devices? Many analysts point to artificial intelligence, also known as cognitive technology.

Cognitive technologies are no longer the realm of science fiction. According to TechRepublic (ZDNet), technology and economics are aligning in a way that puts us at “a tipping point after which the use of artificial intelligence will become commonplace.”

IDC estimates that, by 2020, 50 percent of all business software will incorporate some cognitive computing functionality.

Also, the Pew Research Center noted, “By 2025, artificial intelligence will be built into the algorithmic architecture of countless functions of business and communication, increasing relevance, reducing noise, increasing efficiency and reducing risk across everything from finding information to making transactions.”

The Thinking Technology

Cognitive technologies actually understand, learn, and think through any objective, problem, or question you present, and then offer detailed answers, analysis, or solutions. They reason and learn like a human, but at enormous scale and speed, providing deeper insights and intelligence.

Cognitive technology presents a tremendous opportunity to business and procurement. For example, with cognitive technologies, procurement organisations can provide very detailed supplier assessments in just minutes, drawing from a wide range of data sources.

Additionally, they can provide much more in-depth risk assessments and uncover previously hidden sources of disruption and risk. And procurement can become more adept at innovating, providing the business new insights and opportunities.

In sum, cognitive technologies can unlock unimagined new insights, enable enhanced decision making, and deliver highly optimised outcomes and value.

Opportunity or Disruption

The opportunity for cognitive technology is tremendous, but organisations need to look ahead and prepare. Procurement leaders should start thinking how cognitive technology will transform roles and organisations. They must re-skill their team with talents that enable this shift.

Perhaps the best ways to do so are to start cognitive projects in certain key areas. Think about what projects or processes in your organisation could most benefit from cognitive technology.

As you apply these technologies to certain tasks and processes, you’ll begin developing internal capability and expertise. And you’ll begin to enhance the skill set of your professionals.

Another way to prepare for the cognitive future is to develop and hone data analytics skills and projects. Even in the absence of perfect systems or perfect data, analytics programs can provide tremendous value.

Levels of procurement and analytics maturity can vary and evolve over time. However, analytics can immediately play a key role in enabling procurement transformation and success, across a number of areas, including:

  • Savings and value creation;
  • Risk mitigation; or
  • Supplier development and innovation.

Research shows that the most successful procurement organisations take a more comprehensive approach to analytics technologies. And such programs build the foundation for application and success of cognitive technologies.

The future is always just around the corner. But some waves of technology innovation are bigger than others. Cognitive, by all accounts, is one of those big waves.

For those who fail to prepare, it guarantees disruption. For those who take the reins, it presents tremendous opportunity.

What if you could see the supply chain road ahead and mitigate risks before they become obstructions? For procurement, this helping hand can come from IBM Watson Supply Chain. Find out all you need to know here.