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.