The CPO's Corner
How can I prepare for the disruption headed my way? Part 1 – AI
RPA, AI, Blockchain are just a few of the technologies being put in place for various businesses around the world. And you’re probably feeling pressure to stay on top of it all; to be able to educate and maybe seek resources from your own management to implement some of this. But where to start? And with what?
At this stage, its about scale and complexity. AI holds great promise, but a bespoke AI application is best focused on complex problems. Like supporting drug development in a pharmaceutical business. Or identifying and executing transactions quickly to optimize portfolio returns in financial services.
The more AI that is developed, the less expensive it will become and the more applications it will cover. Most procurement operations are too small to justify the investment in creating their own AI applications today – there are likely more important uses in other parts of the business. But that doesn’t mean that procurement has to stay on the sidelines or totally discard existing tools.
There are many point solutions – from supplier discovery to eAuctions – that are AI or machine-learning based. You can take a giant leap in the quality of your sourcing process by identifying weak links and using some of these solutions to improve results. You’re likely using Alexa or a similar Chatbot at home. Their more sophisticated cousins, Virtual Personal Assistants (VPA’s), can be used as a front line to answer questions on procurement or travel policy or to direct inquiries to the right category manager. In other words, your company doesn’t have to create the AI. Instead, leverage what best-in-breed suppliers have created.
The single biggest thing you can do to prepare your procurement team for AI? Focus on adoption – on ensuring that the employees in your company are utilizing the automated sourcing process that you have in place. An AI application that optimizes office equipment, for example, won’t work if the RFP’s have been done on paper and the contracts are sitting in someone’s desk drawer. No AI application will work if there is a huge rogue spend. If you put your efforts there, you will be creating the right base upon which you can use affordable AI applications.
Joanna Martinez is a global procurement / supply chain leader and the founder of Supply Chain Advisors LLC. She is a frequent lecturer and blogger on procurement topics and also provides coaching, strategy development, training, and cost reduction opportunity assessment. Her clients range from Fortune 100 companies to technology startups.
As either regional or global CPO, Joanna has led transformation initiatives for companies in many different sectors: among them Johnson & Johnson (consumer products), Diageo (beverage), AllianceBernstein LP (financial services) and Cushman & Wakefield (real estate services, property management). She has also held client-facing roles, effectively giving her the opportunity to “sit on both sides of the table”.