2018’s Top Stories in Disruptive Tech Have Us Looking Far Back — and Forward

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In 2018, Spend Matters covered a range of technologies that are considered to be disruptive to how procurement and supply chain solutions get deployed.

This list reflects those topics, like artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and blockchain. But it also reflects our readers’ interest in these subjects.

So here’s a list of the top 10 disruptive tech stories (with excerpts of our analysts’ and reporters’ work), ranked by popularity, starting with the year’s No. 2 most popular story on any topic with our readers.

1. Getting Real with Artificial Intelligence in Procurement

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the hottest technology topic right now, and it’s certainly going to be the most disruptive business trend going forward. To be sure, there are other technology topics that are also hot right now. Blockchain, for example, will certainly be disruptive, but no CPOs are clamoring for distributed ledgers as a must-have enabler to meet their goals.

But as big as AI will eventually be, it’s still overhyped right now, even within “cognitive procurement.” If I see one more graphic of a cyborg cognitively fingering a smart phone, I may just scream. (On a related note, this procurement AI avatar from Accenture is requisitely both terrifying and humorous.) Nearly all of the robotic process automation (RPA) implementations out there are delivering good old-fashioned labor automation stemming from glorified process scripting and screen scraping — and not a lot of “real AI.”

It’s easy to get jaded and assume that there’s not really much going on, that all of this AI stuff is not worth wasting a lot of time on. But that’s a mistake.

2.Clarifying Robotic Process Automation: What It Is (and Isn’t) for Procurement

Robotic process automation has become a buzzword most procurement professionals can’t escape. But despite its seeming ubiquity, RPA still tends to produce just as much head scratching as efficiency gains.

Taken out of context, RPA can seem like yet another disruptive technology to keep track of alongside machine learning, blockchain and the like. Really, RPA is a single element of an overall procurement digital transformation strategy, and one of the more readily accessible technologies, in fact. For many procurement organizations, adopting RPA can be a first step on the digital roadmap that helps sustain more complex initiatives further along.

To help you get started on that journey, here’s a quick guide to what RPA is — and what it is commonly mistaken for — as well as some examples for how it can be applied in both practical and advanced contexts.

3. I’m Afraid I Can’t Source That, Dave: Artificial Intelligence in Strategic Sourcing

While it’s easy to scoff at the hype built up around AI, it’s equally important to understand its components and figure out where businesses can realistically apply the technology.

For example, almost 20 years ago, there was a lot of hype surrounding web-based negotiation agents, which claimed they would not only scour the web to identify supplies but also select and negotiate with new partners on your behalf. Obviously, that didn't pan out. It's easy to carry that disillusionment into technology evaluation today, where even a tool like chatbots start to remind you of that annoying Microsoft paperclip.

4. Achieving a Successful Robotic Process Automation Implementation: A Case Study of Vodafone and Celonis

Procurement organizations are beginning to catch on to robotic process automation (RPA) and the potential benefits that the technology can bring, which include cost reduction and more time for strategic, value-add activities. In fact, more than a third of procurement organizations are already piloting the technology, according to research from The Hackett Group.

This was certainly the case for British multinational telecom corporation Vodafone, for which adoption of RPA quickly yielded results. Before adopting RPA, Vodafone completed 73% of its purchase orders correctly the first time around. But within six months of implementing the process mining and RPA software of Celonis, a provider that specializes in the technology, Vodafone had achieved a “perfect PO” rate of 85%.

This improvement led to an initial reduction in operational purchasing costs by 11% and a reduced time to market by 20%, all in the first six months. Today, Vodafone boasts a perfect PO rate of 92%.

5. Robotic Process Automation Adoption: Early Challenges and Lessons Learned

RPA boasts an impressive savings potential — as much as 60%–80% — as well as the ability to deliver improved accuracy and speed. Companies that have adopted RPA have found they have improved auditability for tasks subject to compliance regulation.

According to the Hackett Group research, executives across departments are interested in increasing RPA adoption, with finance and global business services (GBS) executives particularly enthusiastic. GBS executives believe that mainstream adoption of RPA will increase five-fold to more than 52% within two or three years, and finance executives predict that adoption rates will increase to 38%.

6. How Can Retailers Use Blockchain? New Deloitte Report Outlines 16 Use Cases

Last year, the value of the global counterfeit goods market was estimated to exceed $450 billion, an issue that blockchain solution providers such as Everledger and Blockverify have begun to tackle.

Everledger, for example, has been applying blockchain technology to the diamond and fine wine industries. In the past three years, more than two million diamonds have been placed on the blockchain, each with an entry on attributes like color and carat.

The retail and consumer packaged goods industries particularly stand to benefit from implementing blockchain, a new Deloitte report argues. Blockchain would be able to tackle a number of supply chain challenges that these two industries face, from traceability and compliance to stakeholder management and flexibility in the face of risks and unexpected events.

In their analysis of more than 50 blockchain use cases in the two industries, Deloitte researchers categorized them into three broad groups: consumer, supply chain, and payments and contracts.

7. Delivering AI-Powered Solutions to Contingent Labor Challenges: A Q&A with ZeroChaos CEO Jim Burke

The contingent labor market is both a large and increasingly critical component of businesses’ growth strategies. Yet the procurement software tools and services providers that enable organizations to find, engage and manage external workers have changed little over the past decade, creating an opening for pioneering companies to disrupt the space.

This opportunity is front of mind for Jim Burke, who took up in June the role of CEO at ZeroChaos. To learn more about his outlook and where he plans to lead ZeroChaos, we sat down for a quick Q&A covering his first impressions of the sector, where he plans to uncover new value for clients and how artificial intelligence will be an essential capability for his company going forward.

8. Why Supply Chain Finance Could Be the Key to Widespread Blockchain Adoption

Not to throw a wet blanket on the procurement technology fire, but when it comes to discussions of blockchain, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order.

Just last week, for example, a Gartner study found that only 1% of CIOs indicated any kind of blockchain adoption within their organizations, and only 8% of CIOs were in the short-term planning phase or looking at active experimentation with blockchain, according to the blog Artificial Lawyer. What’s more, the same study found that 77% of CIOs currently have no interest in the technology or any action planned to investigate or develop it.

But these results aren’t necessarily a death knell for blockchain. In fact, they may indicate a positive step forward. Organizations are emerging from the hype phase for the technology and instead starting to take stock of whether they have the technical expertise and talent to actually use blockchain.

9. SRM Provider Kodiak Rating to Develop Blockchain to Improve Supply Chain Transparency

The Stockholm-based supplier relationship management provider Kodiak Rating announced that it will apply blockchain technology to improve supply chain transparency and traceability and to better manage supplier risk.

Research and development will be supported by a 800,000 SEK grant (approximately $92,000) that was recently awarded to Kodiak Rating by Vinnova, a federal agency under Sweden’s Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation.

“Vinnova’s backing of the innovation shows a huge believe in [the project’s] ability to create impact,” says Sam Jenks, marketing lead at Kodiak Rating.

News of the grant comes two months after the company raised 12 million SEK ($1.4 million) in venture capital, according to the press release.

10. Q&A with Coupa Board Member Leslie Campbell on the Big Ideas: AI, Automation and the Future of Procurement as We Know It

Leslie Campbell, former CPO of Reed Elsevier and vice president of procurement at Dell Inc., has certainly seen a lot in her years as a high-level procurement practitioner from her perch in the c-suite.

Having joined Coupa’s board of directors relatively recently, Campbell had been excited about where the solution provider was headed. We recently had a chance to get her thoughts on some of the trends and predictions swirling around the industry.

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