Procurement Meets the Jetsons

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Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Chris Haydon, chief strategy officer for SAP Ariba.

Fifty years ago, George Jetson and his cartoon family painted a vision for the future that technologists have been chasing ever since. And it is closer to becoming a reality than you might think.

We may not have flying cars, but driverless vehicles are on the streets around the globe, transporting passengers in places like Pittsburgh and Singapore. And Rosie the Robot may not be managing our lives, but we have Siri and Alexa.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning — along with the Internet of Things (IoT) — are fundamentally changing the way we live. And they are beginning to alter the way we work. Take procurement. Paper orders and invoices are all but dead. Electronic payments are taking hold. Buyers and sellers are meeting and collaborating online.

But we’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible. Driven by business networks and advances in the technologies underlying them, procurement will continue to digitize and transform. Here are three things you can expect in the year ahead.

Predictive Requisitioning Will Become a Reality

ERP modules for MRP, budgeting requisitioning, supplier management and transactions will be linked to a cognitive/intelligent engine that will make stock-outs a thing of the past, as bots controlled by artificial intelligence mine historical transaction data to identify items that need to be ordered and, unless directed otherwise, automatically purchase them in line with company policies before supply gets low. Think of it as a Rosie for procurement.

Procurement Will Learn From Machines

Just like content streaming services analyze the search patterns and viewing habits of consumers to deliver the right content to fuel adoption and satisfaction, machines will analyze billions of financial transactions alongside the historical and real-time purchasing data and within minutes identify changes in buying patterns or pricing trends. Or scour intelligence from hundreds of global government, business, and other data sources to detect and mitigate forced labor in the supply chain and deliver it to buyers to help them make more informed decisions faster than ever.

The IoT Will Revolutionize Risk Management

Far from your Father’s Internet, the IoT is rife with a host of data. Consumers goods companies are already cashing in on it through refrigerators that tell us we are about to run out of milk and devices that allow us to turn on our lights before we get home. Procurement will begin to capitalize on this information as well, and use it to manage risk in completely new ways. Delivery vehicles, for instance, will be connected and monitored in real time to proactively predict maintenance needs and prevent accidents or breakdowns.

If all of this seems a little far-fetched, just remember the Jetsons. Like the jet packs that propelled them, modern technology will lift procurement to new heights. And organizations that embrace the trends will soar ahead of the competition.

The future is not rocket science. The building blocks and use cases to bring us to Orbit City are real and happening today. We just need to begin to apply them to procurement — or perhaps, as machines get smarter, they’ll apply them for us.

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