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Cognitive automation experts at Aera’s summit focus on the power of data and people at firms like PepsiCo and Mars

06/03/2021 By

While cognitive automation is all about automating business processes, its implementation in procurement will come down to people accepting the use of data and advanced technologies for analytics and better decision-making, according to an Aera Cognitive Automation Summit that took place last week.

In a roundtable discussion, executives at some of the biggest consumer goods companies in the world, like PepsiCo and Mars, discussed their journey through cognitive automation.

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Aera President and CEO Fred Laluyaux moderated the conversation about best practices, the biggest challenges and the importance of implementing cognitive automation to make changes in procurement processes.

“We know that the markets and the external forces have been challenging over the past several years, creating new threats, but also new opportunities,” Laluyaux said. “So I’m curious how this context changed the decision-making environment of your respective companies.”

Karen Jordan, a Senior Vice President of Operations for PepsiCo Beverages North America, said these market changes have led to a heightened need for speed and agility. Companies have to make decisions within days and sometimes even hours. They are no longer afforded the luxury of long lead times for decisions.

Because of that, tools like cognitive automation can help speed up processes.

Other featured speakers — like Mars’ VP of Transformation Will Beery, CEO David Gutierrez of the metal and mining firm Deacero, and Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials’ Corporate Digital Officer Roy van Griensven — agreed that cognitive automation can really improve decision-making in procurement.

“Mars’ culture is highly collaborative by nature,” Beery said. “We’re people-oriented. So making decisions traditionally is not the fastest thing we do because we like to align a lot of people around the decision before we move. … With the pandemic among other things, finding out who needs to make a decision and making that decision faster is going to change how collaborative we are.”

The nature of procurement and supply chain has changed in the last few years — and has been completely reshaped with the onslaught of the Covid pandemic. Disruption is the reality that every company and procurement department is living in these days.

With heightened demand and changing consumer desires, the path forward isn’t clear. No one really knows what the next five years will look like for procurement. But that’s exactly where cognitive automation can help. It can use data to automatically make recommendations.

“The big change that is really accelerating now is the realization that you can’t rely on past experience to make decisions for the future,” said van Griensven, of Mitsubishi Chemical. “And it needs to be unbiased, factual information and recommendations, over what is kind of the feel-good based upon 10 or 20 years of experience. I think that’s something which has significantly increased. That is in no shape or form a disrespect to all of the knowledge that we have, but yet the knowledge of the boss is not, per se, what you need in order to make good decisions going forward. Because that’s not the only factor that plays into it at this time.”

That’s where data comes in. One benefit of using data solely over the human input, is that it can remove some biases. Not all biases, to be sure, but as Laluyaux said, data can help remove certain biases.

However, the journey to cognitive automation is not a linear one. It is home to some obstacles. The biggest one, according to the panel, is the human fear of becoming obsolete. As Beery said, everyone is filled with pride thinking that they’re the best at their job.

Jordan, the PepsiCo exec, also said part of the problem is that humans don’t trust data yet.

“There is something about data and quality, accuracy, management and integration,” Jordan said. “That is, you think that this world of cognitive automation is more important than ever, right? But the No. 1 question people have to get over is, ‘Where did that data come from?’ And so I do think there’s a huge body of work. It’s almost like to me, that’s step zero before you get to the human factor, which is, it takes a very different level of commitment, structure, process and management.”

While people could hinder cognitive automation, they hold the promise to full adoption. Panelists said that the best benefit of cognitive automation is opening up freedom for humans to do more and better work.

Right now, entry-level employees are having to go through troves of data and spend time on manual processes. But cognitive automation will free up those younger employees to do even more work that can help move businesses forward.

“The possibilities we see are how we make sure we’re using people’s energy on the problems that most deserve their attention, not the problems that require their attention,” Jordan said. “And I think automation offers new possibilities and really being able to turn some things over to cognitive automation, workbenches and tools, if you will. It will free our associates up to work on the most complex problems that are probably the things they want to be spending more of their time, talent and energy on anyway.”

This panel represents just one of the many sessions that took place during the Cognitive Automation Summit. Aera is providing on-demand access to its event for a limited time.

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