Innovative Technology Demo – AI, Voice and IoT at Jaggaer Rev Event

One of the day two breakout sessions at the recent Jaggaer event was titled “What will procurement look like in 2030?”

That is a pretty optimistic title for a 30-minute session, and the speakers didn’t really try to answer that question in detail. But the three innovative and emerging technology ideas that Jesse White and Georg Roesch, two of the firm’s senior product management guys, took us through were nonetheless interesting. And these are not wild visions or early prototypes. Jaggaer suggested these should be available in a fairly short timescale – over the next 18 months.

The first is the virtual assistant – built on AI technology. This enables interaction between user, the Jaggaer software (we’ll call it the platform) and of course the data stored within it, using a natural spoken language approach. It uses Google technology for dialogflow, natural language processing, and machine learning – and their own Jaggaer application for the data mining element (finding the appropriate information from within the platform).

One option is the sort of “chat” interface on the screen of the sort we increasingly see in a B2C environment when online with our bank or mobile phone company. In this case, you might ask a question like “Can suppliers see the status of a contract in creation”? That brings the answer, “Generally speaking, contract status is not visible until some actions have been taken …” etc.

So, procurement staff or other stakeholders and users can get advice on using the platform, and the same idea applies to a speech response as well (in which the answers come back in a somewhat dodgy robot voice …!) And if it is procurement staff asking the questions, then they might be something like “how many active contracts do we have with company x”?

“You have 11”, comes the answer. And the technology is smart enough to ask for clarification where appropriate and necessary – ask it to “get me my supplier information” and it will ask which information – basic data, or performance numbers perhaps. Jaggaer aims to have this live in 2019 “earlier rather than later” in that year. According to my Spend Matters colleagues in the US, a handful of other procurement technology vendors are also at similar stages with this technology, so the good news is we're going to see this becoming pretty widespread, we suspect.

The second innovation area is the Internet of Things (IoT). This is about “executing an action, based on an event” and will start moving purchasing organisations away from getting requests to buy items, to automatic replenishment. That will still be governed by rules of course but will be very automated compared to today. (In competitive terms, my US colleagues suggested that “Oracle is the one to watch” in this area …)

The process uses an MQTT “broker” which takes the data from the IoT chip linked to the item and transmits the message, for instance a purchase order in effect, directly to the supplier. So automatically ordering a new ink cartridge for a printer that is running low on ink is a pretty simple but neat application. Jesse explained that this still needs more standards around handling data safely, and messaging standard across the industry which are not determined yet. So, there isn’t a technology issue in terms of implementation timescales, it is about the industry getting aspects like standards sorted out – that could take 18 months or so, he says.

Voice controlled personal assistant in procurement

The third innovation is not a million miles away from the first in terms of its aims and is being developed in the Jaggaer Direct stable. It uses the Google Echo dot in an ““Alexa, ask Jaggaer…” format. So it is self-standing rather than linked to your laptop, but the development team has set up a wide range of commands / questions to which the user can get responses.

Roesch feels that no-one is likely to do complex work via this route, setting up an e-auction for instance, but as a way of quickly retrieving information from the platform, it looks good. So, for instance, “what is the spend in category x?”  Or perhaps “What is the supplier rating for supplier x?” How many strategic suppliers do we have in purchasing organisation y?” Or even “are there any new offers for me?”

It is production ready, but it doesn’t provide context – unlike innovation number one, it can’t ask for clarification or hold conversations. And I have to say, it didn’t work when I tried it – perhaps it did not understand my “accent” given it has been “trained” by German-accented people! While it is stand-alone at the moment and not linked to a computer, it could be – you could ask a question and get an answer on screen.  “Get me all the contracts over £1 million that expire before the end of December” is the sort of question that you could get answered very quickly.

That took me back to my days as a CPO when that sort of question from the CFO would have filled me with dread, and would have caused days, maybe weeks of work for my category managers. Technology really is making procurement’s life “easier” although of course all of this innovation also takes work away from the function. The big challenge remains re-defining our role as these useful and pretty amazing innovations come into play.

Finally, the session showed that Jaggaer is still investing in innovation and clearly isn’t going to let its competitors steal the technology spotlight – it is placing some serious bets in new technology areas, as are its competitors, of course. And that’s all good news again for procurement and client organisations generally.

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