Buyers Meeting Point procurement by Kelly Barner

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Webinar Notes: Man and Machine: Redefining Procurement’s Role in the Cognitive Age

Last week, Procurious ran a webinar on cognitive technology along with panelists from IBM, Cognitive Scale, and the Entrepreneur’s Fund. The webinar is available on demand as a free, 2-part course on Procurious. For more about the webinar, or to view it on demand, click here.

As you might expect, terminology and definitions were very important in this webinar. What is cognitive computing? How is it different than AI? And who, exactly, is Watson?

The piece of the webinar that really struck me actually had very little to do with technology. Manoj Saxena, Founding General Partner of The Entrepreneur’s Fund, brought up a series of terms that I will admit I was not prepared to identify the differences between: brain, mind, consciousness, intelligence, and awareness. Humans are still required to create and program cognitive technology (at least for now) and so we can only ‘instruct’ it to replicate the things that we fully understand. It would seem that before we can understand how new technology can improve the way we run a business, we need to re-define and differentiate between thinking and decision making.

Decision making is the process of selecting between two or more options, in accordance with a set of rules/constraints or ethical guidelines. Thinking is different. In a traditional technology sense, processing data could be considered thinking. The opportunity that has been opened up to us is to have assistance thinking about less (or un) structured information. Technology has far more capacity for ‘thinking’ and is much faster and systematic than the human mind. Those strengths make supplier identification, opportunity assessment, and risk management perfect opportunities to apply AI. Learning becomes a third tier of cognitive computing – something both humans and machines do, albeit differently.

But for all the ‘hype’ about AI and cognitive technology, we apply them all the time. Some of the commonplace examples shared during the webinar include anti-lock car brakes, household appliances, and even smartphones.  As Manoj said, “A little bit of AI goes a long way.” We should not allow lack of information to cause us to be fearful of new technology.

Although AI has been embraced by consumers, we are only just starting to apply it in an enterprise context. Procurement is fortunate that AI is catching on after we started to make the transition to relational objectives. Otherwise, we’d have a lot of computing power dedicated to  getting the most savings possible. As it is, we can allow AI to support our most complex decision making in addition to automating tactical responsibilities.

If we are to use AI to ‘amplify human capabilities’ (a great phrase from the webinar) in procurement, we need to capture the unstructured information that results from the habits, behaviors, and processes associated with spend management. As much as AI has some people waiting for the robots to take over, when done right it should put people first, providing a much more personalized user experience.

The best advice from the event is to familiarize ourselves with new technology concepts now: AI, cognitive, smart machines, blockchain, etc. Chances are, the pace of development will pick up and everything still to come will be built on top of what is being discussed today. Do not delay – start building your knowledge now!

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Tuesday, 22 August 2017