Prepare to be disrupted

18 April 2019

Procurement teams need to start preparing now if they are to meet the challenges posed by disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), delegates at an FCIPS event in London have been told.

Tom Woodham, director, leading digital transformation at  PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC),  was one of the speakers on the panel at the ‘Disruptive Technology - what every CPO needs to know’ event earlier this month.

He warned that the move to AI is taking machines from simply being able to sense what is going on to being able to think, act and ultimately learn.

A PwC survey earlier this year showed that 20% of companies are planning to roll out AI across the business in the coming months. “Nobody said they were doing nothing this year,” he said.

CPOs need to ensure they are ready for the changes to come, using tactics such as reverse mentoring to create an AI-ready team, Woodham added.

Highlighting how far data and AI have already progressed, he cited the example of Amazon - which already credits 35% of its sales to the products that it recommends to users.

Woodham advised that, even though procurement is not usually involved in building the AI, CPOs should offer to get involved early on.

Fellow panellist Charlie Marr, commercial director at disruptor firm Headbox, echoed this point. His company, which uses data and AI to connect businesses with events venues, seeks out the procurement team at an early stage.

“If we are hired by the marketing manager they prove the need, and then we go to procurement to build the value. If we don’t they can come in later and want to pull it down,” he said.

Richie Barter, CEO of AltViz, whose AI platform captures data for a business and helps to improve processes using machine learning and cloud computing, stressed the importance of having a “good partner” in terms of change management, and said: “If you don’t get it right, stop, and move on.”

Also on the panel was Neil Garner, founder and CEO of tech firm Thyngs. He recommended that people share their learning and be open about their mistakes.

“Talk about it, tweet about it. It’s important to recognise your failure and then you can change. I know someone who gets out the champagne for the team when they fail. When you fail you learn,” he said.

There was a consensus among the panel that CPOs should share their data in a safe ‘sandbox’ environment, to enable software developers to test coding. The panellists pointed out that proof of concept (POC) is a vital part of the process to establish the needs between business and disruptive technology providers.

Woodham said: “Design a POC that works quickly, go for it, but know that it may not work.” If this happens, “Be ready to stop.”

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