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Smart Automation and AI Technology Today

B2B Tech Business

Following on from our Top Procurement Infleuncers on Twitter 2017, we are launching an InstaSupply Insights series showcasing some of the content these great authors produce. Each week, we will be bringing you a different opinion piece from the top influencers' list on everything from Blockchain to digital transformation and AI. This week, it's Nic Walden's look at smart automation and AI.


We are on the cusp of a significant period of technology change and geo-political upheaval without actually fully realizing it. Over this next period, the most successful organisations will be those who today build the agile capabilities to best adapt and leverage the opportunities ahead from this period of rapid change. For those unable to, there is the headline: "in 10 years, 50% of companies in your supply chain won't be in business".


We may excuse ourselves for the distractions of recent events like the Brexit negotiations and the continued problem that is President Trump. The impacts of these events will continue to be felt into 2018: whether it be the redrawing of relationships between US, Russia, Europe and China to favour bilateral trade agreements, global risk disruption from continuing volatility in oil, resources, currencies, and increasing tensions between major oil producers in the Middle East, sustained migration and the rejection of globalization, not to mention the North Korea situation.


Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies provides one view of must-know emerging technologies.  This model predicts technologies like Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to become mainstream within the next 2-5 years, with others like Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Augmented Reality (AR) expected with the next 5-10 years. Autonomous Vehicles, Human Augmentation and Brain-computer Interface being even further out.

However, there are already early adopter examples available as reference points for many of these technologies. Robotic Farming is being piloted here and here, such that machines (think drones, IoT sensors, autonomous farm vehicles, and traditional picking robots) operate industrial-scale farms. In some cases a single farmer can replace the work of hundreds. Other recent start-ups are prototyping 3D printers able to produce consumer cosmetics, drugs, and clothes. Major Middle East countries are redeveloping entire economies to respond to the threat of sustainable technologies able to extract carbon and energy from thin air! And Blockchain has the real potential of turning supply chain transparency and supplier validation on its head.


By definition, competitive advantage implies you have something that many do not. To achieve this goal in today's environment of significant digital upheaval, a new agile approach is needed that balances risk and embraces rapid innovation in new digital: cloud, IoT, rapid prototyping and multiple frequent releases, UX and customer centricity, real-time analytics, and smart automation to augment our human intelligence. Organisations like Citi, Siemens, and Astra Zeneca are examples of large companies taking emergent approaches to new technology solutions. Adding new cognitive or digital roles to develop the application of these emergent technologies may be needed - they're less likely to be enterprise level, product ready, or with fully thought through use cases.

Lastly, a new holistic approach to the use of technology is needed. One that identifies and understands the strengths and contribution of each part of the existing and emergent tech puzzle: ERP, best of breed, business process models (BPM), and the smart automation components (RPA, digital assistants, orchestrated service agents, and cognitive AI).

Smart agile automation is already happening in these examples and many others:

  • Bosch: 2016 SSON service excellence award winner for RPA efforts with requisition to order process in indirect procurement.
  • Maersk Group: employs a virtual robot to price 9,000 items in 300 different ports, reducing the equivalent human effort from 4.5 hours to 30 minutes.
  • Vodafone: developing capabilities for faster decision making with cognitive category assistants, specialists and potentially category managers.
  • IBM: widely marketed for its development of IBM Watson in areas of buying assistance, cognitive analytics, contract risk and supply chain risk.

One word of warning: do not forget digital transformation comes with it’s own increased risk drivers, especially linked to cyber and information security, intensifying competition, potential of disruptive innovation (ex. Uber, Airbnb), and increased reliance on limited, yet critical talent. 

Follow Nic on Twitter for more great content and make sure you join our regular #instaschat for more insights!  


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