For the past 60+ years, the standard joke about Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been that it is “the future.” In 1950, Alan Turing questioned whether machines could think like humans…and less than ten years later, Marvin Minsky founded the AI lab at MIT. For decades, people tinkered, pondered and philosophized about robotics. Factories installed automation to remove workers from redundant tasks…but advancements in office settings didn’t progress at the same level. People hypothesized about flying cars, but few could imagine cognitive computing. I think it’s finally safe to say that the future is now. AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are no longer conceptual ideas…they are business strategies that will continue to impact our lives in radical ways.
A recent Forrester study predicts that by 2021, 6% of U.S. jobs will be replaced by robots. While it may not sound like a lot in the grand scheme of things, consider that it represents growth from 250 million in 2016 to 2.9 billion in 2021. Sure…we’ve all dealt with AI and technological advancements already: call centers that put us through a series of (irritating) steps before you can finally talk to a human; travel aggregators that find the best deal across all airlines…ads that stalk you online after one quick search for a new printer…but until recently, it was hard to see how it would really affect the world of sourcing and procurement.
I’ll admit it. I was pulling for the Falcons. Even though I lived in Atlanta for six years, I didn’t really have a stake in the game—I was never a big fan. It’s not that I’m not into sports—I was a huge Braves fan when I lived in Atlanta (when they went from worst to first) and I can tell you the names of every Golden State Warrior who was traded for Kevin Durant. Seriously. But this Super Bowl for me was a little like the election—I was rooting against one team more than pulling for another.
Now picture this…we’re watching the game at a friend’s house. We wisely recorded it so we could enjoy the good commercials and skip through the bad. It’s the 3rd quarter and the Patriots finally score a touchdown. Knowing that the Pats would still need two touchdowns, two 2-point conversions and a field goal in order to TIE the game, the odds were against them. Seemingly impossible. Now fast forward to the final two minutes. Under Tom Brady’s leadership, they’ve tightened the score to 28:20 and are driving the ball. And then it stops. What?! The DVR had STOPPED RECORDING THE GAME. That’s right. One of the best 4th quarters in Super Bowl history and the only one to ever go into overtime and we missed it.
To say I was shocked by the outcome would be an understatement. Atlanta had controlled most of the game. But as I reflect on the day, I can’t help but think of the valuable lessons it reinforced:
Much has been written recently about robotics. If you Google it, the most common word you will see in articles about robotics is “hype.” In fairness, it’s generally in the form of a question…it it hype? Is it more than just hype? Is the promise of artificial intelligence finally here? For the past two years Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have become more prominent conversations at SIG Summits…and the word on the street is that these are no longer just futuristic concepts. They are real. Much of what is out there centers on the idea that automation is just a passing IT fad. But I’m not buying it. I’ve looked behind the curtain and I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. (Nothing like mixing a few metaphors.)
Concerns abound that automation will take away jobs, and in an era where we are still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession the threat of job loss is daunting…haunting even. But is that is the most important aspect of robotics? Yes, it could take jobs away but robotics are most easily applied to positions that are repetitive and process-oriented, so the premise is that the people in those jobs can then be redeployed to more strategic roles. Gartner uses the term “automation arbitrage” to describe RPA and in effect, that is just what it is. But there are so many more possibilities with it.
And like that, another one is behind us. For months we plan every little detail to make our Summit a memorable event for our delegates. We coach speakers, edit session presentations, order matching linens, create signage and think through every thing that can go wrong to make sure that it doesn’t. And then it’s over. Just like that. The delegates have gone home, the sessions have been evaluated and everything has been shipped. But the memories of the event linger and one thing has become more and more clear with each passing event…the sourcing function is no longer back-office. It has not just gone from tactical to strategic, but is also leading companies in tackling some of the biggest issues facing our members today. Sourcing has gone mainstream. These observations from the most recent SIG Global Executive Summit highlight these points.
Data is the word of the day. And I don’t just mean “Big Data” although that is certainly a “big” part of it. Data is the key to better understanding customers. It is the way we can predict future supply needs. And yes—using “Big Data” we can teach computers to replace even complex procurement functions with little to no errors. But now Procurement groups are also hiring Data Scientists to turn that data into tangible outcomes. The baseline for smart systems is getting the data right, so pay attention…you will see the Data Scientist trend on the rise.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog…I’ve been remiss. But in my defense, it has been a BUSY year. We officially opened SIG University with hundreds of students now matriculating through it…acquired Outsource, the leading digital content thought leader based in the UK…launched a division of SIG in EMEA…and absorbed the LatAm Alliance (formerly called Nearshore Executive Alliance) as a SIG Working Council…and that is all since January! Not to mention launching a new website, starting two Working Groups, hosting our first CPO Meet & Eat, conducting several events with our European team, planning our first-ever awards event, holding dozens of one-day forums all over North America and beyond and preparing for our second Global Summit of the year! My head is spinning…it’s been quite a year. But it’s the crazy ride we call the Summit that has me thinking it’s time to write another blog.
The Summit is a time that we at SIG always look forward to with (to be honest) mixed feelings. The event itself gives us a high like no other. It is the time when we get to see all of our members face-to-face. We hear the latest innovations and ideas from world class thought leaders. We meet new SIG members…and we reconnect with our work colleagues whom we know better by voice than face. But preparing for it is a LOT of work. I’m not sure I emphasized that enough. It is A LOT of work. There are literally thousands of little details that go into making this the world-class event you have all come to expect. From the speakers to the signage…from the cups to the cocktail napkins…from the app to the entertainment…the list is LONG. We put the effort into making it a flawless event so you can come prepared to just absorb, learn, network and enjoy. But if you want a few more tips for making the week the best it can possibly be, consider these three things:
Dawn Tiura, SIG CEO and President recently spoke on an expert panel at Coupa Inspire, and shared her thoughts with candor and authority. Coupa interviewed Dawn shortly after the event and published a blog sharing her responses which we are publishing with Coupa's permission. The original can also be found on the Coupa website.
Thanks to Coupa for the blog interview below: One of our favorite parts of Coupa Inspire are the expert panels. There's nothing we love more than getting smart people together to talk shop. If you missed Inspire, you can read excerpts of the analyst panel and the CIO panel on our blog. Today we're talking with Dawn Tiura as a follow up to the analyst panel. Dawn is CEO of Sourcing Industry Group (SIG) and has been observing the industry for 25 years from her vantage point as a CPA turned sourcing consultant. There's no one smarter on the topic of where sourcing is heading, so when she remarked during the panel that in her opinion, the term buyer should be eradicated, that piqued our curiosity. So, we got her on the phone to learn more.
Coupa: You had some provocative things to say during our panel discussion. One was that you wished the 'buyer' title would go away. We were hoping you could expand on that.
Dawn: I sure could! To me, buyer is such a demeaning title. The only time somebody is excited to say, "I'm a buyer" is if they're in the fashion industry, because that's cool and exciting and sexy.
SIG Summits are known for having amazing keynote speakers…and at our Summit in Denver last fall we had a speaker who took it to a whole new peak…so to speak. In fact, our keynote Alison Levine gave us a new appreciation for the word "Summit" as she shared her experiences in climbing Mt. Everest. At first glance, one wouldn't immediately think this tiny woman had the physical stamina or grit required for this incredible journey...which is exactly why making quick judgments isn't ever a great idea. Not only did she lead a team up that most arduous of climbs, but she did it twice. TWICE. Facing extremely dangerous and life-threatening conditions within 300 feet of the Summit, she made the painful decision to turn back her first time up...but both journeys provided lessons anyone can apply as a leader. She had so many great takeaways that I'm not sure I can adequately sum them up...but my attempt and interpretation are below:
On effective teams, everyone is a leader at some point. There may be only one person with a designated leader title, but allowing people to have a voice builds trust and loyalty. And if you do, your team is more likely to look out for the people on either side of them and make sure they are moving in the right direction as well. We once had a speaker whose mantra was that you don't have to have a title to be a leader...truer words were never spoken. Think about the word "leadership" as more of a mindset than a title and you empower everyone with the ability to own it. When you give people not just room...but permission to take something and run with it, you might be surprised by the result.
We spend months preparing for each Summit...and then a week getting ready for the arrival of our delegates...and then a few days with them...and then in a blink of an eye it is over and we start again. It goes by too quickly but the lessons learned are vast and permanent. Over the next few blogs, I'll share some insights I gleaned from our keynote speakers at the last SIG Global Executive Summit. The first was retired Colonel Anthony (Tony) Wood, best known for his heroic role in the evacuation of Saigon in April 1975. Colonel Wood addressed SIG in a general session and also spent time with our most senior delegates in an exclusive CPO Roundtable. These were my key takeaways from his two presentations.
Moral courage is knowing what to do, even when you know it may cost you. Colonel Wood shared a story of leading civilian volunteers through the most unimaginable circumstances. Risking their own lives, roughly 100 American civilians in their 50s and 60s, volunteered to help evacuate 5,300 people from Saigon, a city that was collapsing. In the face of an advancing enemy army, this incredible group of people put the lives of others before their own. In a business context, knowing what to do and actually acting on it, even though it may not be in your own personal interest to do so, is difficult...but having people with that attitude on your team is enormous. Moral courage is a critical piece of business leadership.
I recently dropped off my oldest son at college. It was a momentous time sending my first child out the door. Not only did it bring a flood of my own college memories back, but it also made me realize that we often wait until the last minute before we impart the pearls of wisdom that might be most helpful in a new setting. I took the opportunity to write an article (if you call a Facebook posting an "article") to him, chock full of advice on washing clothes, changing sheets, using good judgment and much much more. As I reflect on that moment, it makes me realize that often when we approach the Summit, we assume people don’t need our advice on how to make the Summit a great experience...and you know what they say about assumptions. With three new SIG employees, it occurred to me that perhaps some Summit pearls of wisdom might be in order, so here goes:
Don't miss the networking events. Most people come to events for two reasons—the first, education is what gets the approval for the plane ticket, but it's the second, networking that often gives you the most bang for your buck. One conversation can help you solve a problem...or create a lifelong resource...or even identify a potential vendor or partner. Because of that, we factor in a lot of time for networking. Our breaks are long and our evening events are lively and fun. For real energizing networking, our Tuesday evening Speed Networking is not to be missed. Even if networking is not something that comes naturally, this "speed dating" style of networking makes it easy to meet people quickly, exchange business cards and move on. On that note...
One-on-One is a new Q&A series with leaders in the SIG community. Cost savings. Process efficiencies. They're synonymous with procurement and among the terms most used to describe its role within the enterprise. And with good reason. Over the last decade, procurement has transformed itself from a back-room function to a strategic capability by delivering them. But a new term has entered the lexicon: innovation. There's no doubt that procurement today is a different game. It's more connected, informed and some might even say "social" than ever. Just as consumers tap into personal networks to learn, share and shop better, procurement is beginning to tap into business networks. To learn more on how these digital communities are transforming the function, SIG sat down with Dr. Chakib Bouhdary, President of Business Networks for SAP.
SIG: Social tools much like those used to manage our personal lives have infiltrated the enterprise. How is this changing procurement?
Bouhdary: There are officially more mobile devices than people in the world. More than a billion of us participate in social networks. Over 15 billion web-enabled devices connect us to the people and information we need to manage our daily lives. And data is exploding—doubling about every 18 months. So we are mobile, and apps on our phones and tablets give us new ways to discover and collaborate with our peers and trading partners. Just as consumers tap into social networks to keep tabs on their relatives and friends, procurement is now leveraging business networks to manage trading relationships and commerce activities.
SIG: There seems to be a complete shift in the way trading partners communicate, transact and collaborate. How are business networks driving this?