The Future is...Now

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.

 The upcoming SIG Global Executive Summit is living proof that we’ve finally arrived. We can always tell when an idea is starting to take root by the number of abstracts submitted on a particular topic. At our Denver Summit in 2014, I had a conversation with Lynn Huber, wife to beloved SIG champion Bill Huber, but also a marketing genius in her own right. She mentioned how surprised she was by how few people were worried about the impact RPA will have on outsourcing as we know it. She even wrote a blog about it.  Now—with a new Summit track specifically developed because of the many submissions on disruptive technologies—nearly 2 ½ years later, we at SIG can clearly see that people are finally embracing RPA and AI, not just as business concepts but as viable solutions.

Take our Wednesday morning keynote, for example. It will be like nothing you have ever seen. More demonstration than presentation, we are bringing together subject matter experts and leaders in the space to kick off the morning with a job…to program a robot. At this point, everyone knows not to expect a “Jetson-age” robot who comes out to serve you, but few can really visualize how to make it happen in a practical sense.

Leading RPA pure play, Symphony Ventures will work with Honda North America, PeopleTicker and Denali to automate a common business process using Blue Prism. Our team of assembled subject matter experts will be taking the “every day” process of hiring an employee and…right before our eyes…will digitize it. Unfortunately it is not as easy as waving a magic wand, so we are setting up an onsite Configuration Lab where the team will work round-the-clock to automate the process throughout the Summit.

We will check in regularly for updates from the project team and by the end of the Summit, we will have hands-on insight into how RPA can revolutionize sourcing. In actuality, it’s not an overnight process—but over the course of the Summit, our delegates will learn how it can be done and what processes to consider for automation. We are so excited to see digitization in action and to be able to share it with Summit attendees. It is a topic we expect to hear more and more about and are thrilled to be on the forefront of this part of the digital (r)evolution!

For more on RPA, AI, automation and more, I recommend checking out the following:

Sarah Holliman, Chief Marketing Officer, SIG

Sarah Holliman, Chief Marketing Officer, has more than 20 years of experience in the sourcing industry. Prior to joining SIG's leadership team, Sarah was with A.T. Kearney, leading the marketing efforts for the A.T. Kearney Procurement & Analytic Solutions unit. She also spent five years at A.T. Kearney consulting primarily to financial services companies on topics that ranged from strategic planning to procurement cost reduction to back-office operations. Before joining A.T. Kearney, Sarah was in business development at one of the largest commercial banks in the country.

Sarah has held numerous leadership positions on non-profit boards promoting children, women and educational issues, and has specific expertise in membership development, fundraising and strategic development. Sarah has a BA from Furman University and an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA.