“Let us welcome our newest chatbot to the team!”

Remember the good old days where most manager’s had personal assistants?

You may not because it has been many decades since it was viable to have a large pool of secretaries to whom you could delegate tasks. Technological aids have facilitated the self-service model which in-turn has seen the decline of the secretarial pool – yet we are still not at the stage that we can easily delegate complex tasks with one or two sentences. Little wonder then, that AI-powered chatbots are bringing the secretarial pool into the digital age.

The average consumer is probably more familiar with Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and the Google Home Assistant. The people who use these voice interfaced assistants regularly, do often use them as secretaries. They ask the devices to enter appointments in their calendars, add items to shopping carts, with the more tech-savvy users able to link services together to perform banking and other tasks with simple voice commands. Indeed, many businesses have integrated chatbots into their sales and customers support process. A recent survey by Oracle suggests that a significant portion of their sales executives are either already using chatbots or planned to use them by 2020.

But what happens when Alexa meets Procurement?

SAP Ariba has already unveiled an enterprise digital procurement bot powered by artificial intelligence that is a marriage of digital assistants and procurement. The pitch for SAP Ariba’s bot is that the bot will enable buyers and suppliers to converse with their SAP Ariba applications much as they would other digital assistants. The bot will, in turn, use machine language to train and learn about a user’s preferences and a company’s policies and procedures; and, guide actions in line with them to reduce errors and speed processing.

In other words, SAP Ariba hopes to return to the days when you could tell your secretary to make sure the purchase order was correct and leave it to them to sift through the minutia of administrative errors that still plague B2B interaction. SAP Ariba’s chatbot is a start, but it is far from what is possible for chatbots in procurement.

Early in 2017, procurement expert Bertrand Maltaverne detailed his vision for what shape a voice interface to procurement process might take. More than a year on, and we have moved from the concept phase to start to give serious consideration to what aspects of procurement are more bot-able than others.

Give the routine tasks to your chatbot. 

Could it be that the procurement function of the future will have bots doing all of their routine tasks? This will free up your time to do the value creation work, building relationships and networks.  All those queries that require your attention can be answered by your bot – the single point of contact… or at least the first point of contact before escalation. You could have your bot managing all those pesky low value transactions and reduce your time creating purchase orders. How about the bot that helps with tender evaluations? Time is money and your chatbot has the capability to save your business time, then it doubles down on by learning as it goes, and becomes far more efficient and effective over time.  

Now, all you need to do is name your chatbot!

A great way to name your chatbot is by relating it to what it actually does, procurebot, buyerbot, botthebuyer – etc. My personal favs are a little more fun like turbot, hotbot, whatalottabot, wottabot.

Indeed, we are so used to having to turn to our computer for even the smallest information retrieval tasks, we have forgotten that not too long ago, our predecessors in procurement, would simply turn to their secretary and ask, “Hey, can you contact PI to set up an initial consultation?” Let’s talk! [email protected]

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