our next dear guest for interview is Bob Booth, VP – Cognitive Process Re-engineering Lead, Europe at IBM. Bob started his career as a chartered accountant over 25 years ago while spending much of his career in various procurement roles. Currently, as a Vice President in IBM he is helping his clients and colleagues to unravel the complexities of Cognitive, AI, BlockChain, RPA and ERP technologies.
Bob, you’ve spent large part of your career in the procurement world, however changed to a more general „proces re-engineering“ recently. Do you still feel as a procurement guy?
I started my career in finance, then spent fifteen years in Procurement and my latest role is a return to a role outside, covering transformation of finance, HR, Blockchain, industry specific processes plus procurement. So to answer your question I think of myself as a business transformation guy, most focussed on finance and procurement, looking for new technologies to drive change.
Obviously working for the largest corporations, making large deals might be a bit disconnecting from what is happening in the majority of companies. Are you able to keep up with buyers in the SMEs to understand how they do the procurement?
I think we are all facing the same challenges, and maybe we use different tools to get to the answer, but the two biggest challenges are:
– Compliance, its less about striking the best deals, and more about making it easy to comply and hard not to comply, and
– Insight. Getting meaningful management information on spend and vendors to make the right decisions.
In the long term, can you see the trends, that started in the major corporations and cascaded over years to SMEs? Can you name 1-2 trends, that you are convinced will reach the SMEs in the next few years?
1. Blockchain is now being rolled out in some of the bigger companies as a way of fully eliminating AP effort in the back office and this will spread
2. Robotic automation will be fully baked into eProcurement tools, with simple, easy to use management interfaces
For majority of buyers and supply chain people the robotic proces automation is unknown term. Can you describe with a few examples how RPA can be used in these areas?
To clarify what we mean by RPA, this is Robotic Process Automation or Robotics, this is technology that can automate steps across systems that are otherwise manual, such as running reports, copying and pasting data, and executing transactions in an automated way, like an Excel macro does within Excel, but across systems.
The impacts will be in the areas of biggest volume of work, such as contact upload, catalogue creation etc, areas which are otherwise manual intensive.
As you oversee also other functions than procurement, is procurement different from the RPA opportunities point of view from the other functions? Is procurement specific in some way?
No, any manual intensive activities can be automated, the key us to have a stable and consistent process, where all of the necessary data can be captured into the robot.
The future will be to use Cognitive tools, like IBM Watson, which is able to have a conversation and gather all of the necessary data, then instruct a robot how to process a transaction, but that is in the ambition level of a small number if big companies at the moment. But what big companies do today, the smaller ones will within 2-5 years.
How about supply chain? This area has been undergoing massive development in the last few years especially with adoption of e-tailing into new areas and also with growing demands of consumers on the distribution agility, speed. How is RPA, blockchain or other technologies you are working with helping to address these challenges?
There are huge possibilities, from IOT devices that can pass back location and weather information to improve fulfilment ( https://youtu.be/5MAetpGPHnI ), blockchain that can make contract smarter and more efficient, and can help with supply provenance ( https://youtu.be/SV0KXBxSoio ).
We are just beginning to see how these technologies can help to take friction from and add visibility and efficiency to the supply chain.
Are these technologies readily available for any type or size of companies or only large corporations will be able to benefit from them – at least in the next couple of years?
For now big companies, pretty quickly this technology will be ubiquitous and available to all at low cost.
A lot of people are seeing automation solutions with concern – how their jobs will be impacted. Obviously the providers ensure public, that automation isn’t here to replace people, but help them, complement. Based on your experience what is the usual real life scenario – do people prefer to transform what they do or they rather leave the company to continue doing the same thing elsewhere?
The reality will be a mixture. Technology will automate many routine intellectual tasks as it has with routine manual tasks, we don’t have bank tellers any more, but we have a whole raft of new jobs. For people that can learn and adapt there will be work, as we explore the value that IT can bring to out lives .
Is there any question I haven’t asked, but I should have?
I don’t think so, the key is what are my biggest challenges in my business, and how can I fix them, not how can I apply this new piece of technology! There will always be new technologies!
Thank you for your time, Bob