CPO Crunch: When it comes to AI, the key to starting is starting

David Rae

There's work for CPOs and their teams to do in order for the 'magic' of AI to happen

Given it’s dominated almost every conversation over the past 18 months, it was no surprise that artificial intelligence was top of everyone’s minds at the recent Americas Procurement Congress in Miami.

What was evident from the discussions in the room is everyone understands the importance and the potential of AI. The issue leaders continue to grapple with, however, is identifying and prioritising use-cases for the technology – particularly when budgets are limited.

Polling carried out during the AI Forum uncovered how pervasive this problem is: more than one-quarter of respondents said their biggest barrier to developing and implementing an AI-powered solution was that they didn’t know where to start.

The week after the Congress, our CPO community gathered to discuss their approaches to AI, with one procurement chief proposing a solution. Their suggestion? Start applying AI to a business challenge and asking a simple question to spark inspiration: “How can AI help me think through a problem better or faster?”

This, the CPO suggested, is a relatively quick and easy way to identify the starting point and, consequently, generate enough potential use cases to spark excitement within the team for what the technology can offer.  

Data management was another obstacle identified by attendees in Miami, with 37% of respondents saying this, above anything else, was holding back AI implementation.

As tempting as it is to think of AI as the answer to all of procurement’s technology problems, one leader on the CPO Connect Call suggested framing the challenge in terms of data and AI: The technology needs data to work effectively, so they suggested thinking of it in simple terms: for every $1 you allocate to AI, set aside a further $5 for data management projects.

The preliminary results of our Digitalisation glide path research indicate that CPOs recognise this and are investing in the data infrastructure to support AI, with spend analysis and reporting emerging as procurement’s number-one digital investment priority for this year.

As we’ve said previously, the reasons for not rolling out AI may be good but they aren’t good enough to justify not taking action. Navigating the AI-enabled technology landscape entails stepping into the unknown. It can be confusing – even daunting, perhaps – but its promise of alleviating the mundane and elevating the strategic is an alluring proposition. However, it’s one can only be realised after taking the first step. As one CPO said: “There’s work for us to do for the magic to happen.”

This must be the place

Having signed off in Miami, there are now less than six weeks until our next AI Forum kickstarts the World Procurement Congress 2024 in London. This year’s Congress promises to be the biggest and best yet, with 70 confirmed CPO speakers – not to mention four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson – on the agenda, plus another 50 procurement chiefs in attendance. If you haven’t booked yet, the only question is: Why not?

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