As most specialist procurement recruitment agencies can testify, procurement as a profession has gained an unfortunate reputation for being a tad ‘old fashioned’ with many tasks still performed manually. However, a prominent expert believes that could change with the addition of AI-powered digital assistants to the team. Alex Saric, an expert on digitally-revamped ‘smart’ procurement, cites a recent survey by Gartner. It found that over half of medium-to-large businesses will be using digital assistants (DA) by 2020, freeing precious time for more strategic tasks that deliver greater business value.

Procurement practitioners, whether they are permanent employees or procurement or supply chain interims, are tasked with making sense of a fast-growing mountain of data that often defies human cognitive capabilities. It relates to purchases, invoices, product details, enormous spend management quantities, suppliers, risk indicators, plus qualitative data about supplier relationships and performance.

Enter the AI-powered, voice-responsive, digital assistant – think Alexa on steroids. These new solutions can retrieve relevant, accurate data from that vast mountain in seconds. If a procurement pro needs a breakdown of purchases made over the last six months, e.g., who they were for, when they were made, quantity, etc., they can have a conversation with a digital assistant, which will then find exactly the right information in moments, without manual searching, or compiling a new report from scratch. They can also create or edit shopping carts, expense reports, and deliver immediate updates on payments. Just say the invoice number and, ‘Hey presto!’: the DA gives exactly the right information in seconds.

As Saric notes, digital assistants are destined to be indispensable in the fast-approaching revolution of human-to-machine interaction. He concludes: “Over time, more business applications will integrate voice recognition, voice command, and AI technologies, making them smarter and easier to use. We’ve barely scratched the surface with digital assistants in the workplace, but it’s clear the potential the technology holds, particular for data heavy departments like procurement.”