Discuss, debate and exchange ideas on latest trends and opportunities in the Business Process Management (BPM) landscape. Deliberate on adding “business value” to clients, vendors, employees and various other stakeholders to enhance customer satisfaction and sustain long term partnerships.

« July 2018 | Main | September 2018 »

August 28, 2018

10 Ways in Which Virtual Assistants/ Chatbots Can Deliver Major Value for Procurement


The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Smart learning capabilities and Natural Language Processing (NLP), compounded by an ever-increasing user expectation for personalized and real-time interactions - has opened up a new world of opportunities for revolutionizing the user experience.

Interfaces capable of supporting human-like interactions in a multichannel environment or simply 'Chatbots or Voice Assistants' are now regarded as critical for delivering a personalized experience. 
Smart assistants combine Artificial Intelligence and a real-time messaging/voice service to assist users to complete tasks without/ or with minimal human interactions. For instance, smart assistants like Siri modify search results based on user behavior to enhance your overall experience.  

Besides smart assistants on mobile devices, these Chat Bots are now increasingly being utilized across businesses to improve customer experience, drive efficiencies and to provide real-time support. 

Procurement and Virtual Assistants-  The art of possible

In the evolving world of Procurement, where the thrust is increasingly on improving user's buying experience and driving spend through compliant channels as a part of the larger digital transformation vision- these Bots can be effectively leveraged to create replicable however unique user experiences based on specific nuances like buying behaviors, patterns etc. while keeping it conversational and straightforward (in natural language) for the users.

Here are 10 reasons why Chatbots or Virtual assistants can drive value for Procurement:

  • Automated personalized interactions: These assistants can converse with users/ Requisitioners- in similar manners they are used to interacting with procurement teams today- emailing, calling, through Procurement systems etc. through a voice/ message/ any other type of interaction.
  • Training on Policy and guidelines: They can educate the users and provide answers using Enterprise (procurement policies & guidelines) and Buyer (buying behaviors, patterns etc.) specific knowledge
  • User-Friendly Guided Buying: These assistants can be configured through prebuilt instructions to provide appropriate recommendations for purchasing including approved models, preferred vendors & buying channels based on Procurement policies and buying channel guidelines
  • As a 'Personal buying assistant' for users to help identify the right products, create /auto-fill purchase requisitions, seek approvals, provide status information etc.
  • Initiate Proactive Alerts on possible supply disruptions, delivery failures, etc. based on integration with Business Intelligence (BI) & Market Intelligence (MI) systems.
  • Enable real-time decision making for Procurement by performing complex activities like identification of duplicate orders, vendors and invoices; studying spend patterns to identify spend consolidation and cataloging opportunities etc. which can be provided as an input to Sourcing & Category managers for designing future strategy.
  • As process owner- ensuring completeness of the purchase process, raising alerts for delays and maintaining an audit trail for the process.
  • Multichannel experience: These Assistants can also provide the service across multiple channels viz. Web, Mobile, Instant messengers, voice-enabled devices, Wearable devices, etc. hence making it easier for the user to take decisions, order & track deliveries 'on the move'.
  • Multi-Language support: Many of these assistants today can support multiple languages through real-time translation capabilities thus leading to a reduction/ elimination of the overall need for maintaining a resource heavy 'Procurement desk'.
  • Easy to Integrate: These assistants can be easily integrated with most ERP systems without the need for replacing the core systems.

What is critical here to understand- is that these bots not only provide just conversational assistance or information but also serve as a virtual buddy or a 'Guide' performing one or more of the below tasks:

1. Providing Real-time responses and recommendations to user requirements based on prebuilt/ coded instructions.
(Conversational Intelligence)
2. Guiding the user to the most appropriate buying channel/ preferred vendors based on coded instructions, contracts, company's policies, thresholds etc. through integration with the companies ERP and other backend systems, and then conduct activities on behalf of the user like filling up request forms, conducting searches. (Integration Intelligence)
3. Adapts to provide a more personalized & proactive experience based on continued past learnings (Cognitive & Adaptive UX) (Providing, Guiding, Adapts......)


digital proc 2.1.png


Example
Let's consider an example of one of the procurement business processes being driven through a 'Virtual Assistant/Chat Bot' 

Consider "John"- an enterprise buyer is looking at purchasing Laptops for his team 

Instead of manually searching an item in the Procurement system or catalogs which is the usual process, John now gets to interact with the Virtual Assistant instead, in the language of his preference either through chat or voice mode to enquire on the approved models, vendor and respective prices offered for different laptop models. 

The Assistant in response triggers search through the company's catalog and provides the result in a visually enriched format- John can then browse these search results using familiar swipe left/right options and can choose the most appropriate options, the Virtual Assistant then goes on to complete the process by prompting for quantity, expected date of delivery etc. and suggests top 3 suppliers. 
It further goes on to aid the user in raising the Purchase Requisition (PR) and pushing it in the backend ERP system through a series of underlying process bots and provides the PR number to the user. The Assistant also ensures that the approving authority gets the same in its actionable list when they log in and follows the process until its completion. 

Some of the virtual assistants for e.g. Infosys Nia - Procurement assistant has inbuilt predictive abilities backed by analytics which further helps a user or buyer to identify the performance & risks associated with a supplier based on their past delivery performance and other parameters captured in backend ERP/ performance management systems and eventually helps the user in taking the correct decisions as regards purchase. Additionally, it offers a 'Vendor' side assistant as well which enables your vendors to have ready access to information on their invoice status and reasons for blocked invoices and contact persons - and can heavily impact the email/call volumes of supplier helpdesks.

Hence 'Virtual Assistants' due to their inherent smart capabilities make a viable, efficient and cost-effective proposition for procurement and delivery of a friendly and empowering experience for business users. 

Authored By 

Riya Nehra 
Principal Consultant - Solution Design



August 24, 2018

Digital Procurement - Part 2


A wave of digital disruption is upon us and we are all being impacted. While this disruption is being led by a few organizations, the ones getting disrupted are trying hard to transform themselves and stay relevant. Most of these organizations are working on their digital transformation strategies to develop new products and services to improve their digital customer's experience. 

In my last blog, I had defined what is "Digital Procurement" and provided a high-level approach on how organizations can start on this transformation journey from Digitalization to Innovation

Digitization à Automation à Experience à Innovation

To summarize "Digital Procurement" is re-examining the complete process of acquiring goods and services in order to deliver business outcomes for an organization and rethinking hot to use new capabilities to design and deliver best possible procurement experience for users. Based on my experience of several digital procurement transformation projects, I believe any organization can digitally transform their procurement using a simple 4 step approach as shown below : 

Procurement.png

Let us understand each of these steps: 

1.      Digitization - As per Gartner's IT Glossary, Digitization is the process of changing from analog to digital form, also known as digital enablement. So as a first step of "Digital Procurement", organizations should focus on manual procurement processes to a new system in order to make them repeatable and bring spend visibility. Most organizations have already realized the importance of "Digitization" and have made significant investments in this area. There are three types of technology solutions that can help us in this area:

a.       ERP Procurement - This is the basic form of procurement digitization and most of the organizations today have already implemented ERPs to digitize their downstream procurement i.e., purchase order and invoice management processes.

b.      Source to Pay (S2P) Suite -. Many solutions that are in trend nowadays are not competent enough to manage upstream processes in Sourcing and Contract management. While most S2P suite vendors (through a series of mergers and acquisitions) have tried to develop end-to-end solutions including specialized areas like VMS (Vendor Management System) and travel solutions etc.; however, organizations have either not digitized all of these processes or even if they have it is broken due to their use of "best of breed" approach - therefore this still remains the biggest opportunity for any organization.

c.       Niche Point Solutions - While S2P suite solutions are helping organizations they fall short on many areas like contract compliance, invoice digitization, tail spend management to name a few. This has resulted in emergence of multiple smaller niche, best of breed point solution vendors that help organizations overcome challenges of S2P suite solutions. This is also a big opportunity as these niche solutions do not cause disruption to the existing landscape and ensure faster adoption as they provide functionality that is very close to the business.

 

2.      Automation - While the digitization of procurement processes can help an organization to unify procurement and get spend visibility, it has in true sense not automated the entire procurement process. "Automation" by definition is the technique of making an apparatus, a process or a system operate automatically. But most ERP, S2P and even niche solutions require human effort to run procurement processes on the system. This is also due to the fact that the processes are spread through disconnected systems which cannot be integrated because of cost and other IT challenges. Due to this, the procurement department that ideally should focus on strategic tasks like supplier management gets defocused into handling tactical tasks of operational procurement. Automation can help overcome these challenges.  Broadly, there are three forms of "Automation":

a.       Rules Driven or Deterministic - There are many procurement processes (or steps in a process) that are repetitive, completely rule-based but still require manual effort/humans to complete the same. For e.g. - Supplier and Material master maintenance, PO Management, PR to PO etc. All such processes (and steps) can be fully / partially automated using RPA (Robotics Process Automation) software.

b.      Data-Driven or Predictive - In Procurement, there are multiple processes steps that can be automated based on learning from data (machine learning) and rules. For e.g. - We can automate material master and supplier creation using machine learning that can help us easily identify duplicate materials and supplier creation. Similarly, we can automate or provide decision support for activities like budget compliance, contract compliance etc.

c.       Knowledge-Driven or Cognitive - The supreme form of automation requires us to digitize organization's knowledge and co-relate it with data and rules to automate processes steps or provide superior decision support thus making processes faster. For e.g. - We can consolidate all past RFPs, the responses and reasoning of supplier selection to build a knowledge model. Using this model, we can help procurement teams to select the right supplier rapidly.

So as a second step of "Digital Procurement" organizations should focus on "Automation" and automate all process and steps in order to free up end user and their procurement department to do their core functions.

3.     Experience - For any Digital Transformation, "Experience" is the key success factor. In Procurement it is even more important because of the complexity involved due to different user roles - Business (Requester), Buyer (Procurement), Suppliers and different spend types - direct and indirect, goods and services, simple and complex.

 

For successful digital transformation of the procurement function, we will need to ensure that the experience is contextual and user-centric, to the supplier and to the business rather than just the buyer:

a.       User Centricity - It is said that the best "User Experience" is "Invisible". However, the same cannot be said about User experience in Procurement. Most procurement systems cater to only a subset of spend type leading to a multitude of systems thus making it complex for business users. Further, most procurement systems have been designed from only keeping one user type in mind - the buyer. While it may work well for procurement and its processes, business users are not able to adopt as procurement as it not integral to their current role. So for successful digital transformation in procurement, we need to design "User Centric" experiences. For e.g. - A service engineer in the field should be able to order and track a part request from their core service management application. By becoming user-centric we will be able to solve a key "User Adoption" problem which will ultimately benefit the core business of an organization.

b.      Supplier Centricity - Suppliers are core to most organizations as they hold the key to make an organization successful or unsuccessful. However, when organizations want to involve suppliers in their core business processes they are again faced with similar issues as end users i.e., current procurement systems including supplier networks and supplier portal are buyer-centric and are designed from buyer organization perspective and not supplier perspective.

This leads to a big issue as most good suppliers find it difficult to integrate with multiple buyer systems and hence never are a true partner which is a core requirement for Digital Transformation. Hence, it is critical that we develop a supplier portal and network with "supplier at center" to ensure that we help supplier become our business partner easily.

c.       Business Centricity - Every organization's procurement is central to their growth as it can impact both the bottom line by reducing cost and topline by helping the organization innovate faster through supplier led innovation. However, the same cannot be said about the procurement system which are one size fits all. Due to this, most organizations do not consider procurement strategic to their business. The needs vary, for e.g., a financial service company buys mainly services compared to a retail company that buys both goods and services vs. a manufacturer who buys raw material, parts etc. But the procurement system tries to generalize everything or provide a solution in multiple systems leading to broken processes. For an effective digital transformation, we need to ensure that procurement systems are designed and implemented with a "Business Centric" approach.

4.       Innovation

Digital is about finding new ways of doing things. Hence, innovation is the key to successful Digital Transformation. While organizations go through the Digital Transformation journey of Digitization to Automation to Experience, innovation is being used to either fix the problems that already exist or simplify how we do procurement today.

 

We have to look at Innovation from a future perspective as well. We have to look at new technologies and try to find new ways of doing things with a core objective of making procurement "autonomous". This means that procurement operations should run on its own and user intervention is only required to handle exceptions or issues. At the same time, procurement team bandwidth should be focused on the "Next". Procurement should focus on the following technologies in the coming years as these will have the greatest impact both on their function and roles:

a.       Artificial Intelligence (AI) - AI will have profound impact on procurement as it will help organization reduce cost through spend forecasting, select right suppliers based on risk analysis, manage contracts better using AI-powered analysis and compliance management, generating purchase request based on historical pattern based on projects or other means, manage supplier performance/risk and better cash flow management. 

b.      3D Printing - As 3D Printing technology will mature, it will help organizations innovate rapidly as they can print goods based on design. This will also become a new category with possibly the largest spend. Thus, lead to increased efficiency and savings as there may not be any dependency on suppliers especially in a maintenance scenario.

c.       Blockchain - This is another technology that can completely renew how we do procurement today. Given that Blockchain can create one of the most secure forms of digital trust, it can lead to simplification of current day procurement platform and supplier networks by merging the two and creating a common "Uber" like platform connecting both buyers and suppliers in real-time and that is not managed by any central body or organization.

d.      IOT (Internet of Things) - As 5G penetration will increase, we will get closer to a connected world where all devices and machines will generate an unprecedented amount of data. This will provide us with visibility into things we do not understand today due to lack of data like market fluctuations, demand patterns, consumption patterns and much more. This will help us create better procurement solutions and help us create new ways of doing things transforming the way procurement is being done today.

e.      AR / VR (Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality) - This is another technology that can transform procurement. Using AR / VR end users can search and view goods and services in a near real environment rather than just reading the description. Similarly, the goods receipt and quality check process can be completely renewed resulting in massive efficiency benefits as goods/services can be checked even before they are delivered.

While any organization on a Digital Procurement Transformation journey can adopt the above approach, it is very important to understand that "People" hold the key to any digital transformation and should be at the center for any successful transformation.


Authored By
 
Shubham Tripathi 
Business Development Manager

August 21, 2018

Integrating People, Process and Technology


People, process and technology are the key components of our outsourcing world. These entities interact with each other through data exchange and we are talking about a lot of data exchange. Automation and advanced analytics are the best bet to optimize interactivity and in designing business improvement measures from a strategic perspective. 

The lack of sustainability in the business can be traced back to the absence of good data analysis. Good practices go unnoticed, best practices remain unidentified and opportunities for an innovate improvement are lost from visibility. 

Ineffective activities analyze how to save costs, how to identify root causes for complex problems in process management, which are very often encompassed in the unspoken and extremely specialized habits of the business process. Those problems are complicated to address because they link to different specialized sources of information, with an accumulated experience of hundreds of years of practice. We need a smart, adaptive and cognitive approach to be able to suggest new insights. 

Fortunately, Infosys offers a synchronized package of three High-End Services: Business Transformation Services, Data Mining Centre and Robotics & Automation. They seamlessly support Outsourced Operations, also called Infosys Engagements to offer new services with a strong added value to their Clients.

We are talking about ambitious, end-to-end cases in which added value- at first is undetectable or unmeasurable. Where can we save a significant amount of money by analyzing a dataset of 20 million invoices/PO over 4 years? Bringing new insights to the business means, simultaneously matching up to global standards as well as understanding the current services being delivered to the client. 
Such a customer-centric approach obliges operations to push the Client's core business to higher levels of maturity: acceptance, that there is a need for improvement on both sides of the service (service provider/Client), acceptance that the service provider is closer to the client's core business. Once the processes are better controlled, almost automated, next steps are to set an adaptive business improvement.

Thanks to smart business-driven data analytics and continuous recommendations for improved practices, the collaborative efforts of business experts and processes are constantly analyzed and weak points are identified. We just entered the cycle of cognitive services, where intelligence and experience pit their wits against each other to create the added value. 

Seamless and efficient cooperation between high-end engagements is vital in identifying the value added to the client. Business Transformation Services drives the change on a global level; it provides an insight into the evolution of the organization and defining the right course for the transformation. It designs new efficient ways for the organization to operate, (among other things, people accept to share their data) and suggests a hypothesis for higher competitiveness.

Then, the various hypothesis made for process maturity improvement need to be checked. This is where the Data Mining Center is involved. It uses prescriptive and predictive analysis. Its data scientists and data engineers change business behaviors from "reactive" to "proactive". They support a more effective human decision-making process and detect opportunities for cost reduction, process compliance increase with, for instance, fraud detection. It is now possible to simulate, to work-shadow, to analyze different realistic scenarios enough without endangering nor slowing down the current process being analyzed.

Once process and data are analyzed, what happens after we eliminate the problematic cases in our everyday activities? Robotics Process Automation is the current answer. Processes are made less labor-dependent, more accurate and less risky. High-end engagements become extremely and exclusively competitive towards the service of the client. Professionals from Operations receive updated skills and are able to encompass statistical challenges such as :

  • How to qualify, analyze and improve the result of the work faster? 
  • How to solve difficult issues that could not be automated?

The time has come for Client Transformation, Process Adaptation, People Reskilling, as the information we process is done so through complex analytics, the continuous -and quick- capacity of business value creation must be ready for tomorrow, if not already for today. AI, ChatBots, Augmented Reality, quantum computing are a few emerging examples of the daily components we will have to deal with and all of them rely on a common factor: integration.

Authored By

Olivier Magnan - Senior Analyst - Knowledge Services &

Kateryna Yastrebova -Analyst - Knowledge Services


August 2, 2018

Current Trends in the Outsourcing Industry


Outsourcing as an industry is just a couple of decades old. The first instances can be traced to the late 80s. Since then companies have come a long way, now relying on BPOs to get most of their non-core services done (HR, Finance, Procurement and Fulfillment). 


The digital business space was primarily serviced by marketing agencies carrying out digital marketing and other allied services. With the advent of platforms and programmatic, these services have been outsourced too to BPOs. Scalability and cost arbitrage helped outsourcing thrive.  
However, today, there are three industry trends that are driving businesses to re-look at captive models rather than outsource. 
These are: 
Infographics for Inlead 650px  195 px.jpg

Digital Transformation is the consolidated effort by an organization to transform (better organize) their business workflows to digital in order to make it faster and more effective. This can be implemented by various levers such as digitization, tech intervention etc. All these have an impact on the operations of the business as it's an org-wide initiative with impact in every department. Hence outsourcing is becoming a less preferred option.

Automation 
the process of making machines do all repeatable tasks thereby reducing dependency on humans - is a strong driver against outsourcing. This is mostly done by tech intervention which can be as basic as XL automation to something as robust as implementing a robotics platform. This ensures a decrease in headcount and creates avenues for people to diversify effort into other work areas which can give greater financial benefit to the organization.

Data Ownership 
The USP of the digital medium is its measurability. A lot of data is being captured and used for various (typically) sales and marketing activities. However, the collection of this data also comes with its caveat of security and usage. With new initiatives like GDPR clients are becoming vary of data ownership in the outsourcing model. This is a primary driver to the decision making process. Owing to the above reasons, we are seeing a lot of shakeup and changes in the digital industry. Interesting times ahead. 

Outsourceability Grid 
As part of DBS' client-focused approach, we have created an Outsourceability grid that will help the clients view their processes or brands (in case of multiple brands) in a grid that accurately captures their stage in the outsourcing journey and helps them understand the benefits they can derive out of outsourcing. A brand or processes' place in the grid is a combination of its potential for getting outsourced and the operational challenges it currently faces. By filling up a simple questionnaire, the customer helps us gauge and measure these factors. Along with their response and some publicly available data, we configure the brand/process' place in the grid and showcase how each of them can derive benefits from outsourcing.

Authored by 
Sreepriya Swaminathan, Domain Principal, DBS COE

Subscribe to this blog's feed

Follow us on

Blogger Profiles

Tweets by @InfosysBPM