AI Beyond the Hype: This is Our Moment to Embrace Digitization - Global Trade Magazine
  October 6th, 2021 | Written by

AI Beyond the Hype: This is Our Moment to Embrace Digitization

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  • The biggest barrier to transforming procurement is changing the way people work.
  • As the last year has proven, AI is no longer procurement’s future—it is our present.

AI for business is one of the most talked-about innovations and for good reason. As in other areas of our lives, it holds the potential to fundamentally alter the processes and structures humanity has been accustomed to for decades and, in some cases, even centuries.

Yet, like many other groundbreaking technologies before it, when it comes to real-world business processes, it’s understandable to feel that the recent attention around AI’s value has outpaced the current reality. Yes, today AI can more precisely tailor content recommendations in social media apps like Instagram, Twitter and YouTube and help refine the photos we take on our phones.

But where is the AI-driven revolution in the way we work—helping us do our jobs better, more efficiently, and unlocking value in unexpected places? We believe it’s here, today.

How do we know? Because at BT Sourced, our new standalone procurement company within the BT Group, we’ve already started to see the benefits. We’ve come to believe that, properly implemented, AI can be a game-changer—and that while there’s a lot of excitement about the future of AI, we’re proof that the future is now. Here’s why.


Why AI—and Why Now?

Out of sheer necessity, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated what had been a gradual shift toward the rapid digitization of procurement. In the face of disruption, from remote work to shortages of goods and services across the value chain, having the adaptability to quickly source the best suppliers became critical. Agile procurement teams armed with cutting-edge technology were and will continue to be, best positioned to streamline sourcing, driving long-term growth and value for the BT customer and operating model.

Deloitte’s 2021 Global Chief Procurement Officer Survey found that driving operational efficiencies was the new No. 1 priority for CPOs, replacing reducing costs for the first time in the report’s 10-year history. In this next normal, procurement must modernize and simplify its processes to become faster and more agile for the near and long term.

The biggest barrier to transforming procurement is changing the way people work. Critically, the new AI-powered platform BT Sourced is using enables us to collaborate from any location by improving visibility, workflows, and communication across all functions. Increasing agility and efficiency is also key to achieving another important goal: enabling a greater focus on strategic initiatives and collaboration.

Adopting AI, along with tools that feature analytical intelligence and enable self-procurement, means our teams can now study recurring behaviors, empower end-users and discover new areas to contribute value. These new platforms are giving us the insights to make fast, data-driven decisions that benefit everyone throughout our value chain. They can be shared across the business, enabling us to work more closely than ever with our stakeholders while AI manages manual and repetitive tasks in the background.

AI for Good 

The financial benefits of AI and automation in procurement are clear. But what about other important goals such as inclusion and corporate social responsibility? How can AI in procurement support workforce development and contribute to the greater good?

At BT Sourced, we’re committed to expanding economic opportunity and reducing our environmental impact. In many ways, AI supports our commitment to more sustainable sourcing—from driving new efficiencies to enabling deeper analysis and awareness of environmental, social and financial risks throughout our supply chain. Now more than ever, we’re able to more precisely track compliance with our global responsibility model, sustainability criteria and principles of responsible behavior for suppliers regarding ethics, conduct, social issues and the environment.

We’re also leveraging AI to support supplier diversity and inclusion, expanding our network to include qualified alternatives from a base of top-performing, diverse small and midsize companies, increasing access to innovative service providers that may have otherwise been overlooked.

The Present and Future of AI

As the last year has proven, AI is no longer procurement’s future—it is our present and, without question, our future. Agile, value-added procurement requires the insights and efficiency that only AI and automation can deliver at scale. The pressing need to develop more responsible, inclusive supply chains and practices only makes the case for digital transformation stronger.

We have an unprecedented opportunity for change. Companies have a unique opportunity to move quickly to modernize their procurement technology and achieve benefits for both their stakeholders and their broader communities. We’ve arrived at the right moment to disrupt traditional models and processes, making the vision of a more efficient, sustainable and inclusive AI-powered future, a reality today.

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Cyril Pourrat is the Chief Procurement Officer at BT Group