“You don’t need AI or even gen AI for the sake of it.”
In today’s world, everyone is obsessed with what’s new and fresh. Like in most other functions, in procurement, the latest craze is generative AI, with ChatGPT being one prominent example. Despite new technology’s clear benefits, such as cost and time savings, it’s important to keep the problem you’re trying to solve and the business impact you’re looking to make front of mind.
Prerna Dhawan is the Chief Solutions Officer at The Smart Cube. Like many of her peers, Dhawan recognises the potential that new technology brings but also shares concerns. “Like everyone else, we’ve been on that bandwagon as well,” she tells us. “For us, there have been two key learning so far. We have already done one live deployment of gen AI. We went live with our gen AI model earlier this year, which enables users to skip the stage of manually searching for content on Amplifi PRO, our on-demand procurement intelligence platform. You just ask the question and our platform leverages a custom NLQ framework and gen AI to provide a natural language response. Using a combination of our own AI models and gen AI provides a more dependable, accurate response as pure Gen AI isn’t fully functional for all types of analysis and can’t be trusted completely.”
Navigating AI adoption
Indeed, there has been criticism from some sections about ChatGPT providing hallucinations and making key data up. For multi-million pound organisations responsible for high levels of spend, this isn’t good enough. A second learning Dhawan is keen to get across is that she believes that gen AI is being dominated by hype. She explains that with any “new shiny object”, it should be treated with caution.
“I’ve tried to explain this a little bit, but everyone is excited about new things. A recent example is another use case where we were experimenting with our digital assistant,” she explains. “There was a point where we used a 100% gen AI approach, and we were still getting issues and hallucinations where the queries weren’t being answered correctly. The team said we needed to make it work and I explained that, ultimately, a client needs to solve the problem, they’re less hung up on how this is done. Sometimes people get lost with the technology and the approach. You have to ask yourself, are you solving the problem? If the answer is to just input a human and you don’t need AI, then do that.”
Armed with more than 16 years of experience in developing client solutions, managing strategic relationships, defining product strategies and driving profitable growth, Dhawan has worked with procurement, supply chain and corporate strategy teams across many global 2000 companies. Throughout her career, she has helped them embed intelligence and analytics as enablers of competitive differentiation and business transformation, along with The Smart Cube’s co-founders Gautam Singh and Omer Abdullah.
The Smart Cube is a WNS company and is considered a trusted partner for high-performing intelligence that answers critical business questions. The Smart Cube works with clients to figure out how to implement answers faster through customer research, advanced analytics and best-of-breed technology. The firm transforms its data into insights – enabling smart decision-making to improve business performance at the top and bottom line. Together with WNS, expert resources are combined with leading digital technologies, merging human intelligence and AI with innovation.
While AI’s challenges should be acknowledged, Dhawan is in no uncertain terms about the importance of stepping out of comfort zones and meeting fear head-on. Change can be a divisive topic with human nature being to cling on to what’s familiar. However, this can result in becoming reactive and failing to keep up with competitors.
“As leaders, if we want to change the game of procurement and redefine the value we create for a business, we have to be more open to embracing new things,” she explains. “If you learn what the capabilities of new technology are and where you can actually use it, everything has strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself – do you want to be an early adopter or do you want to be a laggard in your industry? All of this has the potential to give you that competitive advantage. It’s about being open, experimenting at pace, but also not being blinded by the magic and assuming everything will just work. There will be changes needed to your processes and people’s mindsets.”
With the future of procurement set to continue to be digitally-enabled and full of innovation, Dhawan believes the function now has its seat at the table and is ready to thrive.
“If I look at my journey from when I started in procurement, clients were asking questions like ‘Who are the suppliers in the market? How do I get the best price?’ Procurement is now getting involved at the new product development stage and is even advising the business on what ingredients to use while taking a more total value approach,” she discusses. “When you’re thinking about the product, do you want to put in palm oil or sunflower oil based on sustainability considerations, and how can you justify additional costs of a sustainable supply chain? Procurement isn’t just supporting the bottom line but also influencing the broader business goals of sustainability, innovation and resilience. It’s a great time to be here.”