Procurement Ops Digest #3: Putting AI into Practice

January 18, 2024
January 15, 2024
min read
Procurement Ops Digest #3: Putting AI into Practice

In the last issue of Procurement Ops Digest, we looked back at 2023; now, we’re looking forward to 2024.

If this past year was one where procurement leaders extolled the virtues of the potential of AI and AI-powered process orchestration technologies in procurement, then 2024 will be the year that we’ll see these ideas, concepts, and trends start to get put into practice.

It’s a long time coming, but this is always how technological innovations and evolutions happen. We don’t come up with new technology that causes change and disruption; we develop new technologies to solve problems that demand it.

In the first couple of decades of the 21st century, the tech industry ran on the idea of disruption. Sometimes it felt like things were rolling merrily along, and then BAM, some new technology upset the balance. The search engine. Cloud computing. The smartphone. More recently, AI—and in procurement, AI-powered process orchestration software.

But those technologies didn’t disrupt otherwise peaceful, harmonious, utopias.

We needed the search engine, because the explosion of the internet and the sheer volume of information demanded a better way to find things.

We needed the smartphone, because the nature of work (and life in general) required better and faster computing and communication tools that were incredibly mobile.

We needed the cloud because of the rapidly growing demands and economics of compute power, data, and storage.

The same is true now of AI and AI-powered process orchestration in procurement. The problems this technology solves have been pretty well-defined. Procurement professionals spent the past year (and then some) more or less agreeing on what they are: Procurement processes have been bogged down by the need for layers of approvals, poor visibility into the status of requests, and a lack of request triage. Too often, the result is needless complexity, low employee satisfaction and adoption, frustrated vendors, less spend under management, and longer cycles. Those problems cascade to rogue spending and risk exposure.

Process orchestration was heralded last year by procurement thought leaders and analysts for its potential to help procurement organizations finally meaningfully address these problems. 2024 will be the year that the rest of us start to understand what it was that got them so excited.

That is, this is going to be the year we see this technology put to use, and its potential realized.

Last week, we got a glimpse as to how.

More on that below, but first, here’s some news from around the industry.

Latest in Procurement

  • Ironically, major world challenges have elevated the importance of the procurement function, says Amazon’s 2024 State of Procurement Data Report | Retail Touchpoints
  • The same report says 95% of decision-makers say procurement has room for optimization | Amazon
  • Tips for CPOs on how to strategically capitalize on generative AI | Acceleration Economy
  • The Biden administration announced a new initiative to ensure the federal government gets better and more consistent terms and prices for commercial goods and services | National Defense Magazine
  • Similarly, the UK announced the Procurement Act of 2023, “to revolutionize how the UK government engages with suppliers, with a view toward ensuring a more transparent, competitive, and inclusive procurement process” | Morgan Lewis
  • Tonkean Intake Orchestration is now available in SAP store | AP

If you have some insightful news or knowledge about the world of Ops to share, let us know!

Procurement in the Field

The simple headline is this: Tonkean Intake Orchestration is now available in SAP Store. We even have a blog post announcing as much.

But that’s not the story. The story begins in the introduction to this newsletter above—that in 2024, we’ll see practical applications to serve procurement’s trends and needs. And it continues with this announcement.

The Thing is that Tonkean launched a partnership with SAP—grounded in a new product, called Tonkean Intake Orchestration, which is now available on the SAP store. Tonkean Intake Orchestration integrates with SAP Ariba Catalog, SAP Ariba Buying and Invoicing, and SAP ERP, private cloud edition. It brings AI-powered intake orchestration technology to the world of ERP software.

For us, this partnership and release marks the beginning of this big year in procurement. Augmenting the power and comprehension of gold-standard ERP platforms like SAP with Tonkean’s AI-powered intake orchestration software—which employees can access from whatever application environments they spend time in, and which they can interact with through plain-language queries—is a glimpse into what procurement’s AI-powered future actually looks like.

That new future is going to look something like this: employees able to submit POs and requests and find answers to questions via simple, intelligent interfaces accessible from whatever apps they already use—Slack Teams, email, SAP Ariba, etc.—with approvers across departments able to do their part the same way. In Tonkean, using plain-language prompts, requesters can ask for whatever they want, and Tonkean will understand the context, can automatically resolve the issue using data you’ve given it access to—or otherwise points the requester in the right direction—and funnels all the relevant procurement data back to one unified place.

Neither requesters nor approvers have to learn a new system or log into anything. Instead, they get a guided experience that works with the applications they already use. If that’s an ERP or P2P system, great. If not, that’s great too. In this new, intelligent, flexible future, it all works.

The potential of partnerships like this new one between Tonkean Intake Orchestration and SAP is to help organizations finally overcome all of the age-old challenges in procurement intake, without needing to rip out and replace anything, because process orchestration tools like Tonkean integrate with and wrap around existing solutions like SAP Ariba.

You can get more details about how this all works here. And if you want to dive right in, you can jump directly to Tonkean’s entry in SAP Store here.

This is just the beginning for us. We’re cooking up more–which we’ll be able to talk about soon.

Until then, to learn more about what process orchestration can do for your procurement team, download our updated Procurement Handbook!

Tell us about clever solutions and success stories you want your procurement peers to know about for future newsletters!

Modern Business Operations

On this episode of Modern Business Operations, host Seth Colaner is joined by the Toner Queen herself, Heather Fotch, who is the founder and CEO of Quality Imaging Solutions. Heather talks about evolving sales strategies, cultivating authentic client relationships, and providing value through transparent engagement.

Their discussion yielded these takeaways:

  • Bring personality into sales to build connections.
  • Find a niche beyond transactional sales.
  • Relationships require more than transactions.
  • Vet supply chains for transparency and diversity.
  • Diversify suppliers to mitigate risk.
  • Engage authentically without constant asks.

Subscribe to the Modern Business Operations podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Maestro's Minutes

Here’s everything we did in this month’s Tonkean release notes:

Module Builder:  

  • Intake statuses: We've overhauled the Status functionality in Tonkean, separating statuses into two categories: Intake and Triage & Coordination.
  • Thank you page redirect configuration: We've enhanced the When Form Answered action with additional configuration options for the "thank you" message displayed after a form has been submitted.

Custom Item Interfaces and Workspace Apps:

  • The Detailed Items widget provides a detailed view of an item from a list, ideal for showing additional fields for inner items that might not fit inside the Line Items widget table.
  • Line Items widget: Date range validation has been added to the Line Items widget, enabling you to restrict user input and ensure date information coming into your process is correct.
  • Dropdown options from a data source: In addition to values from your own fields, you can now include options in your dropdowns from connected data sources.
  • You can now customize the color and select a transparent background for your widget icons, providing even more options to align your workspace app page or item interface with your branding.

Enterprise Components: Users can now integrate the following new data sources: Google AI, Mistral AI, Sensible, and Workday Strategic Sourcing.

Bug fixes: User source settings in Board Settings were not saving correctly when switching between Manual and Identity Provider options.

Also, visit SAP Store to check out Tonkean Intake Orchestration!

Thanks for checking out Procurement Ops Digest! To learn more about who Tonkean is or what we do, we have a few different kinds of trials that you can sign up for. They walk users through our most salient solutions, including Legal intake, Purchasing Approval, Invoice Intake, and Email inbox automation. Sign up for one here!

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