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Bot revolution is reforming business procurement activities

Procurement specialists deal with a lot of data and can waste time looking for information, such as documents and company policies related to contracts management.

Xiaoice was designed to hook users through lifelike, empathetic conversations, satisfying emotional needs where real-life communication too often falls short. — © AFP
Xiaoice was designed to hook users through lifelike, empathetic conversations, satisfying emotional needs where real-life communication too often falls short. — © AFP

Companies are using bots to cut costs, save time, make their processes more efficient and enable a faster and more accurate response to customer and employee queries. The use of bots cuts across organizations in a variety of industries, such as retail, travel, healthcare, and finance.

The main advantage is that through the use of bots, firms are able to provide a 24/7 service to customers. This is especially so in larger enterprises. According to a recent report by Fortune Business Insights, the global chatbot market size is expected to grow from $396.2 million in 2019 to USD $1,953.3 million in 2027. 

According to analysts at apsolut, from a report shared with Digital Journal, due to advancements in AI and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and the increasing affordability of intelligent technologies, more midsize and smaller organizations are seeking to use bots. The driver is with providing a round-the-clock service to customers.

Freeing up procurement in SMEs for value-add tasks

Small and medium-sized enterprises are also becoming more aware of the benefits they can gain by using intelligent bots outside of customer communications. For example, to streamline business processes and to answer employee queries, according to the apsolut data. Bots are a great way to automate repetitive tasks and can act as digital assistants, making employees far more effective at their jobs.

Procurement specialists deal with a lot of data and can waste time looking for information, such as documents and company policies related to contracts management. Procurement also deals with a lot of repetitive tasks like processing purchase requisitions or invoices which bots can do more efficiently, freeing up procurement for more value-add projects.

The different types of bots

The apsolut data finds that two different types of bots are deployed. The first one is conversational AI (CAI), which is commonly known as a chatbot. The key feature of chatbots is they allow you to communicate with your system in your natural language, either by voice or typing.

The second type is the RPA bot which is designed to execute specific tasks. These tend to be simple and repetitive tasks, like going to a mailbox, extracting a PDF invoice, and moving that document into the procurement system. RPA automates predefined workflows but when we combine it with machine learning, the bot can understand the likely outcomes of choices and make its own decisions.

How SME procurement departments are using bots

As an example of application, apsolut have found that firms are starting to use chatbots to automate simple FAQ tasks in procurement. For example, answering a question like “How do I need to create my purchase requisition and who still needs to approve it?”. To address this, some mature, midmarket companies are using bots to automate up to 80-90 percent of their processes, especially in procure-to-pay (p2p).

There is a growing awareness that bots can also handle more complex tasks within the source-to-contract area. For example, sending out RFPs, and doing the negotiation for small volume contracts.

Interconnected bots

Many midsized organizations tend to build more intelligent RPA/ML bots to perform specific tasks. If there’s a second task they want to automate, they build a second bot and there’s rarely much communication between the bots. This is starting to change. Bots are becoming more interconnected and evolving into comprehensive digital assistants. apsolut have designed a bot called ProBo, which is an RPA chatbot that sits in Microsoft Teams. The bot makes it quicker and easier for users to create and complete purchase requisitions in SAP Ariba and to approve work items.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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