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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 AI assistant Chatbots 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:

Use of AI in procurement - Tasks AI Chatbots perform (beyond conversational assistance):

  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......)

Procurement and Virtual Assistants

Use Case: Chatbots in Procurement

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 Virtual 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 Voice 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.

Virtual Assistant – Infosys Nia chatbot Procurement Assistant

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 suppliers 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.