In our last article, we stated that our space was full of Overpriced “AI” you don’t need in source-to-pay, and one of our three examples was “Sourcing Automation” in Sourcing. To be clear, we’re not saying you don’t need automation — the whole point of software has always been efficiency through automation — we’re saying you don’t need “AI” automation.
The reason we’re doubling down into this topic is that we know there are a number of vendors pushing AI Automation and while automation is very good, AI is just not needed. But we know you’re going to get pushback if you echo the doctor‘s viewpoint here, so we’re going to double down into the details and explain why no AI is needed for great automation.
In our last post, we noted that, at its simplest, it’s the ability to auto-source a (set of) product(s) or service(s) once the need has been identified or the request approved. It’s useful, but you don’t need AI to accomplish this, just good-old rule-based (workflow) automation. After all, it’s just
- instantiating a new RFP (which can be done if you have a template tied to the product/service types)
- distributing it to known, approved suppliers (which is easily done if you have supplier management that tracks approval status and associated products/services)
- collecting the bids (automated submission management through a portal or provided spreadsheet for upload)
- selecting the lowest bids and marking it as an approved award (simple analytics)
- assembling the contracts (with templates, it’s just sucking in the supplier details, product details, and bids using tag-based search and replace)
- push it into the e-Signature portal (via the API)
- alert the buyer when the contract is ready for signature (via alerting)
1 You just need templates, and good providers have had those for a long time. And “AI” is not going to invent one you can trust.*1 It’s not too hard to tag your (provider’s) existing templates to all of the products and services you buy, and you only have to do it once.
2 When you onboard a supplier, you should tag it as approved, associate it with the products and services it is approved for, look up its risk and environmental scores, and track its performance over time. If it’s performance drops, it can automatically be suspended from consideration for new projects using old-fashioned business rules that will prevent it from being included in events it shouldn’t be. Thus, approved supplier management isn’t that hard to do and simple saved searches find all the suppliers that should be automatically invited to an event.
3 RFP and e-Auction software has been around for 25 years, so don’t let anyone ever tell you that you need AI.
4 If you’re trying to administer an award subject to constraints or goals, that’s good old fashioned strategic sourcing decision optimization. That’s not AI. MILP using classic tableau and interior point algorithms works just fine in predefined scenarios that suck in the organizational constraints … that leading SSDO (Strategic Sourcing Decision Optimization) providers were building over two decades ago.
5 Contract templates should be prescribed by Legal Counsel, not by software flipping random bits using layered statistical algorithms in combinations no one truly understands. The vendor will provide you with templates, but you should be the one reviewing them to make sure they are too your liking. This includes the standard clauses and variation by geography, industry, or risk you want to address.
6 Software integration happened for decades before AI.
7 Alerts have been standard software capability for decades, no AI needed.
If the right data is captured, and the right rules are written, standard workflow-driven software systems can be fully automated without any AI. The only thing preventing them from going from one step to the next is the human verification checkbox being completed. You can turn that off and they will work just fine. So, again, don’t be fooled that you need AI for Sourcing Automation, because you don’t. And with rules-based systems, you’re guaranteed you won’t get the odd, unpredictable result, every 10th sourcing project (because AI is only statistically effective, which means, eventually, it will always fail).
*1 Sure “Generative AI” can generate one. But there’s no guarantee it won’t be hot garbage.