Will buyers be replaced by AI and software in the future?

The other day I actually read on an advertisement of an electronic catalogue provider "Shopping without shoppers." To what extent is this true and will buyers really be replaced by artificial intelligence and software in the future? In my opinion, robotics is both a curse and a blessing - personally, I wouldn't want to be without the robot that mows my lawn and the one that vacuums and mops the floor. I recently posted a discussion on LinkedIn and Facebook about how many of our tasks are now being taken over by robots and how much artificial intelligence we already encounter in the service sector, for example in banking or when we book appointments via an Internet portal. Just the words robotics, artificial intelligence or thinking software trigger different reactions and some people are afraid of this development - especially employees fear that they will soon be replaced by technology.

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The development becomes particularly clear with the phenomenon of cameras. Just think of the Kodak company here. In the past, everyone had a "normal" camera with the corresponding films at home. Today, most people use their smartphones or digital cameras to take photos. The push that digitalisation and software have made here has been bitterly felt by some.

Software, artificial intelligence and the innovation behind it

Since about 2007, we have been making rapid strides in artificial intelligence and software. Corona has slowed us down a bit in the past few months, but the topic is now picking up speed again. When it comes to innovation, AI and software play a big role, but first we ask ourselves what we want to achieve with it. In principle, we humans would like to simply hand over monotonous tasks to machines or programmes. Whether that's the robotic lawnmower or the chat or telephone programme at the bank that answers recurring questions. There are many more examples from the private sphere - be it the smart speaker that we ask for the weather or that is supposed to play the right radio station, the ever-popular Google search engine that spits out the route to a customer or the phone number of the new Italian restaurant in town that our friend told us about. We have become accustomed to all this and can hardly imagine what life was like before. We have seen a lot of innovation in this area in recent years and it will continue in the years to come.

Big Brother is watching you - not all software is our friend

As many advantages as AI and intelligent software bring us, there is one point that I view critically. That is surveillance robots, which some companies like Amazon are already working on. My common sense says that caution is needed here. I myself think it's great when our work is made easier, but I'm sceptical when it comes to surveillance. My advice is to remain vigilant and not to blindly accept every development, but to approach the topic with a spirit of innovation and openness.

Artificial intelligence and robotics - what's next?

My colleague Mohammed Assef, who is very open to the topic of robots and artificial intelligence, also reacted to my LinkedIn post mentioned at the beginning. He sees a clear need for action and improvement within the purchasing departments. In his opinion, however, there must also be clear regulations without too many prohibitions. An exciting view on the topic, which shows that the developments in this area are triggering something in us. This is also proven by the figures collected by Statista, for example. From 2001 until shortly before the first pandemic year, the robotics industry generated a turnover of more than 4 billion euros. In addition to household and entertainment robots, more and more assistive robots for senior citizens and people with disabilities are currently being planned. An evaluation after the Hannover Messe this year indicates that more than 40 million robots were sold for private use in the period from 2016 to 2019. And the end of the line is still a long way off.

What does artificial intelligence mean in service and purchasing?

Artificial intelligence is already being used in many companies due to the accelerated digital transformation. According to a survey, 84 percent of decision-makers in industrial companies are convinced that artificial intelligence will scale and that we as buyers will also come into contact with it more and more. However, we can decide for ourselves what we want to simplify in the future, how AI and software can support buyers and how far we want to go at this point.

It should be our goal to ideally support the employees and the company in every process and to jointly develop the cultural changes that arise for the company through the increased use of AI. Employees should be able to innovate and thus drive growth based on the data they receive from artificial intelligence, among other things. All in all, AI should thus bring relief in the purchasing department and in service - and I am firmly convinced that this will happen.

AI in practice

In one project, I worked together with a logistics company that uses artificial intelligence in the service area to organise its pallets from A to B. In the current market situation, AI is not only a tool for the procurement department, but also for the service department. In the current market situation, where we are hardly able to get enough wooden Euro pallets on the market due to rising prices, many suppliers have difficulties delivering because there are not enough pallets. The service operator in this logistics sector developed an AI that quickly calculates where an empty truck with unused pallets is. This is helpful to ensure deliveries of the end products at all. If you would like to take a closer look at this topic, I recommend you take a look at the start-up Susi & James, which has implemented great projects in this area.

The fact is that in purchasing we have to deal with artificial intelligence, robotics and ever more advanced software now and in the future. If you want to know how to use these to your advantage in purchasing and use them in such a way that your buyers have more time for the really important things, then simply network with me on LinkedIn or make a free appointment. You can also find out more about this and other topics for future-proof strategies in purchasing now in my podcast - listen in now.