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Why You Need A Data Champion To Score AI Wins

Making artificial intelligence (AI) work with humans requires having an internal data champion to help overcome fears and create a safe environment. That was the advice offered at Digital Procurement World in Amsterdam today in a session focused on combining humans and AI to help procurement become a top value driver in modern business. The biggest pain points for panelists? Working through overwhelming amounts of data and dealing with employee concerns that AI will take their jobs.

“I need to be a champion for the digital journey, once you have that established, everything else will fall into place because then you can figure out how many resources to have dedicated.” Having a digital champion allows you to build an AI strategy.

Ralf Peters, vice president of procurement, Europacific partners, at Coca-Cola.

It’s also important for leadership to show how people and AI can align. Then they can help employees overcome the fear of new technologies that will change the way they work.

How to take advantage of a data-challenged world

In a procurement context, the trick to dealing effectively with data is creating an environment that allows every procurement category manager and team to move from, “I need to use that to I want to use that” and see the benefits of that approach,

Creating a safe, consistent environment will help category managers feel confident about using AI-driven data insights from their systems and providing feedback. “Every insight created by a category manager matters, there’s a value for me and I can choose overtime to use it and trust the tool because it helps me fulfill an overarching task.”

A safe environment means you don’t have to present feedback as the answer to a problem but, rather, as a potential solution, added moderator Omer Abdullah, cofounder of The Smart Cube, and author of “Risk & Your Supply Chain: Preparing for The Next Global Crisis.”

This gives people the opportunity to “play with tools and present something, and when a situation happens, you’re much more confident in how to solve it.

Jurriaan Lombaers, senior vice president and chief procurement officer of Air France-KLM that leaders must make changing their organization and growing their employees’ skills a priority. 

Organizations also need to have data scientists, analysts, and people who understand digital procurement build new services into the organization something Air France-KLM is currently doing “as we speak,’’

How to transform people

Transforming people to be more data- and analytically-driven also needs to be top of mind. 

A safe environment plays a key role here, too, but there’s also the challenge of transitioning from creating reports to creating reports with insights, panelist Paula Martinez, chief procurement officer at Novartis. This requires figuring out the right questions to ask the data and knowing the business insights you want to achieve. She advised the audience to interact with stakeholders and find out what they want to solve. 

“Data can be cleaned. It’s coming up with questions that are the biggest struggle for organizations,’’ When analytic capabilities are built, the procurement organization should, adding that this is a learning curve everyone must go through. It’s good to do a lot of experimentation around what is working and what isn’t.

 “Interesting foundational point,’’ that it’s one thing to understand the potential of what technology can unleash, “but it’s a little scary because it exposes how people need to change their thinking and be more strategic and less tactical.” Internal stakeholders need to know how to translate that.

In response to a question about how organizations should inventory people’s skill sets to determine who is ready for transformation, “you learn by doing. Get on with it and allow for failures.”

Peters recalled years ago being part of the team responsible for implementing handheld devices for drivers. “I had to put technology into the hands of guys who carry pallets of beverages from forklifts to trucks,” But the process proved quite simple. Peters asked the drivers if they can use a mobile phones in their private life. Demystifying it took the bias out.

Evolving your organization with data champions

Becoming attuned to the digital world doesn’t require anyone to learn to code, Martinez stressed. What is required is developing a digital mindset and understanding and owning your data, which means partnering with a data analytics team to clean it and make it work for you by thinking of value cases and questions. 

“Data is an asset, that’s the fuel you have to thrive in your job,’’ Understand the basics and own it and understand. What is the data subset being used” as well as the timeframe? “All those things are enabling you to have a digital mindset, which will enable you to change your attitude and behaviors.”

“Every industry, every function, every role is affected by digital. If you don’t have a basic understanding of what is an algorithm and new solutions and the intelligence embedded there, then you won’t be able to thrive.”

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