GenAI promises brave new world in supply chain

Generative AI is already impacting some aspects of procurement but its widespread adoption across the wider supply chain is still some way off

Generative AI (GenAI) has been one of the hottest trending topics of 2023, with ChatGPT in particular hogging much of that attention. In the space of a few short months, GenAI seems to have gone from being a digital party trick to a technology that has the power to reshape our home and work lives. 

GenAI is the use of algorithms to create text, images, audio, code and videos. Whereas traditional AI systems are primarily used to analyse data and make predictions, GenAI goes further, by creating new data that can bring insight and, increasingly, also offer advice to guide strategic decision-making.

One facet of the supply chain in which GenAI is making an impact is procurement, which has always been process-heavy. Here, it is being used to streamline workflows, reduce human error and augment decision-making. 

By automating repetitive tasks and offering valuable insights, AI models can free up procurement professionals to focus on more strategic initiatives.

One area of procurement in which GenAI is making inroads is contracts management, and leading the way is contract solutions company, Icertis – who was among the first to embed AI into the contract lifecycle management process. 

Building on its AI-powered contract intelligence platform that turns contracts from static documents into ‘strategic advantages’, Icertis is leveraging the power of GenAI. 

“Contracts are a massive untapped opportunity for large language-models because they are universal across industries, geographies and businesses of all sizes, and imperative to all commerce as we know it,” says Samir Bodas, Co-founder and CEO of Icertis. 

The company’s solutions enable executives, legal teams and business users to harness GenAI to turn commercial agreements into interactive assets that can deliver insight via prompts that are either pre-defined or free-form. 

Icertis technology can also help organisations identify and mitigate contractual risk, by intelligently automating the contract review process by, for example, comparing contract attributes with a client company’s standard risk playbook. The technology is underpinned by Microsoft Azure.

“We have delivered the first GenAI solutions in the market, and are leading the next era of transformation in enterprise contracting,” says Bodas. “We balance innovation with the trust and responsibility that comes with recognising that contracts are one of the most confidential and valuable assets in an enterprise.”

Returning to ChatGPT. What of this breakthrough technology? How might supply chain professionals use it to its advantage?

Craig Summers is MD, UKI, MEA & Nordics, with Manhattan Associates. Summers says he asked that very question of ChatGPT: ‘Why is ChatGPT so important to consider for supply chains?’

“It responded by telling me that ChatGPT is a useful tool in supply chain because it helps automate processes, provides insight, and facilitates communication and collaboration between different stakeholders,” reveals Summers. “And in essence, it’s not wrong.”

ChatGPT is trained with approximately 570GB of data scraped from all corners of the Internet, and more than 300 billion words. It has a vast data lake from which to ‘learn’, 

However, Summers points out, this isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to individual supply chains.

“Supply chain models are so complex and specific to each company,” he says, “which is why the arrival of GenAI into the mainstream supply chain is probably still 10 years away.

While a decade is a long time, particularly in the tech space, the burning question, Summers believes, “is whether supply chain leaders can afford to sit back and wait it out to see if generative AI simply vanishes or tapers off”.

He adds that, besides the technical issues of GenAI in supply chains there are legal and ethical concerns. 

“For example, can a company take credit for content generated by a chatbot?” asked Summers. “Plus, how should we share the work that AI generates?

“Ethics aside, the question many CIOs and CTOs will be asking themselves is whether their companies should be investing in these types of technology, given the analyst predictions that they are unlikely to be ready for practical use any time before 2030.”

Summers feels ChatGPT has introduced both businesses and consumers to a “completely different category of tools that have put the power and potential of AI on display for all to see”. He adds that this “has had a democratising effect”.

He continues: “Tech leaders who don’t have their app-development team thinking about how to apply GenAI are likely putting their companies at a long-term disadvantage.

“And therein maybe lies the truly transformative quality of ChatGPT to businesses large and small, far and wide, not simply in supply chain. 

“It’s not necessarily about the application of generative AI today, but rather how it is fundamentally changing our way of thinking about what could be possible tomorrow. 

“We are moving away from menu-driven click interfaces, to more natural conversational interfaces.”

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