Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of 10 articles about advanced technologies and what they mean to procurement. Articles run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month in Inside Supply Management® Weekly, Institute for Supply Management®’s (ISM®) e-newsletter.
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Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies have made significant strides in procurement, with the application of intelligent algorithms in procurement processes holding immense potential for streamlining operations, enhancing decision-making and driving efficiency.
AI and ML can be leveraged in sourcing automation, vendor selection, demand forecasting and risk management. Let’s first look at automated sourcing.
Procurement success is predicated on sourcing the right suppliers and obtaining the best value for goods and services. AI and ML algorithms can automate and optimize the sourcing process by analyzing vast amounts of data; these include supplier databases, historical transactions, market trends and performance metrics.
These algorithms can evaluate supplier capabilities, track pricing dynamics, identify cost-saving opportunities, and suggest the most suitable suppliers based on predefined criteria. Automated sourcing not only saves time and effort but also enables procurement professionals to make data-driven decisions, negotiate better contracts and establish strong supplier relationships.
Choosing the right suppliers is crucial for successful procurement outcomes. AI and ML can significantly enhance vendor selection processes by leveraging advanced analytics and pattern recognition. These algorithms can assess various factors such as supplier performance, financial stability, delivery reliability, quality metrics and customer feedback.
By analyzing historical data and identifying correlations, AI can generate insights to predict future supplier performance and reliability. This data-driven approach enables procurement professionals to make informed decisions, mitigate risks and optimize supplier selection to meet specific needs and objectives.
Accurate demand forecasting is a key driver of efficient procurement and inventory management. AI and ML algorithms excel in analyzing historical sales data, market trends, customer behavior and external factors to predict future demand patterns.
By using these algorithms, organizations can anticipate demand fluctuations and optimize inventory levels. They can also improve supply chain planning. Intelligent demand forecasting reduces the risk of stockouts, minimizes excess inventory and enhances overall operational efficiency. Moreover, AI can continuously learn from new data, refine its forecasting models, and adapt to changing market dynamics. This ensures accurate and up-to-date predictions.
Let’s not forget risk management. AI and ML technologies can help mitigate risk through intelligent algorithms analyzing diverse data sources — like supplier data, market intelligence, news feeds and social media — to identify such potential hazards as supplier disruptions, price volatility, geopolitical events and regulatory changes.
By continuously monitoring these factors, AI can provide real-time insights, alerts and recommendations to mitigate risks proactively. This enables procurement professionals to develop contingency plans, diversify suppliers and enhance supply chain resilience.
While procurement organizations can benefit from AI and ML in many ways, there are challenges to consider; these include data quality and availability, integration with existing systems, privacy concerns and the need for skilled resources to develop and maintain AI models. Moreover, it is essential to strike a balance between automation and human expertise, ensuring that AI algorithms complement human decision-making rather than replacing it entirely.
As AI and ML technologies continue to advance, their integration into procurement processes will drive efficiency, improve decision-making, and pave the way for a more agile and data-driven procurement landscape.