It wasn’t too long ago that digital agents were something out of an episode of the Jetsons1. But now Alexa and Siri® are household names. In the digital age, people’s demand for instant, easy information access doesn’t stop at home. They want it at work too. And procurement is no exception.

A natural fit

Digital agents are a natural fit for the source-to-pay process. They embody the fundamentals of the next generation of procurement: a focus on information over process, a strong emphasis on experience, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support stakeholders.

If I had to point to one of the biggest value opportunities for digital agents in procurement, I would say that it’s better compliance. By improving the user experience—making it self-service and digital-first—procurement organizations can help people to follow the right buying processes. That way, everyone wins.

The birth of Alma

I’m pleased to share that we have developed a knowledge-first digital agent specifically for sourcing and procurement. Rather than build a chatbot in isolation, we developed “Alma” in a co-innovation program with our clients. Work began in January with an outside-in approach centered on client requirements. Things evolved quickly from proof of concept through minimum viable product to a standardized base implementation that launched in August.

Her name says it all. Alma comes from the Latin word “almus,” meaning kind, fostering or nourishing. By automating the help desk, we can get business stakeholders quick, accurate answers to common questions while reducing the load on procurement staff. And imagine this—Alma never has a bad day!

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Meet Alma

Alma is a digital agent that has been specifically designed to automate the procurement help desk function.

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Why Alma is special

Alma is an easy-to-use, self-service chat interface for business stakeholders that interacts with natural language. She handles two types of interactions—for now. She answers information queries, providing guidance to business users on how to complete tasks based on a procurement organization’s rules and policies. She also tracks transactional status and can provide updates by retrieving purchase order or invoice status through APIs with eProcurement platforms.

In addition to being specifically designed to automate the procurement help desk, Alma is a different kind of digital agent. She is built on an open and modular architecture, which enables her to be continually upgraded with the latest AI technologies to serve more advanced use cases as client requirements evolve.

Also, Alma has a knowledge platform that supports many procurement clients across different industries. This means that she learns across clients and applies her wealth of common procurement insights to benefit every individual client. Such a vast, reusable knowledge base makes Alma inherently smarter. Not only are her answers naturally more accurate, she can learn faster too.

And Alma is always learning. Business users can provide real-time feedback on the accuracy of her answers. Alerted to any issues, procurement staff can improve Alma’s answers in a timely manner without calling in technical experts. So when a user finds one of Alma’s answers confusing or incomplete, he/she can provide feedback and the administrator promptly fixes the response.

This is just the beginning

As revolutionary as I believe Alma should be for procurement, here’s an important caution. No digital agent can be the sole answer/ application/system/implementation/ approach for what’s wrong in procurement today. To help outcomes, Alma should be implemented as part of a holistic approach to digital procurement transformation.

Moving forward, we plan to continue working with clients to develop new use cases for Alma. We’ll enhance our understanding of how people want to interact with digital agents and increase the complexity of what they can do in procurement. Alma’s journey has only just begun.

1 Disclaimer: Rights to trademarks referenced herein, other than Accenture trademarks, belong to their respective owners. We disclaim proprietary interest in the marks and names of others.

Tom Fahey

Global Technology & Innovation Lead Accenture Procurement Business Process Services

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