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Procurement is known as a back-office function, in charge with dealing with vendors, ordering and getting the necessary items or services, as well as handling and approving requests from business stakeholders for products and services. More recently however, companies tend to assign it an expanded and more important role, the role of a strategic partner.

The background idea is that procurement can improve business outcomes, being conducive to increased resilience, efficiency, and cost savings. Leveraging robotic process automation in procurement is a way to substantiate this innovative perspective. The reason is pretty simple: manually handling procurement tasks is marred by errors, and it slows down the process; consequently, it is less efficient and less productive.

What are the benefits of RPA in procurement?

It can boost efficiency, reduce operating costs, and allow specialists to pursue higher-value work such as category management and analysis. What’s more, in combination with AI, i.e., in the form of intelligent automation, it can turn procurement leaders into better business partners by allowing them access to more strategic insights.

Robotic process automation (RPA) and AI can handle (i.e., gather, extract, and analyse) both structured and unstructured data. Processes are accelerated because requisitions can be automatically created, and then automatically routed to approvers, buyers, and suppliers. This helps to bypass legacy systems issues – consider pitfalls like informational silos, inefficient data storage, or large volumes of paper that can make it difficult to keep track of purchase orders, monitor spend, and fraudulent activity, and also diminish the ability to predict future needs.

What’s the result? Enhanced process visibility, and real-time information sharing. In the language of numbers, this means an impressive increase of 600-800% for the return on investment in robotic technologies. All in all, it seems like automation is causing a fundamental change for the good to how business is done.

Reasons such as the above mentioned lead to its increased popularity and increased rate of adoption rate worldwide. Indeed, we learn from a 2020 KPMG report that the global market for robots and AI is expected to reach $157.2 billion. This is well correlated with it becoming a top five investment priority for a third of the CIOs all over the world. We thus believe that awareness of some real world use cases for robotic process automation in procurement is highly relevant for CPOs.

5 use cases for robotic process automation (RPA) in procurement

RPA in procurement is particularly helpful in job-by-job level tasks. The list of application areas should substantiate the claim. In fact, any procurement steps can be automated as long as it works recursively, implemented via the same repeatable steps.

1. Purchase request to Purchase orders

Manually processing procurement requests and creating purchase orders often leads to delays, and to a rather low score on the accuracy scale. Software robots streamline the process and complete it in much shorter time. Automatically after you receive a purchase request, the bots can fast and accurately implement the steps of the workflow: assess the request, seek approval from the department head involved with the request, and process the request to raise a process order.

2. Work order management

Keeping track of customers’ requests may be particularly difficult for employees, and uncompleted work orders often result in revenue loss. Software robots make it easier to handle the process, and thus help to avoid losses. And this is no little thing at all, particularly in the difficult economic times that we’re currently traversing.

Automating this process is a very good example of joint work between humans and machines. Whenever a work order is created and allocated, the staff is notified by the bots that there’s a need to be picked up and carried out. Upon completion, the work order is closed by a bot, and the client is informed about its status.

3. Inventory management

This is crucial for all companies, irrespective of the economic sector, because it is mandatory to check if the inventory levels can match customers’ demands. RPA streamlines the careful supervision of inventory levels. For instance, when these become so low, software robots notify the “human division”, who can order for the products. What’s more, bots can also provide real-time reports that allow updates on inventory levels at any time of the day. This is a valuable input for the assessment of the current needs, and for the forecasts of future ones.

4. Becoming an integral part of any COTS deployment

COTS products (commercial off-the-shelf) are used “as-is”; they can nicely interoperate with existing system components. The problem is the need to reduce the impact of wholesale software upgrades, which can be quite strong. This being a high-volume, repeatable task, it’s precisely here that RPA can help.

5. Demand and supply planning

Leveraging robotic process automation in procurement also helps the end-to-end management of the demand and supply planning. The rationale is that bots can help to cut out inter-departmental silos (e.g., managing procurement, shipping, warehousing, and inventory), and to manage them in a more centralised fashion.

Suppose that  your warehouse is full of inventories. When software robots realise that the warehouse is full of inventories, they are set to automatically notify the procurement department. This assists the procurement  staff to take stock of the situation.

But what role does intelligent automation play in this digitised picture of procurement? It can take RPA one step further because it takes into account humans’ recommendations in algorithmic form for shortening processes even more. Additionally, algorithms allow automated processes with AI to learn and to make decisions, and then to ‘ask’ for human confirmation that things do work as you want them to.


Concerns about the larger business picture, as well as about your workers’ welfare, call for proper change management programs when you’ve decided to embark on the automation journey. In order to be effective, change management should span the leadership but also the stakeholders.

You should support your employees and aim for fair treatment, in the attempt to elegantly bypass the unavoidable issue of displacing certain job categories. To this end, make no economies in reskilling your task force. Educate the stakeholders that software robots are more likely to be conducive to the expected outcomes when treated as partners, not as competitors.

You can find here some more concrete ideas about how to change your company culture to successfully implement RPA. Only after you have a clear change management strategy in your mind, you can start to plan accordingly the real world use cases for RPA in procurement.

For more inspiration about leveraging robotic process automation in order to gain a competitive advantage, make sure you also read our most recent whitepaper. We’ve asked more than 2000 leaders of Australian companies how they implemented robotic process automation, and what their future automation plans are. You can fill out this form to instantly receive a copy of Thought Leaders Survey: How Are Australian Companies Leveraging Automation?

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