Amy Was a Robot

Inixia Blog Amy Was a Robot

Why Disruptive Transformation of Corporate Processes is Possible

In 2015, I faced a somewhat ironic problem while at Procter & Gamble. What to do next if your operation is already the industry benchmark? Specifically, our Global Business Services (GBS) organization was widely acknowledged to be best-in-class in the world. It had been recognized in case studies in Harvard Business Review and written up in the top business publications. However, we knew that those accolades are not a defense against the inevitable disruption of any organization or industry.

In other words, if we were at the ultimate maturity level (i.e., a Stage 3 maturity) in the three-stage GBS industry model, we would simply have to create a hitherto unknown fourth stage.

Within days of this insight, we had set up a new organization called Next Generation Services (NGS) and reached out externally to learn about 10x idea possibilities from more than 100 organizations – consultancies, peer companies, venture capitalists, start-ups, educational institutions, and futurists. The next month was a roller-coaster ride that was both thrilling and terrifying, with periodically stomach-churning jolts of new digital reality that had us questioning whether the digital revolution wasn’t even more urgent than we had thought.

One such experience occurred in April 2015. I was trying to schedule a meeting over email with AJ Brustein, the CEO of a startup named Wonolo. I sent AJ an email message suggesting that a P&G colleague and I would be open to a phone call. AJ responded, “Sounds great. Copying Amy as well. Thanks.” He copied Amy Ingram, who I assumed was his assistant. This was on a Friday (April 10th). To clarify availability, I replied to him and Amy, “Thanks AJ. I am out next week, but perhaps we can connect the following week?” and copied my admin assistant Kim on the message. Later that day, we got a message from Amy, “Happy to get something on AJ’s calendar. Does Monday, Apr 20 at 11:00 am PDT work? Alternatively, AJ is available on Monday, Apr 20 at 4:00 pm PDT or Tuesday, Apr 21 at 10:00 am. I’ll include the dial-in on the invite.”

Kim, my admin, chose a time over email, and the meeting was all set. It was just a routine day at the office. However, later that day, a P&G colleague copied on the messages asked me to check out Amy’s digital signature on her email. It said, “Amy Ingram | Personal Assistant to A.J. Brustein” and below that, “ – artificial intelligence that schedules meetings.” Amy was a robot!

I was flabbergasted! This was a “Turing test” type moment for me – the test named after Alan Turing in 1950, being a challenge of a machine’s capability to exhibit intelligent behavior that’s indistinguishable from a human’s. We dissected Amy’s responses carefully. Her messages were in perfect business language. “She” had clearly “read” and “understood” my email on April 10th that I wouldn’t be available the next week and had therefore suggested times on April 20th and 21st.

If a robot could manage the most personal type of executive service, then why couldn’t AI operate at least a fraction of so-called “judgment-based” financial processes with suppliers and customers on accounts receivables and payables? Why could we not supplement our buyers in the Purchases function with an AI “buddy” that could digest the latest information on suppliers, materials, pricing trends, and payments, and trigger advice and decisions? Could we not redefine the traditional corporate systems user-experience, from stone-age to Siri? Could we perhaps forecast and proactively self-heal most IT systems outages across the P&G globe? Could algorithms help re-plan our supply chain finally, in real-time?

The game was on! However, there was one little question we had to deal with next – how exactly would we do this?

This is an excerpt by Tony Saldanha from his best-selling book, “Why Digital Transformations Fail.”