Follow this 4-step plan to unleash your clients’ growth potential with AI

Ryan Walsh, Chief Strategy Officer
Microsoft Copilot and practical AI

Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) has already been top of mind for organizations of all sizes, but Microsoft’s unveiling of Copilot has spurred a new wave of interest in how to implement “practical AI” to improve productivity. In this blog, we’ll explore what Microsoft Copilot means to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and how managed service providers (MSPs) can help them best implement it.

What is Microsoft Copilot?

Copilot is an AI-powered tool that helps users create, design, and collaborate more effectively within Microsoft 365 and other applications. Copilot represents one of the most practical ways to get started with AI, given the widespread adoption of the Microsoft 365 product suite. Many MSPs already sell Microsoft licenses to their SMB clients, and Microsoft has introduced favorable pricing and availability this year, making Copilot a natural solution conversation for partners to have.

SMBs, in particular, are already adopting AI systems and tools and know that furthering their AI journey is crucial to their continued competitiveness. To better understand AI in the SMB sector, Pax8, with support from Microsoft, commissioned Channelnomics to conduct a global survey targeting SMB buyers to assess their readiness and plans to adopt AI.

The AI opportunity – and the role for MSPs – is massive

To help drive home the magnitude of the AI opportunity, Channelnomics notes that the global generative AI market will top more than $40 billion in 2024, according to IDC. By 2027, the AI market is expected to exceed $150 billion, with AI options that include large language models (LLMs), predictive analytics, and machine learning.

Eighty-eight percent of SMBs surveyed by Channelnomics said they already have implemented at least one AI system successfully, and another two-thirds plan to expand their AI capabilities, most within the next year. Yet only 16% of the end users surveyed said they’re implementing AI systems independently. Most say they are working with a solution provider or a combination of a solution provider and vendor to deploy AI in their organizations.

But there can be myriad reasons AI solutions may seem intimidating to an SMB, including a lack of understanding of AI applications and their benefits. Other roadblocks can include a lack of technical expertise and talent and the need to justify the financial investment in AI.

MSPs can play an important role in addressing these roadblocks and helping their customers realize the benefits of AI. Often, this means finding use cases that matter to them, so they can see the important upsides of AI. Then, end users need an MSP to wade through AI product considerations, guide purchasing decisions, and finally implement the AI technology.

This represents a massive opportunity for MSPs if they get in the game. Here’s what end users need from MSPs and the steps partners can take to capitalize on the AI opportunity.

What MSPs and clients should discuss before implementing AI

First, SMB customers should have clear outcomes in mind when it comes to implementing AI. AI tools can help them better respond to market demands, reduce operating costs, and introduce new revenue streams. MSPs can move beyond serving as a solutions provider and become more of a true partner to their clients by targeting the use cases that support those outcomes – the outcomes that SMBs say matter most to them – when talking with them about AI.

In this way, the conversation becomes not just about AI adoption, but about a future driven by AI innovation in which SMBs leverage AI to gain a competitive advantage and achieve their stated outcomes.

These five roadblocks that stand in the way of AI adoption

For all the excitement about AI, many SMBs lack confidence in their ability to properly implement and use it. Only one-third of SMBs surveyed said their current AI implementations are very successful. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of businesses globally are seeking assistance on their AI journey.

Five challenges that stand in the way of AI adoption and success:

  1. Not possessing the infrastructure and devices needed to run AI systems and processes
  2. Improper data hygiene and management to help AI leverage information with integrity
  3. Insufficient security for data protection and confidentiality
  4. Underqualified staff to build, operate, and optimize AI systems and outputs
  5. Inadequate use cases and architectures for applying AI to business scenarios

The opportunity for MSPs goes far beyond simply selling AI systems. MSPs can be crucial consultants, advisors, and enablers for SMBs on an AI journey that requires robust and agile infrastructure, including providing security, skilled technicians, and support.

Follow this four-step plan for AI adoption

As an MSP, take these steps for effective adoption of AI in your own business as you prepare to serve your end users:

  1. Establish a business strategy
    • Learn AI principles and best practices.
    • Get the organization ready with an operating model, leadership support, and a change management plan.
    • Establish AI goals and outcomes.
    • Prepare your clients for successful deployment, with cloud migration, optimized licenses, and user training and expectations.
    • Take these three steps to ensure success with Microsoft Copilot. Then, get it for your business and your clients.

  2. Build a governance approach

  3. Drive an AI adoption journey
    • Start an AI pilot program.
    • Build use cases.
    • Monitor and measure your implementation.
    • Train staff on AI.

  4. Discover even more ways to implement practical AI

Sign up for Copilot