Unlocking the secrets of practical AI

Ryan Walsh, Chief Strategy Officer
Microsoft Copilot and practical AI

There’s a massive opportunity to begin adopting and selling artificial intelligence (AI) in our industry. However, every claim about how much AI can do comes with the question: Sounds great, but how do we make it happen? Let’s take a look at how MSPs can sell their small and medium-sized business (SMB) clients on practical AI. 

About AI’s transformative capabilities

First, you need to sell your SMB clients on just how much AI can do for them. A recent Forbes survey showed 64% of businesses believe that AI will help increase their overall productivity.  

This shows that there’s growing confidence in AI’s potential to transform business operations, and your clients will want to be a part of that in order to compete and thrive in their industry. In fact, 80% of businesses acknowledge that neglecting AI adoption could jeopardize their competitive standing. 

It isn’t just a “feeling” that AI will help businesses accomplish more. AI is estimated to contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030, showing that AI is not a hype cycle – if businesses aren’t moving now, they’ll be too late. 

What SMBs have to say about AI

To deliver practical steps for AI implementation and adoption, we conducted surveys to gain insights from the SMBs our partners work with every day. Our report, co-created with Channelnomics and Microsoft, “SMB AI Buying Trends 2024,” resulted in 588 global SMBs sharing their goals, challenges, fears, and obstacles when it comes to their AI journeys.  

This report uncovered several fascinating findings, including that more than 60% of SMBs are definitely adopting AI in the next two years, while more than 30% are considering it. This only leaves a handful of organizations that are not making plans to adopt AI any time soon. 

Issues standing in the way of AI adoption

We also found that four impediments currently stand in the way of SMBs adopting AI:

1. Infrastructure and devices capable of running AI systems and processes

2. Data hygiene and management that ensure AI is leveraging information with integrity

3. Qualified staff that can build, operate, and optimize AI systems and outputs

4. Use cases and architectures for applying AI to business scenarios

Some additional reasons SMBs gave on why they may not be adopting AI:

  • They’re still researching use cases and value propositions for AI (42%) 
  • They don’t yet have all the technical skills needed (37%) 
  • They’re still making the case for financial investment in AI (27%) 
  • Demand for AI-enhanced services/solutions is low in their market (19%) 
  • The prices for AI-powered services are too high (14%) 
  • They’re still trying to hire skilled employees to support AI-enabled projects (10%) 

How successful are AI implementations?

The Channelnomics report also revealed that only 35% of respondents said their current AI implementations are highly successful, with a full 53% citing modest success. Interestingly, only 16% of the end users we surveyed said they’re implementing AI systems independently. The majority — 58% — are working with an outside party to deploy AI in their organizations.  

That means MSPs can not only help SMBs start using AI tools like Microsoft Copilot, but also smooth out that journey and help set them up for success. 

Your steps to effective AI adoption

With the right approach, you can help your clients embrace AI to enhance employee capabilities, increase productivity, and unleash their growth potential. Below, I’ll detail the four steps to take to implement practical AI. 

1. Establish a business strategy

First, you need to strategize so you can ready your clients for a successful AI adoption journey.

  • Learn best practices: AI is an advanced technology with capabilities that can also come with some security risks. Partners need to develop ethical guidelines and security frameworks to manage AI adoption and reduce business risks.
  • Get the organization and culture ready: Practical steps to take here include defining an AI operating model, securing leadership support and resources, developing strong relationships with a diverse range of subject matter experts in the business, strengthening the organization’s ability to manage change, identifying and implementing the right learning and skill-building paths, and approaching AI as a sustainable capability within the organization and culture.
  • Prepare for AI capabilities: Help your clients with technical requirements by migrating environments and solutions to the cloud, optimizing licenses, and conducting user training. 
  • Consult on AI goals and outcomes: Find out what your clients want to achieve. For instance, 60% of respondents to our survey said they wanted to be more adaptable to change, 50% wanted to create a team-centric organization, and 47% wanted to develop new delivery models for their goods and services.

One way to ground your strategy is to center it around a specific AI solution, such as Microsoft Copilot. As the world’s most widely adopted AI developer tool, Copilot is expected to add $1.5 trillion to the global GDP by 2030. Users have reported eliminating 2-5 hours of work a week already; learn more about implementing Copilot.

2. Build a governance approach

AI is an advanced technology with capabilities that can also bring risks. That’s why it’s important to build a governance approach.  

A great place to start with data governance is applying Microsoft’s AI principles. These are: 

  • Privacy and security: AI systems must comply with privacy laws.
  • Inclusiveness: AI systems must be designed to address a broad range of human needs and experiences. 
  • Accountability: People who design and deploy AI systems must be accountable for how their systems operate 
  • Transparency: AI system behavior and functional components should be understood so that people can identify potential issues or unintended outcomes. 
  • Fairness: AI systems must be developed to treat all people without bias
  • Reliability and safety: These systems must be designed to perform consistently well and not introduce undue risk.

To build your clients’ data readiness and unified security stance, take the following steps:

  • Inventory and assess your clients’ data
  • Create and enforce data governance
  • Manage the flow of data
  • Optimize and secure data infrastructure

Part of creating adequate data governance is also ensuring that the right users have the right access to the resources they need, when they need them. Inadequate identity and access management processes and policies may hinder the seamless integration of AI by impeding secure access, compromising data integrity, and raising concerns about privacy and regulatory compliance.  

Ensuring you have the correct identity and access management policies in place is a crucial part of an overall robust security stance. You can achieve better security practices by implementing as many of the CIS security controls at the organization as possible. 

To implement these concepts in a practical manner, you can also implement the following Microsoft solutions: 

  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium: It’s designed for SMBs, with up to 300 users and the security features that are most relevant for this segment, such as Microsoft Defender for Business and Office 365.  
  • Microsoft 365 E3: This plan includes the basic security features that are essential for any organization, such as antivirus, antimalware, ransomware protection, device and app management, and more. 
  • Microsoft 365 E5: This plan includes everything in E3, plus more advanced security features, such as Microsoft Defender for Endpoint Plan 2, that can help you prevent, detect, and respond to sophisticated cyberattacks.

3. Drive the AI adoption journey

SMBs want to adopt AI so they can have a better response to changing market demands (51%), reduce operating costs (49%), and introduce new revenue streams (41%), among other reasons, according to our report. So how can you help them drive their AI adoption journey?

First, help them get in the game. Start a pilot group at the organization, build some use cases based on what you learn from that group, create customer value by setting specific goals you can help reach with AI, and finally monitor and measure your implementation to not only create ROI but also customer loyalty while simultaneously building your brand.

With AI adoption, it’s all about setting the right goals and managing expectations. Our report dives into some of the top non-tech reasons AI may fall short of expectations, including a lack of skills, training, and an understanding of scope and objectives. Communication is the name of the game; help your clients find and socialize best practices and use case successes to improve adoption across the organization. 

4. Discover even more ways to implement practical AI

Beyond the steps we’ve covered, Pax8 provides our partners with more ways to successfully sell and implement AI solutions. The Pax8 Marketplace and our enablement services such as Pax8 Academy are here to help you solve your most pressing issues now and grow your business in the future.

At Pax8, we step into the trenches with you so we can help you (and your clients) adopt AI with confidence. Schedule a call to get started or find out how you can sell more and help your clients succeed with AI.

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