Written by Shaun Lynn, Agilitas CEO
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in business has risen dramatically in recent years – and understandably so. In 2019, the number of businesses adopting AI had grown by 270% in the space of four years – a number which was only set to increase as we moved into 2020 and 2021. As AI becomes increasingly present in our lives, there is no denying its ability to offer organisations new ways to streamline their operations and empower workforces with tools to be more productive.
Now more than ever, companies need to understand how to leverage revolutionary technologies like AI potential across different aspects of their business. For the IT channel, in particular, this includes having primary knowledge of how it can be used to drive machinery and improve supply chain efficiencies.
AI pushes the boundaries of traditional network infrastructures, operations and development, and brings forward a future of better security and productivity in the workplace. That said, such advancements can often be met with a sense of apprehension, due to AI’s ability to complete tasks that have been a part of existing human job roles for many years previously. However, in reality, it can work as a complementary solution that enables channel experts to save time by automating repetitive manual jobs and to focus their efforts on more complex and productive tasks.
While AI and automation is already beginning to disrupt elements of the channel industry, this doesn’t have to be a downfall, as it will introduce a variety of new business opportunities for the channel and channel partners. From the acceleration of decision-making, improvement of business processes and the enhancement of user engagement, the far-reaching potential of AI applications across the sector is difficult to ignore.
Many AI algorithms are already at an advanced stage where they can be used to optimise manufacturing supply chains, which is especially beneficial for channel partners as it helps companies to anticipate market changes. This information allows manufacturers to optimise staffing, inventory control, energy consumption and the supply of raw materials.
Enhancing processes with AI can save huge amounts of time across all sectors. For example, the technology is expected to free up the government workforce’s time by 30% within the next five to seven years. Some of the latest generations of robotics systems are capable of working alongside humans and interacting effectively with human workforces; these are known as collaborative robots and could be the way forward for the channel industry. Many people believe that the rise of AI will be the main cause of unemployment globally, but collaborative technology presents a strong counter-argument.
Can AI manage machinery?
There’s no arguing that AI can transform the processes that take place in the channel industry every day, but does it really have the power to do our jobs for us? When implementing this technology, it’s important to know which jobs are the most time consuming and which require higher levels of intelligence and strategic thinking. One highly contended area is the value AI will have on the management and maintenance of machinery and IT equipment.
Within the supply chain, manufacturers can leverage AI technology to forecast when or if functional equipment will fail, so that its maintenance and repair can be scheduled by engineers before the failure occurs. This predictive approach not only takes the pressure off of the human workforce but also prevents problems from arising due to the preemptive measures that have already taken place.
However, although many organisations are likely to prioritise the use of AI to automate processes, this is expected to only produce short-term results. In one survey involving 1,500 companies, it was discovered that firms achieve the most significant performance improvements when humans and machines work together. This supports what many now believe true; that the best way to move forward with AI is by training employees to work alongside it collaboratively.
Empowering people with automation
As AI becomes more popular amongst businesses worldwide, there is still an element of fear behind its likelihood to decrease the number of jobs available which require human interaction, even if it is used more collaboratively. For example, monotonous tasks can easily be automated which could gradually make some roles obsolete in the channel industry, particularly those focused on admin activities, customer care and document classification. With this comes panic and worry for employees and can create high levels of stress and uncertainty, not just for the channel industry but for organisations in general.
There is a chance, however, that as certain roles become occupied by AI, new roles can be created. This is a great opportunity for channel partners to build roles that focus heavily on research and development and create more positions that allow channel partners to rise above their competitors and build recognition.
Not only this but adding another technology into the mix presents an opportunity to upskill the existing workforce, adding another string to their bow and working to combat the digital skills shortage that is impending in the UK. Positively, the demand for AI-trained workers is soaring and the channel has a real opportunity to leverage such skills to main efficiency gains and grow in the years to come.
In the AI-enabled future, machine learning models and robots will likely be able to understand the context and even colloquialisms which help to fill the gaps in human interaction. Still, as we move closer to this technology-led reality, business leaders must be careful not to forget the value of human resources and capabilities and to consider implementing AI and human workforces.