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Start Investing in AI Now

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Anne Rawland GabrielBy Anne Rawland Gabriel

If you’re like many techies, you’ve had at least a passing interest in artificial intelligence (AI) for some time. However, it’s mostly been just that – a personal interest – as there’s been no realistic path for SMB-focused solution providers to monetize AI solutions.

That’s all about to change. With AI solutions springing up to handle a wealth of business chores, companies of all sizes, not just mega corps, are already using them.

Take Thumbtack, a San Francisco startup that connects people and businesses with customized quotes from professional services providers ranging from interior designers to foreign-language translators.

Prior to adopting an AI triaging solution by Wise.io, a staff of nine manually categorized an average of 80,000 customer contacts per month, at a rate of 1 to 3 hours per ticket. In order to scale, Thumbtack turned to Wise.io, dropping triage time to 5 minutes.

Lest you’re tempted to think only digital-economy companies are adopting AI solutions, consider Vern Fonk Insurance. Based in Everett, Washington, the brokerage maintains two-dozen offices throughout the state and reaches into Portland, Oregon.

During the first four months of leveraging a sales lead qualification AI from Conversica, Vern Fonk converted 874 internet leads into policyholders. If you’re unfamiliar with the insurance sector, let’s just say that’s a competitive game changer.

Besides serving as an example of a traditional company adopting AI, Vern Fonk is indicative of the growing comfort level with machine learning. In other words, if a firm in the risk-averse world of insurance is climbing onboard with AI, you can bet companies in your client portfolio are open to leveraging such technology, too.

Despite the channel implications of the forgoing, I wasn’t spurred to write this blog until I chanced upon a particularly compelling AI use case demonstration toward the end of a technology conference video by the Wi-Fi manufacturer Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. The demo was intended to showcase a recently launched feature of Aruba’s wireless and wired network authentication solution, ClearPass, which now permits integrating with third-party solutions via API-based technology the company calls ClearPass Extensions.

However, it wasn’t Extensions that piqued my AI interest. Rather, it was the presenter’s integration of Amazon Echo’s Alexa as a verbal front end to streamline network administration. Here’s a summary of how it worked:

For the conference, Aruba established an event network managed by ClearPass. During a short voice-activated interchange with the presenter, Alexa was directed to access event network information from ClearPass, provide a verbal assessment of the network’s health and, when prompted, locate the highest-bandwidth user. Then, Alexa presented a list of available management options and the presenter responded by instructing Alexa to disconnect the offending user’s device.

Even with extra dialogue for the audience’s benefit, it all took just a couple of hands-free minutes. While tools like ClearPass are inherently effective, it still takes time to do all of the tasks Alexa accomplished in a heartbeat. To see for yourself, the segment starts about 15 minutes from the end of the video (below).

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Although it’s easy to dismiss this scenario as involving a consumer AI device, beware that your SMB clients are likely to say, “Who cares?” After all, the integration poses no security threat, reduces administration complexity and saves time.

For channel partners interested in staying ahead of the next big thing, the integration opportunities Alexa/ClearPass demo illustrates go far beyond this particular use case. If you’re in doubt, show a few clients the Aruba clip and watch their response.

In the meantime, the takeaway from this post is simple: Not only are SMB-appropriate AI solutions in the marketplace but companies from even the most conservative industries are willing to endorse them publicly. Further, as the Aruba demo shows, leading providers will be considering how they can give voice to technology administration.

This means it’s time to accumulate AI knowledge and plan strategically for ways to incorporate AI solutions into your business model. As no one can predict when AI will go from “innovative” to “mission critical,” preparing your firm, now, helps ensure you won’t get left behind.

Anne Rawland Gabriel has spent more than 20 years writing about business technologies as a journalist and marketing communications consultant, including a decade as a contributing editor in financial services tech. Her work spans the IT stack. Most recently, she’s developed a fascination for AI.


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