It is early days for artificial intelligence and it is a technology that most do not expect to be making much money for the channel over the next few years.
But that does not mean that the conversation with customers needs to be postponed and for Microsoft the time appears to be now to take the AI message out to the business community.
The software giant has launched its Maximising the AI Opportunity report with a warning that its main conclusion is that those firms that do not get interested in developing a strategy, training and gaining experience around the technology are set to fall behind rivals.
Microsoft's report has the bold claim that adopting AI can increase business performance as much as 5% and that's likely to be the statistic that helps the channel open the door with a customer.
The report indicated that that level of productivity improvements should increase at an even quicker rate in the future as AI becomes more widespread across an organisation.
Other facts worth rolling into an AI pitch also included the 41% of UK firms that felt that their current business models would cease to exist in the next five years and the 51% that had no strategy in place.
Added to an already challenging skills landscape there were also very few, only 18%, of firms that were encouraging staff to learn about the technology changes that were coming.
“AI represents a huge opportunity, but only if UK organisations embrace its application in the right way. AI is not about making UK businesses leaner, it’s about how we use the technology to make them stronger. In doing so, we can make our work more meaningful and boost UK competitiveness," said Clare Barclay, chief operating office, Microsoft UK.
The report also found that the idea staff would resist AI because of fears over their jobs was largely unfounded with many keen to take advantage of the productivity improvements that the technology could deliver.
“How society, business and people adapt to AI will become one of the most pressing considerations of this generation and the next. Only by applying AI in the right way can we unlock its extraordinary potential for good. It is our firm belief at Microsoft that adopting a human-centric approach can help organisations of all shapes, sizes, and sectors use
AI to positively impact their businesses, employees, and customers alike. But success tomorrow requires action today – organisations must act now to maximise the AI opportunity," said Cindy Rose, CEO of Microsoft UK.
The threat of falling behind if AI was ignored was seen as a real danger by more than just Microsoft with John Gikopoulos, global head of AI and Automation at Infosys Consulting, echoing the concerns.
"Right now, executives are adopting a minimum level of innovation to test the waters rather than drastically change their operating models. In doing so, they run the risk of becoming dinosaurs, extinct in a world that will have overtaken them at lightning speeds," he said.
“New start-ups with fresh ideas or existing corporations with large innovation appetites – and budgets – are changing the rules of the game. It comes as no surprise that 2 in 5 companies said their business models will be revolutionised by AI. There’s no escape – this is happening across every industry," he added.
The government seems to have recognised the need to take a lead on the AI issue and in Monday's Budget there was a commitment to make funding available to increase skills in this area.
“Through our modern Industrial Strategy we’re joining with industry to invest close to £1 billion in AI, to position the UK as one of the best places in the world to develop and use this exciting new technology. This investment will help us to recruit and retain the best talent in AI and ensure that we are we are leading the way on research and development in the sector," said DCMS Secretary of State Jeremy Wright.
Earlier this year the government announced its modern Industrial Strategy, which included an AI Sector Deal and a commitment to spend millions on the UK's artificial intelligence sector.
“The huge potential of artificial intelligence to transform our economy and our lives for the better, from revolutionising cancer treatment to combating financial fraud, is at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy," said Business Secretary Greg Clark.