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It’s almost impossible to avoid articles or conversations about ChatGPT and its apparent ability to change the world, but the main question from a channel perspective is whether it’s just a distraction or a technology that really matters.
The short answer is that it will have an impact, and the channel needs to make sure it understands not just ChatGPT but artificial intelligence (AI) in general. There are potential opportunities to improve customer experience, reduce the burden on marketing teams and make channel players with limited resources punch above their wright.
“As with all new technology, ChatGPT and AI in general gives opportunities to all sectors, and the channel is no exception,” said Stewart Parkin, chief technology officer at Assured Data Protection. “AI is going to become a feature in all facets of the channel, from marketing and demand generation, through to support and billing processes.”
If ChatGPT is seen as a component in a larger field of AI, then the channel is already using similar tools to help improve their businesses.
Runa Macleod, vice-president of marketing at Westcon, has already seen the channel embrace AI tools in other parts of their business. “AI is already being used by the channel, through things like customer service chatbots, support ticket systems and CRM solutions,” he said. “ChatGPT, as an evolution of this technology, has the potential to take these to the next level with extremely sophisticated generative-AI.
“The buzz around ChatGPT means every business is asking itself how it can take advantage and not be left behind,” said Macleod. “Smart partners will be looking for use cases that help them drive more productivity and innovation, in their own business, as well as improve the solutions and services they offer their customers.
“As partners explore different tools and think about their business applications, it’s hard not to get excited,” he added. “There are real opportunities for partners who can continue to integrate AI into their own services and solutions; it’s particularly an opportunity to build industry sector-specific offerings in healthcare, for example, or finance. And of course, as vendors continue to build AI into their solutions, this will inevitably flow through the channel. AI also has the potential to transform the interactions between businesses and customers across the channel, from vendors through to end users.”
Levelling the playing field
Laura DuBois, global vice-president of product management at N-able, said AI gives a chance for the channel to level the playing field.
“It has the opportunity to reduce the labour required to perform more mundane tasks like scripting,” she said. “For example, some MSPs are using it to create scripts, so you get some potential time savings by eliminating the need to code certain scripts manually.”
That sense of ChatGPT being useful for the channel as a marketing and customer experience tool is also echoed by Keith Jackson, vice-president of channel sales for EMEA at 8x8.
“A key area to consider is how AI advancements are impacting customer experience,” he said. “AI is only continuing to get smarter and better at handling human interactions; helping to augment the role of those working in customer-facing positions. While AI is a big part of the customer service equation, it needs training, as ChatGPT has demonstrated.”
Gordon McKenna, vice-president, cloud evangelist and alliances at Ensono, can also grasp the potential for ChatGPT to make a positive impact on the channel.
“ChatGPT’s value for the channel is in reimagining the art of the possible,” he said. “The CIOs we work with every day are dealing with huge financial uncertainty, trying to do more with less and searching out efficiencies across their business.
“ChatGPT’s revolutionary generative AI capabilities let channel partners offer new ways to rethink how a business operates, whether it is automating manual, repetitive tasks like note-taking or drafting emails, or lowering the barrier for entry to start experimenting and innovating using AI. There is huge potential value to deliver here for the channel, helping businesses do more with less, drive efficiencies, and deliver that critical business objective: growth.”
Having established the positives, the channel also needs to be aware of the challenges. Using AI unchecked poses risks both from a security perspective and the possibility it will also undermine the customer experience it is meant to be enhancing.
Before the channel rushes out to embrace ChatGPT, there are some risks to be aware of, and Macleod urged a balanced approach. “While looking to harness the power of AI, also recognise the possible limitations and risks of ChatGPT and similar technologies,” he said.
DuBois also has a warning that just rolling out AI-generated marketing content is also going to be a risk. “Much of the web content is auto-generated today, and more and more marketers are using it to write articles, blogs, product sheets, etc,” she said. “But you always want a human editor because it’s very easy for GPT to write something that ‘almost’ sounds right but might get important things wrong or miss the key pieces that differentiate your business.
“In addition, auto-generated content can violate copyrights and intellectual property agreements, or unintentionally share sensitive information, making validation and review even more critical.”
Jackson at 8x8 is also concerned that the channel will lean too heavily on the AI tools that are available and could risk undermining customer experience.
“The opportunity for the channel is development work that underpins training the AI technology,” he said. “Chatbots are only as good as the data they can dip into, and this needs to come from somewhere. That’s why smart people in the channel are asking the question of who is responsible for feeding and training the chatbots. Is that an existing role that needs to be upskilled, for example, or are we actually looking at the creation of new roles and positions? There is also the question of analytics. Who is going to check that chatbots and AI are working as well as human interactions?
There is a sense that to get the most out of ChatGPT there is going to be a need for the channel to invest some time and effort into really understanding it. “It is essential to educate personnel on how to use AI effectively yet securely,” said Michael Paye, vice-president of research and development at Netwrix. “For example, when it comes to open-source solutions like ChatGPT, it’s not advisable to provide sensitive data. For in-house solutions, guidelines should be in place to control the input of data and prevent potential risks. In essence, the skill of developing tasks for AI requires practice and training.”