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Channel facing a delicate AI pitch into SMEs

There is a clear appetite for artificial intelligence technology, but there is a gap in perceptions of its purpose between those buying the tech and those using it

The channel will have to navigate the challenge of pleasing both IT decision-makers and those who use artificial intelligence (AI) systems if the technology is going to hit the right notes for a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) audience.

According to research from Quocirca, there are clear differences in perceptions of AI success between the two groups, with knowledge workers showing lower levels of satisfaction over the implementations of AI.

Given that the industry is looking to generate more successful use cases for the technology, the risks of projects being under delivered is a concerning prospect.

Quocirca found that the vast majority of SMEs it quizzed were using some form of AI already, but only 8% of knowledge workers felt the implementation had exceeded expectations, compared with 21% of IT decision-makers.

There is also suspicion from staff that the primary objective of adopting more AI is to reduce costs, with concerns over job security and fears that a more powerful system will take decision-making out of their hands. 

“This research reveals a considerable gap in understanding and perception of AI between different stakeholders,” said Louella Fernandes, CEO of Quocirca. “Businesses and vendors must work together to bridge this gap if AI is to be adopted in ways that unlock its immense potential.”

The research found that customers were planning to increase their investments in AI over the coming year, with generative AI (GenAI) at the top of the list of areas where spending is planned.

The perceived benefits include identifying areas where costs could be reduced, improving customer service and cutting down on repetitive tasks. But there were different levels of comfort around the ethics of AI and the real reasons IT decision-makers were keen to add more to their operations.

“Knowledge workers are typically more closely involved in day-to-day operations and are therefore more likely to be aware of the potential cost savings achievable from specific task automation than their counterparts in IT. However, overall IT is leading the AI adoption drive, with IT automation and cyber security the leading use cases, and operations and development teams most likely to be using AI already,” said Fernandes.

“Organisations should foster a culture of collaboration between IT decision-makers and knowledge workers so they can harness the power of AI while mitigating the potential negative impact. At the same time, technology vendors need to ensure their messaging and positioning of AI-driven offerings recognises that the market is very much in its infancy and levels of knowledge and experience regarding AI vary considerably between and within organisations,” she added.

There has been a surge of interest in AI across the channel, with an expectation that it is going to be one of the main areas of customer investment in 2024.

Earlier this week, Canalys shared forecasts of the positive impact AI-capable POCs would have on the market, and the Global Technology Distribution Council (GTDC) has also been talking up the prospects AI could have across the channel.

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