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It’s time to gen up on AI-capable PC use cases

The channel has been advised to ensure they understand and can support users with the move to hardware that is taking advantage of AI

AI-capable PCs are coming and the channel is expecting the technology to have a real impact this year.

Given the challenging times in the PC world since the highs of the pandemic-induced purchasing, the idea of a fresh pitch – with Windows 11 also sparking upgrades – means there is a different narrative emerging in the hardware segment.

Brandon Lieberthal, vice-president of PC systems and print solutions for Europe at TD Synnex, is in a position to chart the progress of AI and share realistic expectations of what the technology could mean for sales this year and beyond. There is plenty of hype, but it is going to take time in terms of user adoption.

“The industry as a whole is probably expecting it to be the early adopter phase. I have seen numbers bandied about ranging between 10 and 15% of replacements this year would be done on AI-enabled PCs,” he said.

The temptation to make comparisons with how PC sales responded to fresh technology waves in the past is perhaps not one that will be applicable when it comes to AI.

“10 to 15% isn’t huge. However, it is a new technology and we need to think of it than versus the past,” said Lieberthal. “When we talked about technology changes on personal computers in the past, it was really either around an operating system or about a process of speed, and not to take away.

“But the fact remains those were typically the two things that were driving the step change. Now, it’s going to be looking at it from a slightly different angle. Hardware is going to enable the applications and the use cases.”

Those use cases are continuing to emerge, and for that reason this is very much the launch phase of AI-capable PCs.

“As people can see more of the use case, you will see the ramp up, but...I think we’ll be early adopters, [testing] the ecosystem to see [whether it is] returning the investment,” added Lieberthal.

“The applications will have to bring your return on investment through efficiency, power consumption, security – whatever it is in your use case. But you will have to be justifying that additional spend with a return on investment.”

With the emergence of more use cases, the prospects for 2025 and beyond are of higher sales and a more fundamental shift to AI-capable PCs.

Lieberthal said the distributor has made significant efforts to get itself into a position where it can support the channel around AI, recently cutting the ribbon on its Destination AI programme to provide end-to-end support to partners. The channel player is covering a handful of key areas to ensure it can provide the support partners need.

“The first one being awareness,” said Lieberthal. “With this technology, it’s no longer just about feeds and speeds having to be a solution. So, a lot of people are still not sure what it is. They may understand about the neural processing unit tops, but how [do they] take that out as to a value proposition to customers? We need to make them aware of [what the] technology is, what the applications are, and how you can use them.”

The next pillar of the firm’s strategy is around enablement to ensure partners can take their customers on an AI journey. Virtual labs, testing options and advice around required infrastructure are all part of that process.

“The last piece will probably be after sales. How do we again provide services, ongoing support, so that they maximise their revenue out of the solutions that they sell?” Lieberthal said.

“So far, we’ve on boarded 40 vendors into that programme. We plan to expand that across both physical hardware products into the software, the applications, our data centre teams, and so on,” he added.

When it comes to the channel, their time would be spent wisely now getting into a position where education and support can be developed and then delivered to customers.

“It’s not just about the dimensions, the weight, the cooling fan – it’s a solution. They’ll have to get their teams well-versed on the technologies, but also the use cases,” said Lieberthal.

“They’re also need to think about how they’re going to market and make their own customers aware of this technology, as well as how they could use it and how they really benefit from it. I think they’ll need to get their infrastructure ready as well.”

Lieberthal echoed the views of many in the PC world talking about the opportunities that are stretching out across the rest of this year and beyond: “We’ve got two big opportunities on our plate for the next quarter, and months [beyond]. We’ve got Windows 11, which we need to talk as much about as we do AI, and we’ve got the AI journey. We need to also find ways to bring those two conversations together.”

One or the other driver might spark investments, but they are connected and the channel needs to be able to frame AI into that broader conversation. “Even if [users are] not going to transition to an AI-enabled PC right now as part of Windows 11 migration, it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about it,” Lieberthal concluded.

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