Nov 26,2020

3 Reasons Why Partners are the Key to Implementing AI at Scale

The time has come once more to welcome our customers and ecosystem partners at Microsoft Future Decoded in London, which kicks off today. At the event, we are launching our 2019 report ‘Accelerating Competitive Advantage with AI – How organisations are moving from experimentation to business impact’, which you can download, here.

This builds on last year’s report, and once again, we surveyed more than 1,000 leaders and 4,000 employees at UK organisations to explore the current state of AI and the progress businesses are making year on year.

Most importantly of all, we examined how organisations can implement this technology at scale, to stay at the forefront of AI innovation, so we can provide business leaders with the insights, platforms, services and support they need to move forward responsibly in an AI-enabled world. Without question, our partners are integral to achieving this goal and helping our customers move from small-scale AI experimentation to large-scale AI implementation. And it’s important they do – one of the key findings of our report was that UK organisations that are implementing and using AI at scale are performing an average of 11.5% better than those who are not.

In light of these findings, I wanted to share 3 key reasons why I believe our partners are so vital for unlocking the business value, and competitive edge AI can offer

Firstly: The rise of the specialist

As firms advance on their AI journey, it’s inevitable they encounter new and emergent challenges, spanning strategy, culture, or ethics. Just 34% of UK leaders and 20% of employees know how to evaluate the business benefits of their organisation’s AI investments. This is particularly clear when you understand that AI is not one single technology, but a combination of many, from machine learning to analytics – and usage of all of them is growing.

Chart showing AI technologies being used by UK organisations – 2018 vs. 2019
AI technologies being used by UK organisations – 2018 vs 2019

Much like we’ve seen with the growth of cloud, these trends have pushed the AI partner ecosystem towards specialisation rather than being everything to every partner. As such we’re seeing more specialist partners working together to deliver deeper, more personalised solutions, combining various technologies, such as machine learning, chatbots and analytics.

In the AI enabled era, every enterprise is a software business, so it’s great to see the partner ecosystem evolving in this way to meet customers changing needs. At Microsoft, we can help both customers, and even partners, find the right experts to work with, across the breadth of our whole ecosystem, and the whole range of potential AI project outputs.

Secondly: Handling complexity and scale  

Our research found that out of all the companies surveyed, only 8% can be classed as Advanced AI users, while nearly half (48%) remain in the experimentation phase. Advanced-AI organisations are those which have infused AI into most of the things they do, whereas experimenting organisations are only using AI in discrete business areas or functions. This means scaling AI is a process of evolution, requiring companies to shift and adapt. Customers need our partners to guide them through this complex journey, helping them make smart decisions, with a clearly defined business problem and a view of what success looks like.

The research also reveals compelling evidence of the link between an organisation’s use of AI at scale and its future competitiveness, both in terms of business performance and cultural transformation. We’ve seen this first-hand as the conversations our partners are involved in have matured. Take the interfaces landscape – where partners have developed a very strong set of capabilities. These interfaces, most commonly called chatbots, have gone from strength to strength, and have now opened the door to intelligent search for many customers, a tool which can then be used more widely within the enterprise for staff, as well as customers.

This is a great example of customers starting by knowing they need to act, but not being sure how. Here is where our partner ecosystem is hugely valuable, helping take them on a journey and supporting their digital transformation. This is how our partners help customers go from “I need to experiment with AI somehow” to “I need to unlock tangible business value and deliver specific business outcomes”.

Thirdly: Optimising beyond performance

One of the core pillars of how to scale AI is by making the technology work for everyone. This means establishing a clear set of developmental standards and operating principles to ensure the technology is deployed ethically and in a way that actively promotes diversity and inclusion.

Right now, not only are we seeing increasing specialisation from partners in the ecosystem, but we’re also seeing real value come from their depth of experience in implementing AI projects. This experience means partners are ideally placed to go on the journey with customers, share examples of successes and learnings, and help the market develop and grow.

Clearly preparing for an AI-enabled future is as much about culture and skills as it is about technology. In ‘Accelerating competitive advantage with AI’, we advise businesses to create a culture of participation. This is where employees are empowered to integrate their knowledge of AI into their day-to-day job, ask questions and openly feedback to gain trust in the technology, develop new skills and take advantage of the opportunities AI offers in the long-term.

We advise companies to equip their people because they are the best competitive asset they have. Organisations with a growth mindset, will be the AI innovators of the future. And this holds true, just as much – if not more so – for the partner ecosystem, as it does for AI end users.

It’s of critical importance that, in AI partner businesses, staff at all levels feel empowered to re-skill and actively contribute to the implementation of AI technologies, to become active agents in the future of work. And at Microsoft – we want to help you take part.

One way you can do so, is by signing our Partner Pledge, committing to diversity, workforce upskilling and the responsible and ethical use of AI in your business, so we can help the UK thrive in this exciting new future. As you look to build out your AI business, we wanted to highlight some key resources we offer:

So, I hope you found this article useful, and are as excited as we are about the business value we can unlock, and the opportunity to bring AI to new markets, and help customers break ground and create  new capabilities. If so, we invite you to join, or stay with us on this journey. Let’s keep the world moving towards the incredible AI-enabled future.