Nov 26,2020

5 barriers to AI adoption: opportunities to talk to your customers

AI offers huge potential for digital transformation across all businesses. However, your customers may not be fully aware of just how big this opportunity is and the changes that are needed – and fundamentally, what it means for them.

Yet, consider this: in our latest AI report Accelerating competitive advantage with AI, we revealed AI-empowered businesses perform 11.5 percent better than those who haven’t implemented these new tools. In particular, they’re more productive, have better business outcomes, and show higher profitability.

In a bid to improve this, and empower every organisation, we’ve identified five barriers to AI adoption. And where there are barriers, there are also opportunities. We recognise that partners need to be able to confidently address any issues with their customers. Equipped with the right knowledge, every partner can take a wider view of the technology’s capabilities and create AI-driven solutions for an entire industry as opposed to one-off cases.  

The Barriers


With their eyes on the bottom line, a customer may be unwilling to spend on this new and exciting technology – in part, because they don’t know how it can drive success. This requires partners to highlight the bottom line business benefits of AI. But not before fully understanding a customer’s needs.

Explore what your customers are trying to achieve, what problems they wish to solve, and how you – and the AI systems – can help them. Ask them: What does success look like to you and how is it tied to real business outcomes?

The AI journey begins with experimentation and ends with implementation. For many in the experimentation stage, that means focusing on the technology itself. But for partners to bring real value to customers, this is the moment to focus on the end-user need, and the commercial value the systems bring.

You must highlight the total cost of the solution – e.g. maintenance over time and potential end-of-life scenarios – while showcasing the benefits. Properly implemented, putting data and intelligence at the heart of digital transformation means that it brings improvements to all pillars; end customer experience, productive employees, innovative products, and optimised operations.

The benefit of AI can both be financial and reputational, as well as its costs. For instance, the benefit may be creating unforgettable customer experiences whilst the cost could be receiving unwanted news headlines.

This may sound like a challenge, but it’s where the real opportunities lie.


AI is only as good as the data you feed it. Great data offers a competitive advantage.

So, start finding out what customers are trying to do with their data. Often, you’ll find your customers aren’t using the right data to get the right results – or worse, they don’t think they have any data at all.

In this scenario, partners have two options.

  • Use supplier services

Even if a customer doesn’t have enough data for custom machine learning, all is not lost. Partners can bring to bear the power of Microsoft’s Cognitive Services on the data flows that all customers have within their applications. Consider the opportunities here – for example, analysing customer comments with Text Analytics, or deploying the computer vision service to moderate images uploaded to a site.

  • Use their own data

Partners can bring a useful data asset to an industry by, say, using their position and scale capabilities to service many customers using the same data asset. This provides customers with both additional insights, as well as AI services.


Partners often like to claim they’re vendor- or platform agnostic. But to be truly platform-agnostic, they need to be able to use the different platforms equally. In reality, customers have likely already chosen their platform but they’re not using it to its fullest.

A partner who knows that platform well – and can show how the same platform can be used for new workloads like AI – is in the perfect position to give their customers comfort and confidence.

Since customers are seeking a complete system, rather than disparate platforms, partners must be able to talk about a cloud platform that’s best-in-class. In other words, Azure. This platform allows for everything from AI and analytics to data processing and application development.

Microsoft Learn has plenty of resources available for getting to grips with Azure. You can also boost your skills with our technical, role-based certifications.


Introducing AI can impact every role in every department in every organisation. That’s why it’s really important to re- and upskill the whole team.

In our AI report, we uncovered the fact that 29 percent of employees surveyed say AI adoption will enable them to take on new responsibilities. What’s currently lacking is the proper training; just 11 percent of workers say they’ve completed any sort of training.

To an extent a business can try to hire their way out of this jam, but partners provide something a new hire can’t: genuine solutions. This is an opportunity to fill a much-needed gap with complementary skills and specialist knowledge aligned to their business needs.

However, a customer’s dependency on learning new skills from partners means partners themselves need to stay on their A-game. It’s important you are as prepared for AI and other new technologies in the future as much as your customers are. Again, Microsoft Learn is great training resource. You could also read our blog on building AI skills, or keep an eye on future events.

Partner to partner

One of the biggest barriers to AI adoption is the idea that you have to ‘go it alone’. You don’t, but some partners may feel ill-equipped to counter customer objections and concerns.

Traditionally, of course, a partner business might claim ‘we do everything’ – and believe that admitting they need help is a sign of weakness. That’s simply untrue today. We’re witnessing what Joe Macri, Vice President One Commercial Partner – Microsoft UK, dubs ‘the rise of the specialist’, where partners focus on what they do best. But that necessitates the need for them to join with other specialists to create much-needed solutions for customers.

We’ve seen partners achieve incredible things through mutual collaboration and teamwork. For example, working with a specialist data science partner makes your solution even stronger, since you won’t be competing in the marker for expensive and hard-to-hire-for skills.

Rather than seeing these as barriers, consider them as five unique opportunities for partners. Opportunities to support and guide customers through their own AI journey and solve real-world business challenges.

AI is for everyone – and you’ll find AI in every part of our platform. From Microsoft 365 to Dynamics; Power Platform to Azure and its tools. Download our AI Playbook to explore every opportunity and start having meaningful conversations around the technology.