AI adoption is booming. Enterprises are using the technology to analyze data, improve customer interactions and troubleshoot problem systems. Yet, most organizations have little AI experience, which is opening up the door for channel partners to offer artificial intelligence consulting services.
The term AI emerged in the 1950s to describe actions computers took that possessed the same characteristics as human intelligence -- some degree of reasoning. The technology is complex and requires high-performance systems.
"AI algorithms have been around for decades," said Bern Elliot, vice president and analyst with Gartner. "These applications work with lots of data, and what the industry lacked was the processing power to crunch the data."
The advent of high-performance data centers and the rise of cloud computing from vendors such as AWS, Google, IBM and Microsoft have broadened AI's appeal.
"So far, AI's initial benefits have been predominantly accrued by tech giants with extensive financial resources, strong IT infrastructure and highly specialized human capital," said Paul Sallomi, vice chairman, global technology media telecom industry leader, and U.S. and global technology sector leader at Deloitte, in a statement. "However, the cloud will power increased efficiencies and better returns on investment, and we expect these benefits to rapidly extend beyond AI's pioneers to the wider enterprise."
The market is big now, and it is expected to become larger in the coming years. AI revenue is expected to grow from $24 billion in 2018 to $77.6 billion in 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 37.3%, according to IDC. The key applications in the market include AI analytics, AI-based operations technology and natural language processing.
Sectors for artificial intelligence consulting
AI is a generic technology. Much like a programming language, it can be used for any application. AI is under the covers and typically not something that users interact with directly.
However, there are a few areas in which partners may find opportunities in the artificial intelligence consulting field. Those include the following:
Analytics. This is one area where AI has taken root. Businesses are creating and collecting more information from more sources than ever before. By itself, data does nothing. AI analytics aims to harness data to produce business results.
"We see companies using AI to capture, harvest and apply data to drive digital outcomes," said Ashim Bose, global leader of analytics product management for DXC Analytics at DXC Technology. DXC, the IT services provider, has more than 133,000 employees worldwide and resulted from the merger of CSC and the Enterprise Services business of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in April 2017.
Companies always want to sell more goods and services, so marketing and sales are one area where AI analytics technology is having a dramatic impact. Retailers, like Amazon, have built recommendation engines that present relevant information to customers at different places on a website or during an interaction. This use of AI represented $1.7 billion in revenue in 2018, according to IDC.
Operations. AI is having a major impact in this area. Systems generate oodles of alerts. Some need to be acted upon; others are just noise.
AIOps, a field that IDC said created $1.9 billion in sales in 2018, automates the process of sifting through these notices, identifying those representing potential problems and acting on them.
Natural language processing. This subset of AI lets machines, such as chatbots, interact with humans in a more effective manner. In 2018, organizations invested $2.9 billion in chatbots, according to IDC.
Limited customer expertise creates opportunity
Bern Elliotvice president and analyst, Gartner
The quick uptick in the use of these applications is creating opportunities for channel partners in the artificial intelligence consulting market. That's because organizations now face a skills shortage.
Only 2% of firms have complete competence and most -- 70% -- said they had limited or no internal skills for AI projects, according to a 2018 Gartner CIO survey. So businesses need help trying to assimilate AI technology into their organizations.
"There are multiple ways to bring AI into the enterprise, and businesses need guidance in making the right match," Gartner's Elliot said.
Historically, companies have had a good handle on what effect new software deployments would have on their organizations, but AI payback is a bit murky.
"Companies need to avoid analysis paralysis," DXC's Bose said. "They have to find a simple AI use case and not get caught up [in] everything that the technology could possibly do."
Gaining new skills
IT providers may need to boost their own knowledge in order to offer artificial intelligence consulting services. So how do channel partners become skilled in AI?
Vendors have developed various training programs so individuals can become fluent in the technology, and many of the courses are online. For instance, AWS created a suite of AI and machine learning classes covering topics such as "Math for Machine Learning" and "Building a Dynamic Conversational Bot."
Suppliers have also created partner support programs. The Microsoft AI Inner Circle Partner program offers support in areas such as sales, marketing and engagement, as well as training and support materials, such as newsletters, webinars and boot camps.
The computing infrastructure needed for AI to take root has been put in place. Customer interest in these solutions is rising, but most firms lack the expertise to maximize the potential returns. If they move quickly, partners can help make AI an integral part of their customers' systems and their own future revenue streams.