Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an incredibly powerful business tool, but not many organizations are capable of using it to its full potential. This is particularly true for those who try to go it alone.
An effective way of tackling this challenge is to find friendly partners who can help bear the burden. This means other businesses and organizations with the skills you’re missing or that specialize in the support infrastructure you need, be it in engineering, logistics, marketing or sales.
This is particularly essential when dealing with AI. It’s certainly getting easier for companies to start exploring and benefiting from AI. But fully integrating it in a business across every viable use case is still expensive, time-consuming and often dependent on the availability of highly skilled specialists.
Businesses rely on trusted networks of consultants, suppliers, and resellers to create these partnership ecosystems. Partnership working in the context of AI is going to be particularly important for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that generate the majority of GDP and account for 90 percent of global business activity. Ultimately, it’s likely to be these businesses that will determine whether AI achieves its projected $4.4 trillion potential.
The Challenges To AI Adoption
In my experience, topping the list of reasons that a business is having difficulty realizing its AI ambitions is simply a lack of skills. Much has been written about the shortage of AI professionals, such as machine learning engineers, data scientists and project managers with experience in the field.
After that, there are often also issues around data itself. This could mean difficulty in obtaining data, but today, it’s more likely to mean difficulty in cleaning or preparing data, dealing with data quality, or understanding and complying with regulations around privacy and security.
Additionally, there are challenges around organizational culture. It’s possible that there will be resistance from employees due to a fear that AI is eventually going to replace them. And management can be reluctant to hand over aspects of decision-making that are often considered to be part of leadership.
All of these are problems that are holding businesses back every day from benefiting from the advances that AI can bring. They can seem hugely difficult for businesses to tackle alone but can often be overcome with effective partnering strategy. Let’s take a look at how some companies are doing just that:
Kate Woolley, IBM’s general manager for Ecosystems, considers its partnership ecosystem, which includes technology and systems integrators as well as consultants and software vendors, all playing a part in filling gaps in the organization’s skillset, creating robust data strategies, or guiding organizational change.
Part of its strategy is to bring the best together. I spoke to her about a recent partnership agreement between IBM and SAP, which sees WatsonX embedded directly into SAP’s cloud service homepage, SAP Start. This lets users leverage the natural language capabilities of WatsonX as they launch and engage with SAP’s suite of cloud applications.
Woolley told me it was “providing a much better user experience for SAP’s users and delivering more value for our clients.”
In a partnership, it’s often the case that the value of one partner will be a unique ability to meet the customer needs of the other.
For example, Google recently announced the closure of the Jamboard whiteboarding tool that’s been integrated into Google Workspace since 2016. By its own account, Jamboard was quite well used. However, it hadn’t proved as popular as other whiteboarding tools like FigJam, LucidSpark and Miro, which are also integrated into Workspace due to partnership arrangements with Google.
All of these apps fulfill the requirements of Workspace customers while keeping them within the Google ecosystem. So, it makes sense for Google to stop trying to compete with them for users and simply provide them with the infrastructure they need to scale.
Microsoft and Wolters Kluwer partnered to develop an AI tool that surfaces relevant legal information, streamlining the workflow for legal professionals and showcasing the transformative power of cross-company collaboration in AI innovation. David Jones, Microsoft’s Modern Work Customer Co-Innovation team principal program manager for this engagement says, “We thought that if we could leverage Wolters Kluwer’s deep domain knowledge to determine the legal context of the document a lawyer is working on, we could proactively surface useful information that would accelerate the lawyer’s workflow and help them produce higher-quality work.”
Another recently launched IBM partnership – this time with NASA – aims to democratize access to geospatial data collected by the space agency’s satellites. This partnership includes the creation of the first open-source AI foundation model built on NASA data, and has been built to assist with tasks such as monitoring deforestation, detecting greenhouse gas emissions and predicting crop yields.
Scaling With Partners
Partnering provides organizations the opportunity to develop their collaborative processes. This creates opportunities for businesses to share best practices and learn from each other. It also exposes each partner’s services to the other’s audience, acting as an endorsement and creating opportunities for shared publicity and marketing outreach from both companies.
When executed effectively, this lets both partners leverage the reputation and credibility of each other to communicate trustworthiness to audiences and potential future clients.
This strategy can be seen in partnerships like that between Coca-Cola and Spotify. The soft drink manufacturer provided value to its customers by providing the technology behind Coca-Cola Music, while Spotify benefited from Coke’s global marketing outreach.
American Express created value and grew loyalty by offering exclusive benefits to its members through a partnership with AirB’n’B, which gained increased exposure to an affluent consumer segment of Amex cardholders.
But possibly the biggest advantage that many businesses achieve through partnering is the ability to share resources and knowledge. Harnessing the specialized skillset of a partner is frequently done in order to enhance functionality and user experience.
The Future Of Partnerships?
As technology evolves, it only makes sense that the nature of partnerships does, too. As AI use cases continue to emerge, I am sure more and more organizations will explore the benefits that come with building partnerships with others who share compatible visions and values.
A concept that will become increasingly common will be the center of excellence. These can be thought of as hubs that join multi-partner networks and act as a central repository where lessons can be shared and opportunities explored. IBM has been quick to connect this trend with the rise of generative AI. Launched this year, its center of excellence for generative AI is designed as an access point to a network of over 1,000 experts in the emerging technology. Already, more than 100 of its clients have taken advantage of these opportunities, with results that include AI-generated spoken word commentary at The Masters and applications in chemical engineering and customer relations.
Another example of an organization that’s blazing a trail when it comes to leveraging the partnership dynamic comes from ChatGPT creator OpenAI. The company has been highly active in joining with third-party application and service providers, including Expedia, Shutterstock and Coursera. By all accounts, OpenAI has created streamlined processes around partnering with businesses that can use their technology to improve their service in recognition of the key role it plays in scaling their user base.
I believe a forthright and open approach to building partnership ecosystems will become the standard model as more organizations get to grips with the requirements of AI. If managed well, it will play a key role in pioneering the next generation of IT innovation.
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