Artificial intelligence and internet of things are among the biggest opportunities in IT today. As demand—and customer inquiries—ramp up, managed service providers should start to know how to answer questions and deliver solutions that incorporate these technologies. But many are wondering how to apply these technologies to be more competitive.
In CompTIA’s YouTube series From Promise to Profit, Khali Henderson and Greg Plum from CompTIA’s Emerging Technology Community explore popular use cases for AI and IoT with guest experts, providing guidance for how to implement them into an MSP business model. Here’s a closer look at the series:
There is constant discussion regarding the use of AI to help empower businesses in an omnichannel world. While it sounds like a panacea for company woes, there is more to consider before implementing AI and chatbot technology.
Mady Mantha, head of product marketing with Rasa, talks about when chatbots work best and what to look out for if you plan to implement them at your business. Chatbots have great applications, such as automation of rote tasks, assisting in search and creating an omnichannel customer experience, but she cautions that they aren’t a solution for all that ails you. She referenced T-Mobile as a perfect use case where they implemented chatbots to talk with customers to reduce wait times and improve service. “Conversational AI is a great way to offer a superior customer experience,” she notes. “Customers want to be immediately heard and understood, but tempering expectations is a good idea.”
If you plan to implement chatbots, Mady recommends you follow an outcome-based approach, solve for pain points, provide PoC to prove the value, and use a data-driven approach.
The use of sensors and other devices to manage spaces is old technology, but with IoT we are now seeing a connection of those devices, powered by algorithms, AI technology, and the cloud to create smart buildings.
Benson Chan, senior partner at Strategy of Things, offers some expert advice on what it takes to create your office or other facility smarter. “Smart buildings are all about the tenant,” he says. “There are certain experiences you want when you go in a building, and you can use the technology to enhance those experiences.” Smart buildings use the combined technology to enhance efficiencies and create comfort. Chan recommends three things for those wanting to implement smart buildings.
- Look for infrastructure upgrade opportunities.
- Market your offering around creating safe buildings, not smart buildings, because your audience may have preconceived notions about cost or scale with that latter term.
- Focus on integration opportunities.
Another leading use case for AI is CRM improvement to enable better customer service. MSPs are now leveraging AI to bring all data though a single CRM system which helps provide a holistic view of customer data and touchpoints to enable the same experience across all sales channels.
Ray Orsini, CEO of OIT, recommends that businesses use AI to create uniformity for customers. He advises MSPs to identify categories among clients so you can create one solution and re-deploy the same option to others in the same vertical. Either way, he suggests finding data and translating that into business process. “Regardless of what tool you’re using, the ability to analyze data and make meaningful decisions out of it—that’s a skill I’d like to see more of in our industry,” he comments.
Managing fleets has been a business necessity for some time. From taxis to semis and construction fleets, vehicle management has traditionally focused on increasing productivity while ensuring safety—two elements that were sometimes at odds with one another. Using IoT, capabilities have expanded to allow us to bring together data to enhance both categories. “As technology improves and costs come down, we no longer have to make a choice between productivity and safety,” comments Robert Forget, CTO of Aware 360. “We can now do both simultaneously.”
MSPs can use IoT to manage fleets beyond the vehicles. Now, they’re able to manage drivers and the environment around the vehicles. By leveraging technology that is available in smartphones and other data sources, one MSP is using metrics to determine when drivers are too fatigued to drive, as well as developing alert systems for potential dangers around fleet vehicles. “We’re trying to move from a reactive state to a preventative state,” says Forget.
One of the top use cases for AI involves applications for predictive sales and lead scoring, helping to enable more efficient and accurate business decisions. Jason Juliano, director of EisnerAmper Digital, uses AI to evaluate and improve the entire customer journey. “Over the last few years, I’ve seen clients change their entire sales process,” he says. “AI technologies are now allowing clients to look at the entire customer journey, the full 360.”
Juliano recommends finding ways to automate processes and leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning as your glue to consolidate data from multiple platforms. Regardless of which tools you’re using, he suggests bringing it all together with AI.
Tracking assets and keeping tabs on inventory has been a challenge for many businesses, especially with today’s expanding populations and heightened customer service expectations. IoT is now being leveraged to manage large-scale inventories and execute fulfillment tasks at scale. Jonathan Weiss, principal specialist with AWS for Industrial, uses exactly this strategy to manage Amazon’s shipping capabilities. “IoT technology, especially track and trace of assets and efficiency gains—that’s how we make Prime Delivery happen,” he comments. “In some markets within hours, in most markets, within days.”
IoT technology is responsible for the scaled management capabilities of millions of assets at Amazon, most of which is now automated.
Smart badges have a variety of use cases for practical business needs. The most prominent application is access control. In the past, companies would provide access to physical locations via key cards which could present a security challenge if stolen or lost. With smart badges, businesses can ensure access is granted to the right person.
Other use cases involving access control include vaccine status, limited access to secure locations, and even better property management so that you’re only using resources in a building when it’s occupied. “We’re using IoT and AI along with emerging technology to improve the lives of people and improve the productivity of the client,” says Forget, CTO of Aware 360. “They can actually see better bottom lines, increased margins, and improved safety across the board.”
Cybersecurity is a rising and persistent concern for businesses today. With companies facing increasingly sophisticated attacks alongside personnel shortages, AI can now be used to help with threat detection.
Joseph Steinberg, an expert in cybersecurity, sees enormous potential for the use of AI in cybersecurity when it comes to helping detect threats, but also in accurately prioritizing the severity of the threat for human intervention. “Artificial intelligence systems can look at all the alerts that are coming in from many different systems, look at threat intelligence, look at the current status of networks look at the current status of data, etc., and analyze it all,” he notes. “They can make predictions and give good advice on what needs human attention.”
Marketing is one area where businesses are reaping the benefits of AI. Marketers can now use AI to help create that omnichannel experience, but also to help identify qualified leads and personalize experiences to each customer. “You can really curate content to visitors, based on which platform they’re coming to you from,” notes Juliano with EisnerAmper Digital. “Based on buyer personas, you can tie in service and product recommendations, even search ad targeting too. You could create AI predictive algorithms based on Google Analytics.”
He urges MSPs to really look at different opportunities for engaging with customers and automating those capabilities. “Consumer behaviors are changing from a day-to-day perspective, and you need new methods to understand them,” he comments.
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Industry 4.0 and how that’s impacting the industrial sector. IoT has been particularly useful in industry because it improves productivity, efficiency and safety. Devices are fitted, or retro fitted with sensors to help monitor these KPIs. IoT has also been especially useful for quality control, assuring all products meet high standards for customer sales. Business continuity, predictive maintenance and quality control are leading use cases for modern IoT.
MSPs that want to start with IoT might heed this advice from Jonathan Weiss. “It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of technology just for the sake of technology. Don’t fall into the trap of doing it just to do it,” he cautions. “Make sure there’s a reason why you’re connecting your assets. Actually, change a process or the way you do something.”