Maximising AI’s potential: The essential role of skills development in the channelBy Industry Contributor 27 October 2023 | Categories: news
By Aaron Harris, CTO of Sage
AI in business is entering a new era, with a growing number of organisations recognising its immense potential. The technology, expected to contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030, is driving a wave of innovation impacting almost every aspect of knowledge work, for example, generating content, analysing information, and even writing computer code. Businesses continually embracing such capabilities will realize huge productivity gains - the potential of the technology is endless when it’s harnessed in the right way.
Yet while AI tools offer breakthrough capabilities, achieving success hinges not solely on the technology but also on the skills to harness it to its utmost potential. For businesses to truly benefit from all that AI has to offer, considerable effort is needed to nurture related skills, bring more data science, and machine learning talent into the workforce, and more broadly, embody a philosophy of trusted AI.
AI's Paradigm Shift in Business
For a while now, AI has been a valuable asset to the IT channel. We’ve seen how the technology has streamlined operations by automating tasks and has enhanced customer support through chatbots.
The rise of generative AI brings further, more advanced, possibilities for the IT channel network. Its ability to generate human-like text and interact with users in natural language has the potential to transform what personalised and efficient IT services and interactions look like.
Broader examples of this in practice are Large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT by OpenAI and Bard by Google, which are continuing to have an unprecedented impact. Their ability to understand the patterns and structure of language enables them to answer questions with text which genuinely feels human to the reader.
Thanks to generative AI tools such as these, two AI limitations have now been solved – the technology’s ability to demonstrate ‘understanding’ and its ability to offer a level of ‘reasoning’. Generative AI can now understand complex instructions, generate articulate responses, and explain the reasoning behind its responses.
The fact that humans can now leverage LLM-based digital assistants to perform research and analysis, handle simple writing tasks like job descriptions and executive summaries, and even generate computer code, will greatly enhance productivity. These assistants can also act as on-the-job tutors, helping employees learn new skills. I used ChatGPT to learn the Python programming language, for example, a powerful and widely adopted language for machine learning development.
Not only will these assistants improve productivity, but they’ll also accelerate on-the-job learning for individuals with varying levels of experience and a wide range of skill sets.
However, generative AI, while highly capable, is not a substitute for human judgement and expertise. Just like a modern plane with autopilot still needs a captain to land it, AI needs humans to stay in the loop to work - not just well, but safely.
The Urgent Need for AI Skills in the IT Channel
Against this backdrop, Sage recently conducted research underlining the level of support customers are looking for from their channel partners.
The report Partnering for Success: State of the IT Channel Ecosystem indicated a growing requirement for skills in new technologies, finding that the majority (51%) of the channel is already looking to recruit AI-specific skills.
For AI to further enhance the IT channel’s efficiency, competitiveness, and ability to meet customer demands, IT organisations need more people trained to explain, explore, and extend the appropriate use of AI within businesses.
Those with skillsets in data science, coding, machine learning, and AI ethics are instrumental in maximising the benefits of AI within this context - ensuring responsible and effective results while also mitigating potential risks and challenges.
As AI becomes increasingly capable and takes on more work normally entrusted to humans, it’s imperative that employees feel confident they can trust AI to work safely and competently. Even though AI will increasingly assume responsibility for getting work done, humans will always be accountable for the results. Employees trained in reducing AI bias, managing data privacy, and ensuring fair outputs (particularly in areas like hiring and customer service) are critical to maintaining trust and reaping AI’s full potential.
Investing in these skills must come hand in hand with a business commitment to using AI securely and ethically. Businesses should publish these commitments along the principles that govern their AI initiatives to both employees and customers.
AI + skilled humans = a winning combination
Fully embracing new technologies within the IT channel network requires employee upskilling, effective governance, and ongoing adaptation.
AI brings the power of automation, data analysis, and predictive capabilities, while it is skilled employees that harness its potential, fine-tune algorithms, and interpret AI-generated insights to solve complex problems and make informed decisions. With this technology, the future is bright, but only with the ‘know-how’ and skills in place to make the most of it.
Sage exists to knock down barriers so everyone can thrive, starting with the millions of Small and Mid-Sized Businesses served by us, our partners, and accountants. Customers trust our finance, HR, and payroll software to make work and money flow. By digitising business processes and relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, banks and governments, our digital network connects SMBs, removing friction and delivering insights. Knocking down barriers also means we use our time, technology, and experience to tackle digital inequality, economic inequality, and the climate crisis.
Find out more: www.sage.com/za
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