For the uninitiated, it may seem like artificial intelligence only proved its usefulness about a year ago, with the introduction of advanced chatbot tools like ChatGPT and image generators like Dall-E. But here at Xantrion, we’ve been experimenting with different AI-powered tools and automation for the last three years. As a mid-size managed IT service provider, we’ve learned a lot about the potential and the limitations of AI tools, and what they mean for businesses like ours…and yours.
It’s clear that AI tools like large language models (LLMs) can drive efficiency and improve workflows for businesses. But the return on investment on AI depends on implementing tools in a measured, thoughtful way — which often means resisting the urge to rush to adopt the latest, flashiest AI. Here are five things to keep in mind:
Before adopting AI, ensure your data is ready.
AI tools are designed to access data in the cloud, not in on-premise servers. So ahead of adopting any AI tool, a business should pursue a cloud migration of its data. It’s to a business’s advantage to engage in data mapping — documenting how data enters, changes and flows through your organization — to facilitate a more organized migration. It’s also important to institute strict rules regarding permissioning, with different levels of data access for different employees to protect against intentional or unintentional misuse of data.
Take time to explore the tools you already have.
Many vendors, including Microsoft, have started offering AI features on software and SaaS products that are already widely used by businesses. Remote conferencing programs now come with notes and meeting summary features, while word processing programs and email platforms include AI-powered text prompts. The most notable is Copilot for Microsoft 365 that seamlessly adds AI assistance features to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. This provides a simple and easy way for a business to get started with AI, but leaders should nevertheless be careful not to go overboard: Not every vendor’s “add-on” AI tool will actually add value to your business. Take the time to discern which will and feel free to skip the rest.
Understand size and scale requirements.
Unfortunately, some AI tools are only available to larger companies with a minimum number of users. That’s because AI companies often can’t provide new, resource-intensive tools to smaller enterprises without facing unsustainable losses. Fortunately, this won’t be true forever and we have already seen Microsoft remove the 300-seat requirement for their CoPilot offering. As with other new technologies, the production and provision of AI is expected to become more efficient over time, allowing AI companies to offer more products to businesses.
Exercise caution with public tools.
While it’s tempting to use AI tools you read about in the news, it’s important to be aware that public tools expose companies to security risk. Public AIs may learn from user inputs, meaning that if an employee makes the mistake of feeding sensitive corporate information into a public tool, that information could appear in AI content provided to users outside the company. Many well-known companies including Apple, Amazon, JP Morgan, Spotify and Verizon have restricted use of public tools like ChatGPT and GitHub CoPilot due to privacy concerns. “Our top priority is our four stakeholders: communities, customers, investors/shareholders, and society, and we have to be thoughtful when introducing a new and emerging technology such as a ChatGPT,” Raquel Wilson, a communications manager at Verizon, wrote in the company’s press release. Consider adopting a company policy on the use of public AI tools, with guidance on what they can be used for—such as answering generic questions—and what uses (namely those involving company data) are prohibited.
Prepare for the pace of innovation with the right guidance.
Even if the right AI tool isn’t available for your businesses just yet, the unprecedented pace of AI innovation suggests that someday soon, it will be. While only 44% of businesses say they plan to increase use of AI in 2024; 94% of marketers believe it will be part of their tech stack within 4 years. Be prepared to take advantage of that innovation by engaging in data mapping, permissioning, cloud migration and cybersecurity best practices ahead of time. A managed IT service provider like Xantrion can help. We keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the market today as well as where it’s headed, ensuring our clients are armed with the latest knowledge and are ready to make informed decisions on incorporating AI into their workflows.
If your company is looking for a new partner to meet your growing IT and security needs, Xantrion is here to help. Our IT experts have helped hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses reduce IT support costs, improve cybersecurity and increase productivity. Contact us today to learn more.