Artificial intelligence research laboratory OpenAI made generative AI a household phenomenon. Just as quickly as the public began using ChatGPT, partners started asking questions about how this technology might influence the products they sell. It was a reasonable train of thought considering many vendors that operate within the channel – and primarily those in the contact center space – were incorporating OpenAI’s large language model (LLM) into their stack.
From an editorial perspective, Channel Futures has been inundated with press releases about AI advancements since late last year. Vendors claim they have unique generative AI offerings and many are making use of the 200,000-plus large language models (some open source, some closed) available. The AI tools that vendors utilize from these sources help them create offerings to differentiate them from other suppliers.
But is that message getting out to partners?
Select Communications president and CEO Jerry Goldman said he’s skeptical about messaging from vendors.
Select Communications’ Jerry Goldman
“Every supplier in the portfolio says they have the best AI. And you kind of cringe. You dig into it and say, ‘No, you don’t,’ or, ‘You’ve just relabeled, rebranded or redone what you’ve always done,’” Goldman said.
He added: “What most of these companies are doing is building a bridge to ChatGPT in some capacity, which is dangerous because it’s not updated information. Technology changes quickly. They’re essentially saying, ‘We don’t need to go build it ourselves; it already exists. So we’re going to take the best of what’s out there, and we’re going to tie it to what we do in their own flavor.’ Several suppliers have done that. And you look at it and [say], ‘It’s just ChatGPT. That’s what it is.’ But they’ve branded it, they’ve marketed, they’ve found a way in through an API to say, ‘No, no, no, it’s in our infrastructure. It’s in our product.’ And it’s just not true. Dialpad, for example, does a great job with their AI. They have some things that are a little more cutting-edge. Now some of their competitors will come up say, ‘Oh, we do that.’ OK, show me.”
Select Communications was a Dialpad partner of the year.
COMMfusion’s Blair Pleasant
Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at COMMfusion, said it’s important to clarify what kind of ChatGPT tools are being used. Pleasant noted that some vendors are using OpenAI technology, but it’s not the public tool where everyone has access to the website to make queries.
Pleasant said she likes the way contact center technology provider Five9 describes generative AI technology adoption.
“They say, ‘We’re not building the engine; we’re building the plane,’” Pleasant described. “They’re leveraging the engine that’s there but building around it to create the solution that leverages the LLM technology.”
What the vendors must be concerned with are the use cases and the applications that they’re going to sell, incorporated with AI, she said.
“They’re not selling AI in and of itself, they’re selling AI as part of a solution. That’s part of the underlying technology, or it’s infused in the applications, but it’s not like [partners] have to become large language model experts.”
However, the rapid advances by vendors with the technology, as well as the influx of marketing campaigns, make it a challenge for some channel employees to keep up.
Goldman said sales engineers at the TSDs are struggling to make their way through the onslaught of partner inquiries about AI.
“They’re the ones that are being asked. And they are done with the AI — all of them. [Sales engineers say], ‘If another person asks me about AI, I’m gonna lose my mind.’”
Generative AI: What’s There to Sell?
Some partners have likened the talk of generative AI to the term “cloudwashing.” Coined during the early acceleration of the cloud, cloudwashing is the deceptive vendor practice of rebranding a product or service by attaching the trendy word “cloud” to it.
Telarus chief commercial officer Richard Murray, who oversees the vendor relations side of the firm, said suppliers feel that they have an obligation to talk about AI.
Telarus’ RIchard Murray
“For some, it’s vaporware. They’re talking about something that they will have,” Murray said. “There are some [suppliers] that have elements of AI. But we imagine AI as this great all-knowing bot that can do everything. I don’t think anybody’s enabled at that level.”
Despite some vendors having pieces to the generative AI puzzle, Murray said, “Right now it is a lot of talk.”
Eric Ludwig, co-founder at Rise Technology Advisors, said the focus should be on outcomes.
“In the contact center, it’s providing superior customer experience, reducing costs, providing operational efficiencies and increasing revenue growth,” Ludwig said. “Honestly, we don’t care if …
… a service provider markets a chatbot as ‘AI.’ We know there are a ton of outcomes organizations can gain today from these technologies in client experience, security, data modeling and such. If Amazon wants to call a suggestion that I buy a brand of tube socks because I searched for athletic shoes AI, so be it.”
The key for the current marketplace is to understand what services are already commercially viable and have demonstrated success, he said.
Rise Technology’s Eric Ludwig
“We’ve seen outstanding threat hunting and anomaly tracking services in security, suggested patterns of success in product development or marketing and a whole host of offerings in the customer experience including self-service, agent assist, caller disposition, tracking promises, increasing coaching to name a few,” Ludwig said. “There is a lot of noise in the marketplace and some clients are trying to build their own ‘AI’ services … to help figure out a strategy, how to integrate with existing tech investments and where to start.”
Bradley Shimmin is chief analyst, AI and data analytics, Omdia, which shares parent company Informa with Channel Futures. He said generative AI can provide a tangible offering, incorporated in products in a meaningful way, that can be articulated and sold.
Omdia’s Bradley Shimmin
“The goal is to help that [LLM] to focus on providing outcomes that are specific to your business and your use case. That is, I think, where the channel still has a great opportunity to step in and help with what can be very complex,” Shimmin said.
He added that channel partners should not only rely on education from vendors, they should learn a platform inside out – anything from Google Cloud Vertex AI to Amazon Bedrock – and then become acquainted with others in the market. They can build expertise in the rapidly emerging and evolving research “ecosystem” as well. Shimmin said partners should simply sign up for AI classes on sites such as Coursera as a starting point.
When it comes to these large language models, it’s about acquiring the right training to help customers with the subtle and often difficult task of taking their own data and using it to fine-tune and guide a model.
Dan O’Connell, chief strategy officer at Dialpad, noted that it’s a prolific moment in the AI era. The company has released a new AI tool each month and will do so throughout the entirety of the year.
Dialpad’s Dan O’Connell
“Many companies are transforming into AI companies by weaving AI into their product offerings; yet, many that claim to be an ‘AI company’ are only offering a singular AI feature as a part of a larger whole,” O’Connell said. “At Dialpad, we have a different philosophy about what it means to be an ‘AI company,’ where AI is embedded into each product we offer. While we’d never say never, a core feature of our brand is the blend of AI capabilities within each product to better assist our customers.”
AI has been a part of the Dialpad model for more than five years and is a key part of the way that the company works to “share responsible and sustainable features and capabilities for its customers,” he said. Dialpad is the only enterprise cloud platform with native and proprietary AI across the entire TrueCaaS stack, company officials claim.
O’Connell added: “Every business is focused on increasing revenue by selling more or churning less. In an ideal situation, it is hopefully a combination of both. We’re at a moment in time where AI can help businesses mine and access data faster than ever before, giving brands the ability to analyze conversations, identify specific insights and apply categorization to their customer interactions. However, tech service distributors must be careful about the way that they infuse AI into their portfolio, rather than just for the sake of joining into the frenzy, they must consciously work to ensure that an AI product would benefit their customer base. Additionally, leaders should be primarily focused on ensuring transparency and control over the data and knowledge that is used to build the models in order to minimize risks at hand to their customers.”
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