February Premium Monthly: Finding AI Traction Amid the Hype - Modern Distribution Management

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February Premium Monthly: Finding AI Traction Amid the Hype

Mike Hockett leads off our February Premium Monthly issue with his take on why the AI learning curve won't be nearly as steep as that of office computers or the Internet.
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On Feb. 23, I was a guest on LeadSmart Technologies’ weekly live podcast, hosted by Kevin Brown and Tom Burton, which began with our analysis of an interesting New York Times article that suggested the U.S. may be at the onset of a productivity boom, based on correlations between current better-than-expected economic growth figures and rapid wage gains against moderating inflation against that of 1994.

Similar scenarios, for sure, with the one of 30 years ago at the onset of the Internet’s widespread consumer launch similar to the current situation with the formal launch of numerous AI-powered technologies. 

What the three of us on the podcast agreed on, however, is that the key differences between the Internet’s wildfire spread and that of AI is the learning curve involved. AI’s figures to be much shorter and shallower. It took a solid decade for much of the B2C and B2B world to get its internet bearings and determine how to put it to use. Whereas with AI, the November 2022 launch of ChatGPT-4 immediately resulted in business worldwide trialing the free tool in operational areas of sales, marketing, market research and more. A handful of technology vendors have launched distribution-specific AI-powered software tools in the past few years that help distributors boost their productivity.

Overall, I think distribution is much more likely to see immediate productivity gains via AI than it was at the onset of office computers in the 1960s/1970s and the Internet’s rise in the 1990s/2000s. And while certain ethical aspects of AI are concerning, the technology’s hands-on applications phase couldn’t have come a moment too soon, given the heightened labor strains distributors have faced since COVID-19 arrived.

Even so, I’m concerned about the ethics side of such rapid AI adoption, as there are few, if any, guardrails for distributors to follow as they try out and invest in AI tools. A Summer 2023 survey from The Conference Board found that 56% of U.S. workers were using generative AI on the job at that point, with nearly 1 in 10 employing the technology on a daily basis. Yet just 26% of respondents said their organization has a policy related to the use of generative AI, with another 23% reporting such a policy is under development. MDM’s own research indicates that most of the industry still has yet to get involved with any AI application, with about two-thirds of distributors still in a watch-and-learn approach.

Much of the AI adoption in distribution will still be a Wild West environment for several years to come, but I’m encouraged by the appetite for AI education and training in this industry. On MDM’s part, we hosted a wildly successful virtual AI Summit on Feb. 7, which was packed with practical insights on how to get started with the technology, and its content remains free on-demand. We’ve published several AI-centric research reports over the past year that are well worth your time to absorb, along with plenty of Premium content — including two articles published in February. Beyond that, MDM looks to expand our AI resources for distributors later this year, so stay tuned on that front.

MDM Premium subscribers can download our February Premium Monthly PDF here, or from their Premium dashboard.

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