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Breaking Down the AI Playbook for Microsoft Partners

Probably nobody in our ecosystem has missed the wave of news around AI. Besides the great products we've seen from Microsoft and others, AI has also been widely democratized via ChatGPT, which has really accelerated innovation. In just the year since it hit the scene, ChatGPT has become the engine for multiple solutions that build services on top of it.  

At this month's Microsoft Ignite event in Seattle, there was a very strong focus on AI and the marching orders from Microsoft are crystal clear: AI is the chosen path and partners should get on board. But what exactly does a partner play for AI look like?

This is a coat of many colors. There are multiple avenues for partners to embrace AI. In this post, I will go through the ones that I have seen and been thinking about. I'll divide them into two buckets: One is what you can do internally, and the other is what you can do for your customers. (There will, of course, be hybrid scenarios where you utilize the success you have internally and bring it to customers; eating your own dogfood has always been successful as it builds trust.)

AI Within Your Own Organization To Drive Profitability
Marketing is low-hanging fruit for AI. You can use various tools to generate sales material, blog posts and scripts for webinars. You can also use AI for prospecting and for recording videos. AI can reduce your need for outside marketing agencies, not only saving you money but also to enabling you to become more agile in your marketing.

Software development can be powered by AI solutions like GitHub Copilot and Copilot in Power Apps. You can generate the bulk of your code almost instantly, which will radically shorten your development cycle and reduce the man-hours involved. With skilled developers hard to find (and salaries high), using GitHub Copilot will dramatically increase your competitiveness, enabling you to sell projects at a much lower price and most likely also increase your profitability.

Software development with the help of AI is a revolution; my advice is that you fully embrace it. When 80 percent of the code is generated by AI, you can focus your expert developers on refining the remaining 20 percent.

Adding AI to your ISV products is something to consider when you plan your roadmap. Not all products will benefit from adding an AI component, but it's well worth considering as AI might add great new capabilities. We have started to see lots of mission-critical systems adding AI and the purpose is often to provide better abilities to plan, make decisions and analyze.

Everyday efficiency is another area where you can easily use AI to streamline your work and accomplish more in your workday. Using a product like Microsoft 365 Copilot will enable you and your colleagues to free up time. Imagine if everyone in your organization could save an hour per day. That would enable you to grow while hiring fewer people -- and that has a big impact on bottom-line profits.

AI for Your Customers
Strategic advice aimed at customers is an important area that is currently underserved. Your customers will need a strategically focused partner to help them understand what AI can do for them and prioritize where to implement it. But they will also need partners with a great understanding of their industry and their company. The combination of AI and business understanding will fuel your strategic advisory practice for years and is a great avenue for selling other projects from yourself or from trusted partners.

Speaking about trusted partners, when you give strategic advice, it is crucial to know who the best players are to realize the strategies that you have set for your customers.

Implementing AI is not just as simple as signing up for a service. It takes a skilled partner to understand how to classify and structure the data that is being used by AI. There are also security and privacy implications that need to be addressed. AI needs access to the right data -- and that data might be in isolated siloes, which takes a skilled partner to handle responsibly.

The new AI-powered SharePoint Premium is a great solution to transform content management and content experiences and get content ready for Microsoft 365 Copilot. I would also recommend building skills around the new Copilot in Microsoft Fabric (and in Microsoft's various other "copilots," as well). You cannot become master in all copilots, so aim for a general understanding of all and specialize on the ones that make the most sense for the needs of your customers.

Building or customizing copilots for Microsoft 365 will be popular among your customers. Microsoft has just announced Copilot Studio, a low-code tool that enables you to customize Microsoft 365 Copilot and build standalone copilots. You also need to become a master on Azure AI Studio, which is a platform for developing generative AI solutions and custom copilots.

Maintenance contracts for AI refers to offering a retainer for monitoring, policing and fine-tuning your customers' AI setups. This will give you a recurring revenue stream and your customers (and your CFO) peace of mind.

Restructuring software development is when you turn the same approach that I described for your internal software development toward your customers and their own software developers.

Don't Be Left Behind
Start your AI transformation journey by making a roadmap and motivating your organization. Make sure you take the first step quickly, and then take it step by step at a pace that works for you and your organization.

Early movers in AI will become popular and spark enthusiasm within both Microsoft and customers, which will drive business opportunities. (We all know that Microsoft loves partners that are forward-looking and drive its business. If you bet on Microsoft's strategic choices, Microsoft will bet on you!) These early movers also will deliver a more exciting workplace for their people; it's always more fun to be part of the future than belong to the past.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Posted by Per Werngren on November 27, 2023


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