Quick Wins Before Grand Slams: Starting Small with AI in Distribution

April 19, 2024

The blog discusses the shift in the distribution sector's attitude towards AI, highlighting how easily accessible AI technologies offer cost-effective opportunities for significant improvements. It introduces the idea of "quick wins" in AI—simple, focused initiatives that provide immediate benefits, encouraging broader AI adoption by showcasing its value and ROI. The post argues for starting with small, manageable AI projects to drive long-term innovation and maintain a competitive edge, underscoring the importance of embracing AI for operational enhancement and strategic growth.

On a podcast in February 2023, we shared a belief that we are embarrassed to admit: that distributors will not embrace AI because of the large investment it would take to even get a quick win.

It’s a good thing that we are quick learners at ProfitOptics.

As AI has been democratized, and services such as OpenAI, AWS, and Azure have allowed for minimal investment to produce outsize gains, distributors that are getting started with AI are starting to see the distance it is putting between them and their competitors.

AI (artificial intelligence) is no longer a buzzword — it's a force reshaping industries, redefining business strategies, and revolutionizing how we approach problem-solving and innovation. 

While companies were using AI before ChatGPT, it has evolved from a futuristic concept into an indispensable component of the present. Simply put: The companies that are adopting AI are seeing the promises in productivity – and they are seeing it now.

While it may seem like all anyone talks about right now is AI, we firmly believe that embracing AI is not a trend. AI will quickly become essential to staying competitive and adaptive in an era where intelligent automation and data-driven insights are critical to sustainable success.

Yet despite all of the promises of AI, many distributors fear jumping into the deep end due to challenges such as the perceived complexity of AI implementation, high initial costs, and the need for specialized expertise. Additionally, valid concerns around data privacy, security, and ethical implications further contribute to hesitancy. 

The good news is that you can start small but still win big with AI. 

Beginning with a quick win offers a controlled entry point, helping organizations build confidence, secure buy-in from key stakeholders, and pave the way for future more extensive and strategic AI implementations.

What Is a Quick Win in AI?

A quick win in AI refers to a small, targeted, and achievable success that demonstrates the value and potential of artificial intelligence within a relatively short time frame. It involves a focused AI solution that addresses a specific problem or enhances a process, resulting in immediate and tangible benefits.

The primary objective of a quick win is to showcase the practical advantages of AI technology quickly and generate positive momentum for broader AI adoption.

Key Characteristics of a Quick Win in AI

  • Rapid Implementation: The solution is deployed swiftly, often within weeks or a few months, rather than requiring an extensive and time-consuming development cycle.
  • Tangible Results: The AI application delivers measurable and visible improvements in performance, efficiency, cost savings, and other metrics.
  • Low Implementation Complexity: Quick wins typically involve less complex AI models or technologies, making them easier to integrate into existing systems and workflows.
  • Focused Scope: The project addresses a specific pain point or business challenge rather than attempting to solve complex, overarching problems.
  • Clear ROI: There is a clear return on investment (ROI) associated with the implementation, demonstrating the value of AI in a practical and business-oriented manner.
  • Positive User Experience: Stakeholders and end-users experience the benefits of the AI solution firsthand, fostering enthusiasm and support for broader AI initiatives.

Quick Wins Are Key to Securing AI Buy-in in Distribution

While only 3% of distributors surveyed in Distribution Strategy Group’s 2024 State of AI in Distribution report believe AI won’t be important for them, many are rightfully worried about the risks AI may pose for their businesses.

What’s more, a survey from EY found that over 70% of employed U.S. workers are “concerned about AI” largely stemming from the fact that they don’t really know how to use it

Confusion often leads to intentional avoidance — leaders and employees alike shying away from using game-changing AI technologies — but the flip side of this is decision paralysis.

Distributors can obsess over the risks inherent in adopting AI tools even as they worry about what their competitors are doing. These businesses may survive, but they may not thrive.

AI requires investing in a vision for your business, a bet that these tools will drive far greater growth and profitability in the long run than a distributor could without.

Your choice: Obsess and survive, or be bold and place a bet — with the possibility to thrive.

It can be hard to take the first step. Stepping back and evaluating potential applications and then investing the right resources to leverage them effectively can keep distributors from moving forward.

That’s why we don’t recommend starting with an unwieldy suite of tools. Instead, ProfitOptics works with distributors to seamlessly integrate the power of AI into existing systems or processes.

One example, generative AI, can help distributors produce quick wins early on with tangible business results. McKinsey found that using generative AI in just a few functions, including sales, marketing, and customer operations, can drive the most potential impact for businesses today.

How to Achieve Your First Quick Win in AI

Wondering where to start with AI quick wins? Use the idea of finding AI Fit as a way to evaluate your options:

Business Outcome Fit: The chosen AI tools and technologies should directly contribute to your business objectives, whether it’s increasing revenue, reducing costs, improving customer experience, or other key metrics.

Process Fit: The AI system should seamlessly integrate into or improve upon existing business processes. This includes workflows and decision-making processes, both internally and externally.

Technology Fit: Choosing the right technology that supports your business, including platform, AI integrations, interoperability, and the ability to future-proof against tech debt or vendor lock-in.

A quick win allows you to implement AI in your organization and overcome inertia. Repetitive tasks, where research or reasoning is required, are great candidates for AI. Generative AI can positively impact all these areas in your organization.

Aim for Quick Wins Before Grand Slams

It may seem backward, but the most effective path to AI mastery is to think small before you go big. 

A quick win allows for focused and targeted implementation, demonstrating immediate benefits and building confidence among stakeholders. This approach is cost-effective, enabling distributors to manage initial investments more efficiently and justify further scaling based on proven results.

The phased nature of a quick-win strategy also provides the opportunity for continuous learning and adaptation, allowing distributors to refine their AI strategies based on real-world performance.

Ready to chart your path to success? We can help — take our AI Readiness Assessment now to start maximizing profits and reducing costs with AI.

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