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7 Key Takeaways from the DSG Applied AI for Distributors Conference

Dan Cakora< Dan Cakora October 6, 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly making its way into daily life, and that includes the B2B space. Dan Cakora, Business Consultant at Vendavo, recently attended the Distribution Strategy Group’s Applied AI for Distributors Conference in Chicago, which covered AI’s emergence in business, how to approach implementation, and where the technology is headed in the future. This article covers his key takeaways.

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to attend the Distribution Strategy Group’s Applied AI for Distributors Conference right in my backyard in Chicagoland. The event was a smashing success, and I learned a metric ton. 

Here are my biggest takeaways:

  1. Optimism outweighs anxiety 
    There is a high level of anxiety around what AI will do when it is ubiquitous, but there is even more optimism. Pessimists worry that AI will eliminate jobs, challenge what it means to be human, and plunge us into a techno-dystopia. Optimists hope that AI can supercharge medical research that will alleviate human suffering while also freeing people to pursue leisure over work. Regardless of how the specifics play out, the impact to society will be profound.
  2. Early adopters will get the perks 
    Opening speaker Jonathan Bein of Distribution Strategy Group noted that early movers will get a disproportionate benefit from adopting AI, while laggards will be left in the dust. Companies will initially struggle with what they want AI to solve and the actual mechanisms of how to do it. But, while struggling may be inevitable, suffering is optional. Learning from early mistakes and pivoting will lead to quicker success down the road.
  3. AI’s growth rate is astounding
    Keynote speaker Zack Kass pointed out that AI is following the same path as semiconductors. Moore’s Law observed that the number of transistors on a chip doubled roughly every two years, which rapidly grew processing power. In the same way, AI is getting smarter at an incredible rate. Established models are getting cheaper to run and are performant on a smaller data set. By the way, if you get a chance to see Zack speak, make sure you attend.
  4. Explainability is key in AI adoption
    My colleague Corey Schroeder, Vice President of Product Management at Vendavo, emphasized the importance of explainability in AI models. The difference between successful adoption of AI and failure will depend on trust. If employees have a general understanding of what the AI is doing, why, and how it will help them, they will trust it. Then, and only then, will it be adopted in your firm.
  5. Regulation is coming
    AI regulation is a “When,” not an “If.” Governments have already signaled their willingness to weigh in, so the hope is that regulation is sensible and does not suffocate what could be a miraculous technology. This is another reason that explainability will be important. If the constituents that find AI helpful can explain what it does, why, and how it helps, then legislators are more likely to write reasonable regulation.
  6. You can get help implementing and using it
    There are a lot of really smart people working to make AI useful to you. Solutions might seem daunting, but they are becoming more accessible at an astonishing rate. A corollary is that multiple problems require multiple solutions and probably multiple vendors. Don’t expect one AI to solve everything. There are many purpose-built solutions that can help you today. For example, Vendavo’s price optimization platform uses multiple AI approaches to solve the classification and optimization pieces inherent in setting good prices. Relying on one AI or approach can lead to blind spots, so it’s best to round out the solution.
  7. People still matter (and will continue to in the future)
    Lastly, and most importantly, the people. AI is great, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the wonderful people in B2B distribution. I saw tons of old friends reconnecting, new friendships being made, and a lot of insightful thoughts being exchanged. Truly, people are the most interesting part of AI.

Thanks to Ian Heller and the Distribution Strategy Group team for putting on such a fantastic event. See you next year!