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Navigating AI: A Roadmap for Distributors and Manufacturers

Tamizh Selvan
March 22, 2024 |
AI Distributors and Manufacturers

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing industries worldwide, and distribution is no exception. 

As distributors and manufacturers strive to remain competitive in an evolving digital landscape, AI presents unparalleled opportunities to enhance efficiency, improve customer experiences, and drive growth.

Challenges in Adoption

Small and medium-sized distributors often face hurdles and challenges in embracing AI and eCommerce due to complexities and jargon associated with digital transformation.

Despite the undeniable benefits, investing in AI can be daunting, especially when resources are scarce and profit margins are thin.

Furthermore, the emergence of Gen Z buyers (born between 1981-1994), who favor online purchasing, underscores the urgency for distributors to adapt and innovate.

CEO Perspectives on Business Evolution

Given below is a report from IoT Analytics Research 2023 on what CEOs are discussing in their board rooms. 

The below analysis is based on 3800 global companies listed in the US in Q1 2023 and Q4 2022. This is not just a report for the CEOs to consider but for everyone at all levels.

The below analysis provides profound insights, essentially offering a virtual seat at the table during high-level board meetings. It grants an invaluable opportunity for us to understand the perspectives and strategic planning of these industry thought leaders and how they are planning the future of their organizations.

Source: IoT Analytics

What do the Axes mean?

X-axis: Keyword importance (i.e., how many companies mentioned the keyword in earnings calls in Q2)—the further out the keyword falls on the x-axis, the more often the topic was mentioned.

Y-axis: Keyword growth (i.e., the increase or decrease in mentions from Q4/2022 to Q1/2023)—a higher number on the y-axis indicated that the topic had gained importance, while a negative number indicated decreased importance.

In Q1/2023, CEOs’ prime focus was economic uncertainty, even though mentions of inflation and recession declined from Q4/2022. 

However, the top topics that CEOs discuss in their boardrooms are: 

  •  AI & ChatGPT – 17% of CEOs discussing AI (+41% from the previous quarter – Q4 2022)
  •  Labor Market Issues, and 
  •  Industry 4.0

 Another key point to note is:

Even in economically uncertain times, enterprises are expected to maintain strong investments in digitization. This expectation led to increased discussions about predictive maintenance (+136%), remote monitoring (+62%), and industrial automation (+57%).

It means that the distribution and manufacturing industry is ripe and ready for digital transformation which includes eCommerce, Integration, PIM, and more.

To digress a bit, despite its significant advantages, Google seemingly overlooked the emergence of ChatGPT (Open AI – launched in Dec 2015) and is now expediting efforts to recover and strengthen its position in this evolving landscape. 

Recommended read: A Distributor’s Guide to Mergers & Acquisitions

Revolutionizing Workflows

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, the integration of AI technology is revolutionizing workflows across industries, including distribution and manufacturing. 

From streamlining content creation to enhancing productivity, AI-powered tools are becoming indispensable assets for businesses worldwide. 

These advancements enable distributors to automate tasks, analyze vast amounts of data, and make informed decisions at unprecedented speeds. 

Moreover, AI tools facilitate personalized experiences for buyers, driving engagement and loyalty.

Here’s a glimpse into the future of work with 20 innovative AI tools:

  1. Craft concise call summaries effortlessly.
  2. Seamlessly generate high-quality content with SOC 2 certification.
  3. Midjourney: Unlock the potential of AI art generation.
  4. Elevate your presentations with AI-powered PowerPoint assistance.
  5. Create captivating music compositions effortlessly.
  6. Produce professional-quality videos with ease.
  7. Leiapix Converter: Transform your content into engaging 3D GIFs.
  8. Generate captivating video content and convert text into engaging video voices.
  9. Simplify meeting note taking and transcription with automated recording.
  10. Runway: Explore AI-driven creativity with video and image manipulation.
  11. Anime AI: Personalize your online presence with custom avatars.
  12. Create on-brand content tailored to your audience.
  13. Writesonic: Drive SEO-friendly content creation for various platforms.
  14. ContentBot: Streamline content creation processes with AI assistance.
  15. Copysmith: Empower eCommerce ventures with AI-driven product content creation.
  16. Phrasee: Craft compelling email and social media ad copies effortlessly.
  17. Rytre: Generate diverse content types from landing pages to YouTube descriptions.
  18. 10Web: Build stunning websites effortlessly with AI-powered assistance.
  19. Replit: Simplify coding and development tasks with intuitive AI tools.
  20. Durable: Create robust websites with user-friendly AI-driven website builders.

Distributors can leverage the future of work with these cutting-edge AI tools, empowering their team to achieve new levels of efficiency and innovation. 

Infor ERP AI-Powered Transformation

Incorporating the Infor Coleman AI Platform into their toolkit, Infor has upgraded their industry cloud solution, making it easier for users to create and use AI prediction models. 

They chose Coleman because it’s cost-effective and lets them quickly do many projects, bringing in big returns. With specific models for different industries, a simple “quest” interface, and tools for handling data, Coleman makes machine learning accessible to everyone, from beginners to experts. This move puts Infor ahead in AI, making predictive analytics simpler and more efficient for everyone.

Epicor’s AI Solutions

Epicor’s innovative virtual agent, EVA (Epicor Visual Agent), embraces the AI revolution in enterprise software. EVA simplifies ERP interactions using AI, saving time, handling tasks, and offering multi-language support. By securely accessing external knowledge, it enhances problem-solving, boosting productivity across manufacturing and distribution industries and improving user experience seamlessly.

A Roadmap to AI

To embrace artificial intelligence (AI), distributors can find guidance from Avinash Kaushik. (Global Chief Strategy Officer of Croud)

Let’s break down his framework and see how it fits distribution/manufacturing:

  •  Understanding AI: Leaders need to get a grip on AI to stay ahead. That means reading up on it—books for deep dives, blogs for what’s new.
  • Choosing Wisely: Not all AI advice is created equal. We’ll question where it’s coming from and pick what fits best for us.
  •  Structured Approach: With AI being such a vast field, we need a roadmap. We’ll navigate it smartly, avoiding distractions and focusing on what matters.

Now, let’s talk about the purpose of AI:

  • AI as a Tool: Think of AI like a super-powered assistant. It can crunch through mountains of data to give us insights. For distributors and manufacturers, this means using AI to analyze customer behavior, predict trends, and offer personalized recommendations. It’s like having a data wizard on your team.
  • AI as a Co-Pilot: Picture AI as your copilot on a road trip. It’s there to help you drive better. In your eCommerce sites, AI-powered chatbots can assist buyers in real time, making interactions smoother and more efficient. It’s like having a helpful friend who knows all the shortcuts.
  • AI as a Muse: Sometimes, we need a spark of creativity. That’s where AI comes in as a muse. Tools like Midjourney or DALL-E can help distributors to generate fresh ideas—whether it’s designing new e-commerce concepts or enhancing user experiences. It’s like having an endless well of inspiration at our fingertips.

By following Kaushik’s framework, we’re not just dipping our toes into AI; we’re diving in headfirst, armed with knowledge and purpose. 

With AI as an ally—whether as a tool, co-pilot, or muse—distributors and manufacturers can ready themselves to innovate, adapt, and shape their future. 

Tamizh Selvan

Tamizh Selvan heads the marketing efforts for DCKAP and its brands. He manages its content marketing and blog. He is a bibliophile and a cinephile. He can be found browsing at any one of the popular bookshops in Chennai during the weekends or watching movies at home.

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