As businesses begin asking how artificial intelligence can help them gain a competitive edge, industry veteran and tech entrepreneur John Shaw thinks the channel has a massive opportunity to answer those questions.
Shaw, co-founder and CEO of Austin, Texas-based startup ELE.AI, knows from experience. His company is already delivering AI solutions to enterprise customers – Dow Jones, Pearson Education and AIG among them – and using its expertise to provide high-level educational workshops. But chief among ELE.AI's priorities is targeting industry-specific use cases in untapped markets.
For instance, the company offers solutions that automatically redact sensitive data from legal and medical documents or use machine learning to help MSPs resolve low-level help desk queries more efficiently.
"Some of those micro-solutions are $100 million businesses," Shaw told CRN.
Now, the veteran technologist is looking to help channel partners capture those emerging revenue streams by launching an AI solutions distribution platform that enables lifecycle management and delivery of AI services through a centralized marketplace.
ELE.AI will maintain a proprietary database of roughly 8,000 AI vendors and provide workflow assessment guidance that can pinpoint partner-tailored ROI opportunities. About 325 of those AI companies are based in the Austin area, Shaw said, giving his firm access to a top-tier talent pool.
In addition, the company will be able to develop custom solutions for partners and offer technical support. Shaw said he already has a 10-person data science outsourcing team in place.
"Think of Ingram Micro and Tech Data. Think of the next evolution of those guys. That's what we're trying to build," he said.
The platform's initial launch roster will include vendors such as vic.ai, which delivers automated bookkeeping services and financial advice, Threatcare, a virtual CISO for security automation, and Shep, a platform that provides policy guidance and reporting for business travel.
ELE.AI works with only a small handful of channel partners today, but Shaw has hopes of expanding that significantly when the platform formally launches in May. He sees solution providers with big data analytics and IoT skills as particularly well-suited to take advantage of the platform.
ELE.AI could co-develop vertical AI solutions with top partners, potentially through a revenue sharing agreement, or enable partners to build and sell their own solution to end customers through the online marketplace.
"All they need is one throat to choke – us – and we'll take the use case, if it doesn't exist already, and we'll supply a team to build it out," Shaw said.
Shaw also emphasized that feedback will be a key component of how his company's distribution platform evolves to better serve channel partner needs.
Jason Wright, managing director of managed cloud services provider All Covered, said partnering with ELE.AI has allowed his company to begin capturing AI-as-a-service revenue opportunities without shouldering the labor and development costs of building a platform in-house.
He added that Shaw's company can also supply key sales engineering and consulting resources that allow for stronger customer proposals and smoother implementations.
"You really need someone who knows the space," Wright told CRN. "Out of the gate, a lot of smaller and midmarket partners aren't going to go invest in those AI resources. Even if someday you intend to build an AI practice internally, there's still value in learning. You partner with a company that has those engineering consulting resources so they can help coach you through calls and identify opportunities within your base."
Wright said AI, IoT and other next-generation solutions present the perfect avenue for partners to pursue if they want to have more strategic conversations with customers. Those technologies have progressed far beyond hype, he added, with real-world applications becoming easier and easier to find.
He believes ELE.AI can provide partners with a direct route to the potential-rich AI services market.
"Service providers hear AI and know it's a trend they should be investing in and exploring, but they don't know the real-world applicability," Wright said. "If you have a partner that helps you identify an app and they have a go-to-market platform, that's all you need."