All You Want to Know About AI and Its Applications for Your Organization

By Mike Marks
Indian River Consulting Group


Buzz, hype, mania — we’re surrounded by the topic of AI.

The use of generative artificial intelligence tools has exploded since the launch of ChatGPT in late 2022. These tools range from writing to voice, art and video generators. Enterprising companies are creating tools to service industry niches with applications such as pricing negotiation, order automation, chatbots, sales force automation and more.

For fluid power and automation distributors, AI’s benefits may seem tantalizingly close, yet vaguely defined. How do you separate myth from reality and meme from substance?

How NFPA is helping members learn about AI and its useful applications

NFPA members will get the opportunity to learn about AI from Mike Marks of Indian River Consulting Group, who will be leading an interactive workshop titled Application of AI Technologies to Industrial Companies at the NFPA 2024 Industry & Economic Outlook Conference.With a technical background and years of distribution consulting under his belt, he’ll talk about the myths versus reality, how AI works, and where to start. You’ll take away solid advice on piloting and deploying valuable tools and a wealth of resources to use in your journey into AI.

In fact, participants at the recent NFPA Annual Conference provided a list of potential areas where NFPA support would be helpful to members. The list includes industry-wide initiatives, as well as suggestions for specific member company support.  

Watch for further AI related blog posts over the next several months. We’ll include a series of short surveys to help gauge the state of AI development and provide a sense of AI priorities in the fluid power industry. In addition to the survey results, participants will receive links to helpful AI applications and resources.

Who is using AI?

A 2023 study by McKinsey found that 33% of responding organizations were regularly using generative AI in at least one business function. Plus, 40% said their organizations were looking to increase their overall investment in AI due to practical application advances.

Even early adopters of AI have reaped benefits. A 2021 McKinsey study found that early adopters that successfully implemented AI-enabled supply-chain management systems improved logistics costs by 15%, inventory levels by 35% and service levels by 65% compared with slower-moving competitors.

AI tools have the power to transform our workflows and workloads and are already used in many industries and sectors. In fact, top fluid power manufacturers are already developing their own AI-enabled tools to help their base of distributors and customers.

What is AI?

IBM defines AI as technology that enables computers and machines to simulate human intelligence and problem-solving capabilities. But it’s important to understand that AI is different from traditional coding, which is logic-based. For example, if A is true, then B, or else C. The data generated is dependent on the programmers’ specific sets of conditions.

Conversely, AI learns by reviewing large data sets to infer an answer from those examples, which is why it needs Internet access and massive data sets for success. However, AI can’t make any inferences without a human structuring a prompt for them. It needs a prompt builder to define how it should infer for a specific situation, such as distribution processes and marketing.

How to get started with AI

Before jumping onto the AI bandwagon, figure out where you are as a business. Determine what work activities your team performs and how feasible it is to automate those tasks. Data collection, data processing, and rote physical work are all well-suited for automation. Begin by targeting those areas to build a solid foundation and gain immediate and obvious benefits from AI.

Remember that AI isn’t just an IT department task. It’s about your strategy backed by executive leadership. The best way is to involve your team throughout the design and implementation process. With their involvement, you’ll get more buy-in, greater adoption, and a much higher probability of success.

Registration for the NFPA Industry & Economic Outlook Conference will open soon.  We look forward to seeing you at the conference, and helping further NFPA efforts to support the fluid power industry in its AI journey.  Also, watch for next week’s AI post and survey. 

Mike Marks is the founding partner of the Indian River Consulting Group. Prior to founding IRCG, Marks worked in distribution management for more than 20 years. His narrow focus in B2B channel-driven markets has created an extensive number of deep executive relationships within virtually every business vertical in construction, industrial, OEM, agricultural, and healthcare. Reach Mike at ircg.com.

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