April 8, 2024

Beware the AI charlatans: 5 questions you should ask potential partners

Leigh Gammons


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Before even starting, I would like to note that I could have written this using AI. However, as you detect from the weather-beaten undertone, this is all me.

Over the last year, we reached fever pitch for AI. Almost every conversation in the marketing and technology space touched on it. We’ve seen this phenomenon before, with terms like ‘data-driven’, ‘personalisation’, ‘omnichannel’, ‘agile’ and the old faithful ‘transformation’.

 This article, however, isn’t filled with the usual vague hyperbole. As the dust has settled and businesses begin leveraging AI, they are struggling to find partners with real delivery credentials.


Here’s a recent real-world example of talking to an agency about AI services:

Me: "Impressive credentials: 3 years in the AI space. What have you built?"

Agency: "Our designers were ahead with Midjourney before it went mainstream."

Me: "Wasn’t Midjourney was released in 2022? Where have you delivered and deployed AI for clients?"

Agency: "We're working on a POC to create audience segments for a digital campaign."

Me: "Where is the AI and when is it going into production?"

Agency: [Silence]


It seems the term AI is being used as an umbrella term for many advanced technology or innovation plans. At Tangent, AI predicates the use of machines learning from experience and adjusting for new inputs to mimic human problem solving. It does not mean “something to do with tech and data that is buzzy, cool and shiny.”

So, over the last few years of conferences, webinars, M&A activity and, of course, actually delivering AI projects, here are 5 questions to ask organisations offering AI services to sort the wheat from the chaff.


  1. What tangible AI solutions has your potential partner deployed?

Many claim proficiency in AI but have little to show for it. While AI is still a nascent field, demonstrating actual deployments in live environments is crucial. If your potential partner has only dabbled in proofs of concept or closed betas, you're likely investing in research rather than true expertise. Dive deeper into their portfolio to gauge the breadth and depth of their AI implementations.


  1. Is AI the right solution for this problem?

The temptation to slap an 'AI' label on everything is real, but strategic thinking is key here. AI should be applied where it genuinely adds value, not just for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon. Take a step back, assess the situation, and opt for AI only when it aligns with your business objectives. Consider conducting thorough feasibility studies and impact assessments to ensure that AI is indeed the most suitable solution for your specific challenges before you invest.


  1. When to opt for enterprise AI vs open-source vs proprietary models?

Understanding the AI landscape is essential. Options vary, ranging from off-the-shelf enterprise solutions to open-source platforms to custom-built models. Each avenue has its advantages and drawbacks, necessitating careful consideration of factors such as cost, innovation, and future scalability. Moreover, delve into the nuances of each option, evaluating their compatibility with your organisation's existing infrastructure, data privacy regulations, and long-term strategic goals.


  1. What are the broader implications of integrating AI into our services?

AI isn't merely a piece of technology; it's an intricate amalgamation of technology, data, processes, and people. To unlock its full potential, you must consider how AI seamlessly integrates into existing business frameworks and workflows. Think beyond the technology itself and focus on holistic integration into your organisational structure. Conduct comprehensive impact assessments to identify potential ripple effects on employee roles, customer experiences, and overall business operations.


  1. Are our AI initiatives genuinely transformative?

Don't settle for superficial AI projects that merely scratch the surface. True transformation involves initiatives deeply embedded within your organisation, driving substantial change. True transformation goes beyond gimmicky chatbots; it entails embracing AI at the core of your operations. Highlight the need for a cultural shift towards data-driven decision-making and AI-driven innovation. Foster a culture of continuous learning and experimentation to harness the full potential of AI across all aspects of your business.


In summary, there are a lot of charlatans out there professing to do things they can’t. Or if they can, it’s not in evidence. My advice? Avoid being fobbed off by asking simple questions around why and how they apply AI and where they have done it before. I know many businesses who have these credentials, Tangent included, but it is still increasingly difficult to cut through the noise.

If you use the same rigour and instinct when selecting suppliers or partners outside of this world, you will find there has been some great, tangible work out there. Look for proof points, look for it being built into the DNA of a business but, above all, look in the eyes of people doing the work and check you don’t see BS.

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This article originally featured on The Drum and is available here.