Salesforce Einstein has ushered in a new era of curiosity about AI. It wasn’t the first commercial AI usage, and others will crop up alongside it, but the buzz these past couple of weeks is a surefire indication that companies are really considering AI as a viable technology for short-term gain as well as far-fetched, long-term big ideas.

I look at the opportunity in front of us and I think to myself: “Yes! It’s finally catching on.”

The energy is contagious, but with it comes more questions than answers. What should we make of it? As marketers, what does it all mean?

Putting AI into practice is closer than ever for many — and well within grasp for major enterprises on down to midsize companies gutsy enough to make big investments in their data. As AI becomes more commonplace, the effect of its implementation will vary. Much like any product or innovation moving into market and gaining steam in adoption, the cream will rise to the top.

AI in practice versus AI in theory is entirely different. We’ve seen it too often: A business unit makes an investment in a sexy new technology only to find its glaring limitations don’t future-proof the tool from becoming obsolete. Solution after solution swoops in, beating its chest, hoping to be the shining new solution for the problem of the moment. Soon, disappointment takes its place.

What if our biggest challenge today is thinking bigger about AI? Bigger than channel champions, like CRM in the case of Salesforce?

The beautiful thing about AI is that it can be both laser-focused and far-reaching. It can solve micro-problems by modeling out an optimal algorithm for scenario A given B, or it can create virtual assistants and chatbots to interact with people as if it’s human.

AI can do things such as:

  • Power new customer service channels. With chatbots as the modern enterprise’s newest best friend, AI can gather cues from verbal or textual communication to keep everyone out of line and back on with their lives.
  • Provide in-flight lost baggage updates and course correction. Because everyone’s trip deserves a good start, and luggage logistics can be handled without causing delays and frustrations.
  • Find new ways to show a customer you’re thinking about them. Train email, ads, social channels, and mobile apps to speak to customers as if they grew up next door. Staying relevant means more than just providing coupons and convenient store locations: It’s about showing you get the customer, which begins with a Single Customer View.

A data science purist may bemoan the fact that AI can be as versatile as this, but that’s OK. Because in practice, that’s where the AI magic happens: when it can start small and grow and grow, moving its way into new applications and across different channels. Sometimes, small implementations too can have big thinking behind them. What starts out small, if fostered appropriately, can turn into a humming machine.

Take, for example, a global airline that saved $39 million just by reimagining the value of their emails, properly segmenting and personalizing outreach with machine learning. That’s AI in action, and it’s just getting started.

What matters is that what’s possible is always at the center of every decision made by man or by computer; what’s best for the customer is never out of focus. The best way to realize the full scope of AI is to work within a system that allows your different crop-ups of artificial intelligence to naturally expand, cross channels, and inform other areas of business for improved insight.

One hand, talking to the other hand — it’s not just important, it’s essential. Introducing AI shouldn’t be short-sighted; it should open up a new world of possibility.

And because AI can have boundless interpretations and uses, it can be all things to anyone. This seems like the steepest task it’ll have to tackle yet: Where to start? Who should you tap to bring your AI world to life? If the options are endless, what will restrict the modern marketer is only limits to imagination — and to budget, of course.

Seeing the big players — such as Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Amazon and Google, which is admittedly an exclusive group — coming together to announce a partnership on AI is the industry’s collective head nod that AI is here to stay. Willing to put competitive differences aside, the group is setting up shop to tackle the question on everyone’s mind: “What’s next?”

The answer to that question will be different for everyone, but the foundation should be the same. By thinking equally about the small and big ways AI can be implemented today as well as in the future, companies can begin to unpack the real applications of AI. When leaders can wrap their heads around what artificial intelligence means to them — and what the real opportunity for it is in the present as much as the future — they’ll be able to build out a thoughtful approach to AI that has true value now, rather than as a far-off reality.