Artificial intelligence is quickly transforming the business landscape across different industries. As AI continues to disrupt industries, it's vital for small businesses to integrate AI or at least begin preparing for an AI-driven business environment.
Over the past decade, few technologies have captured our lives quite as much as artificial intelligence. We've become more dependent on AI-powered chatbots for online navigation, AI-powered cars for safety on the road, and Cortana, Siri, and other virtual assistants to help organize our personal and professional lives.
On the corporate front, large companies and multinationals like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are infusing AI into most of their products and service offerings, bringing tons of benefits to everyday customers. Consequently, AI has transformed into a significant platform for the business world, with some reports predicting the industry will be worth over $14 billion by 2023, up from the $525 million recorded in 2015.
For small businesses, AI is a significant transformative force that can give your business a competitive edge in a variety of ways. AI applications can be used to drive customer engagement on CRM platforms, mine social data, and improve supply chain efficiency and other business processes depending on your organization's needs.
Still, even with all the perks that come with AI, rolling it out can be a daunting task for small businesses that are unfamiliar with the technology. With a bit of planning and strategy, however, you can join the growing number of small businesses that are integrating AI into everyday processes.
Here are a few pointers to help you lay the groundwork for successful integration of AI.
1. Familiarize yourself with AI.
As a small business owner, it's imperative that you take the time personally and professionally to understand the capabilities of AI. There are tons of online resources, courses and workshops that you can use to learn about AI and what it can do for your small business. Some examples are the Intro to AI course from Udacity, the online AI course offered by edX and Columbia University, and the online AI lectures from Stanford University.
2. Ensure your IT infrastructure can handle the tech.
One of the major impediments to AI for small businesses is usually the lack of a solid IT infrastructure that can handle the data-hungry and superfast calculations that make AI possible. Indeed, as one 2016 study pointed out, the difficulty in tracking and analyzing data was a major obstacle for enterprises in the process of integrating AI. Therefore, if you intend to take up AI-based technologies in the future, a good first step is to replace the legacy devices on your business premises with modern, cloud-based solutions that will integrate seamlessly with any future AI technology.
3. Identify key areas within the business that would benefit from AI.
No small business should dive into the world of AI without a concrete plan of action. When designing your plan, identify and prioritize areas within your business that stand to benefit the most from AI. Figure out ways you can integrate AI into existing products and services to add value and solve specific business problems.
For instance, if you're in the restaurant business, you may think about including self-driving cars as part of your food delivery department. If you're in an industry such as accounting, business lending or insurance, AI might come in handy during decision-making, especially when processing the large troves of data needed to make such decisions. Fintech startups such as Kabbage and Cashfloat can offer good reference points for businesses in these niches that want to use AI for data analytics and decision-making.
4. Start slow and keep tabs on developments in AI.
As a small business, your first interaction with AI will most likely come from software vendors. As such, it's always important to go with vendors that have shown interest and invested in AI and big data.
Companies such as Microsoft and Google are usually a good bet, considering the billions of dollars they've invested in different areas of AI. Because they build elements of AI into their products, your business will benefit massively by being among the early adopters within your industry.
Finally, remember to keep an eye on the evolving AI playing field so that your business is not left behind. As our understanding of machine learning, natural language processing, deep learning and other components of AI improve with time, there's bound to be many opportunities for your business to dig in.
Even if you're not planning to integrate any element of AI immediately, staying updated on emerging AI technologies will give you an important edge over your competitors in the future.