AI Small Business

AI Small Business

Alli Campofranco

In a world dominated by digital information and the cloud, it’s surprising to see so many small businesses avoid using AI tools. Artificial intelligence has come a long way since its inception; machine learning algorithms are beneficial to numerous businesses and industries.

Certain business processes take a while to complete and require plenty of dedication and focus from a human individual. Small and medium-sized businesses can use this to their advantage to eliminate extremely time-consuming tasks by using AI technology.

This also enhances customer sentiment since businesses can improve efficiency by automating certain customer relationships and data processes. A business needs to optimize its marketability and customer-oriented goals through improvements to the customer experience.

AI can help with data input, predictive analytics, and various problem-solving without any issues. Machine learning constantly learns and improves its inner processes, enabling it to solve problems much more quickly than a person.

However, the main purpose of using AI technology is to help decision-makers improve the business, not to replace every single employee. Artificial intelligence can only do so much that it isn’t ‘equipped’ to deal with the majority of business systems.

With that said, there are certain challenges that involve artificial intelligence and machine learning which most likely won’t be overcome in a while. The decision to automate a business process lies solely with the business owner(s) who wants to improve their services.

Let’s look at how the current artificial intelligence business world is doing. Then we’ll look at some of the benefits that small companies can expect if they decide to implement AI tools in their business.

AI is trending; SMEs aren’t buying

In June, we sent out a survey to 363 North American partners to see if they agreed with the results of our 2018 Business IT Trends report. Not too shockingly, most of our partners were in general alignment with what our buyers thought regarding IT budgeting priorities. When it comes to expectations for VR/AR and AI verticals, however, we see a remarkable rift between the two. First, let’s take a quick look at the overall observations about the IT spend.

The channel agrees, IT spending is on the rise!

52 percent of channel partners are currently observing an increase in IT spending in the North American market in categories ranging from hardware, software and services to the cloud.

These numbers surpass the earlier expectations from buyers that we find in the Business IT Trends report. In that report, we read that only 37 percent expected at the time (December 2017 – February 2018) to increase their spending in 2018. Strong economic growth seems to have fueled a general uptick in IT spending, which was not necessarily forecast to be as significant six months ago.

High expectations for VR/AR and AI but SMEs are not buying (yet)

There is tremendous optimism from IT channel partners when it comes to VR/AR and AI sales in the near future. Channel partners expect that VR/AR and AI products will be bought within the next 12 months by 67 and 71 percent of their customers, respectively.

Those numbers are impressive, but they are a far cry from the actual adoption intent that we see in the IT business Report: the expected spend from SME buyers for both categories is much lower. (9 and 8 percent for VR/AR and AI, respectively).

What might the challenges for VR/AR and AI channel sales be?

It is evident that emerging technologies such as VR/AR and AI have created a great deal of buzz in the trade and general media in recent years. Both vendors and channel partners are convinced of the benefits that these technologies can offer SMEs. But that sentiment alone does not make for robust sales just yet. The technology still has to catch up to the buzz, but it is clear that customers and partners are very intrigued by the potential and are curious to see where this technology will lead and how it can impact their business.

As mentioned, in some instances, the product/market fit of some of these solutions is still not completely right, meaning that vendors will need to continue to pivot the technology till they have a more compelling case for adoption. In other cases, the product messaging is not yet sufficiently clear for either the channel, which needs to sell the product, the end-users, for whom the product is made, or both.

The discrepancy could also arise from the fact that many brands don’t yet see a direct correlation between the new technology and their bottom line. It’s still unclear what the main benefits might be — and how that will translate into ROI. Not surprisingly, this is closely related with the aforementioned possibility, in that the technology just isn’t quite where it needs to be yet. The former needs to happen before it will become more obvious to brands what the benefits might be. Naturally, when the benefits are more closely aligned with company goals and desired outcomes, those ideas and technologies will pass down the line to partners, and eventually end users.

The benefits of using AI solutions for common tasks

In most cases, customer relationship management is done by either using human resources or coded ones. In practical terms, customers will either encounter a person when contacting customer support, or artificial intelligence software that helps them solve the problems they’re experiencing.

And that’s not the only way AI can help small businesses become industry leaders – by improving the operating efficiency of those businesses. Here are just some of the many ways AI benefits businesses to reach their potential quicker and more effectively:

Strengthening cybersecurity

Most business and customer data are stored online and predominantly used in the same way, which opens it up to potential cyberattacks. Artificial intelligence is fully capable of preventing such attacks by analyzing behavior patterns on a business’s apps, software, and stored information.

AI software is enhanced with the use of machine learning, a process that involves artificial intelligence learning information on the go. This method enables artificial intelligence to react quickly to certain actions that aren’t familiar or recognized.

The relevant data that the AI uses to achieve this is related to what employees do in their day-to-day activities in the company – exchanging messages, adding time ranges for tasks, sending emails, opening approved links, and more.

Efficient hiring process

One thing a small business often needs is more manpower. But due to time constraints and the necessity to work on numerous projects to grow, the hiring process doesn’t happen often. And when it does, it takes employees a long time to go over each job applicant and their info.

Artificial intelligence uses deep learning to perform tasks such as singling out applicants based on the information they submitted (i.e., applicants must have 5+ years of experience in a given industry, have worked with specific software, etc.).

The more information you give to the AI, the better it’ll be at using the resources you’ve given it, and its results will be more precise. Lastly, machine learning & AI systems can be used for the interview process as well if a business wants to automate communication with job applicants, analyze their performance tasks, or collect data from references.

Marketing campaign & customer experience improvement

Making informed decisions is crucial when it comes to fulfilling customers’ needs. This is usually done by analyzing customer data and offering better services or products. A small business will generally approach this process with certain reservations to ensure the best possible outcome considering their size.

Artificial intelligence can amplify these characteristics and answer questions that often worry customers. Small businesses that use CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software with the addition of AI generally have a better and more convenient process for mass communication. AI features natural language processing technology that lets it pick up average ‘human speech’ to better align itself with the person it’s conversing with.

AI CRM resources and software gather and analyze data from various channels such as social media and newsletters. A small business can leverage these tools to find and track large amounts of high-quality leads, ultimately seeing them through to the end.

Many have said that the future of marketing is the use of deep learning algorithms and artificial intelligence and that these tools will bring customers closer to companies, especially small businesses.

Final Words

It’s evident that artificial intelligence can help grow small businesses with exponential speed thanks to automation and impressive actionable insights. Using AI, companies, and businesses from various industries can improve their marketing strategies, streamline their company processes, make hiring new employees a breeze, and enhance cybersecurity.

Many experts believe that the numerous small businesses and companies should make adopting AI tools their top priority to get a headstart on others that will inevitably do the same eventually.

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