Small Businesses Need to Get Ready for AI

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From self-driving cars to stores with no checkout stations, AI is changing our world. The business world is jumping aboard the AI train. Their eyes are focused on big profits.

With its potential to reduce labor costs, provide marketing information, and reach new heights in data management, artificial intelligence stands poised to change business just as much as the Internet. Experts agree that companies that use AI to their benefit will see tremendous growth.

Future of artificial intelligence for small businesses

No one in technology doubts AI’s impact on small businesses. Experts agree it will increase in the coming years. By some estimates, dynamic changes to workplace structure are inevitable in just five to 10 years.

For example, a small tax preparation business is likely to search out more and more AI solutions. These will reduce the number of hours its tax return preparers need for each task. The benefit is lower labor costs. The caveat may be that customers find preparing their returns much more manageable, which could lead to a decline in business.

The tax preparation firm then must invest in more attractive offerings. These could include new technology or new customer service employees. The key to survival will be providing the customer with a value not available in a consumer-oriented, AI-based tax preparation program. Reducing IT costs will become paramount to staying competitive.

Improved CRM

A diverse set of other potential AI technologies stand to benefit small business. These include improved customer relationship management (CRM) system capabilities. Others topping the list include hacker defense and predictive capabilities.

AI advancement is changing CRM system capabilities. The CRM of the future will be much less labor-intensive, according to an article in Business News Daily by Adam Uzialko. Small businesses love CRM systems like Salesforce. They track data essential for the maintenance of current business. They also provide opportunities for new business development.

Right now, they still rely heavily on input from employees. For example, salespeople must enter notes on customer meetings, and then a customer service representative must adequately annotate orders. Without this input, the CRM cannot store the needed data and use it to produce accurate reports.

AI promises to fix all that. Laborious employee inputs often don’t get done because they are repetitive. Who has time? The CRMs of the future can automate this data. Not only will they get done, but will also be unfailingly accurate.

Recording Data

AI’s memory and precision for recording data far exceed any human capability. Just think about how much data your laptop computer holds.

The CRMs of the future will store every spec of data a business could need. Better yet, they will file it and retrieve it by simple voice commands, just like Siri. In addition to this, small businesses will not have to pay employees to input and track all this data. Best of all, the data, when correctly applied, help expand the business.

When it comes to CRM, human involvement will take the form of interpreting the data. Humans will need to make business decisions based on the data points the CRM provides.

Salespeople will use the CRM more extensively to develop strategies for winning contracts. CFOs will rely on it more heavily to plan investment. COOs will use it to gauge production efficiency. CEOs will use it to evaluate the integrated performance of various divisions.

Hacking has become an increasing concern for small businesses. Ransomware, identity theft, and other forms of fraud are rife in the online world. With so many attacks originating abroad, law enforcement seems stymied.

Predictive Powers

AI is a powerful ally in locating holes in computer networks. It works 24/7 and learns very quickly. In the future, perhaps its capabilities will far exceed those of human hackers.

One of its most significant contributions to small business may be its predictive powers. Because it can store, access, and organize so much data, the next natural progression is predictions. Predictions are just a matter of analyzing past patterns to generate the most likely future.

AI is very good at patterns. Using vast reams of data no human could keep in his or her head, AI guesses future events well. For example, AI could predict when parts of wind turbines need replacement. This allows a COO or CFO to better plan maintenance expenses.

This predictive power is the future of artificial intelligence, and it can be great for restaurants. Based on what customers are in the dining room, AI can predict what music they like best as a group. Of course, this relies on having access to vast data on the customer’s musical tastes.

Artificial Intelligence Currently Under Development

Many AI products in development stand to affect significantly small business in just a few short years. One surprising trend is a change in the way people interact with AI.

We are accustomed to screen-based interactions. In the future, it will do its work without us ever seeing it. Sometimes, we may never even notice it.

Amazon’s new cashier-less store serves as a prime example. Though still in the test phase, the AI technology involved promises to further revolutionize the retail experience. Customers just swipe a card as they walk in, take what they want, and go.

There is no self-service checkout. Amazon’s AI technology can track each customer throughout the store. When a customer takes a product off the shelf, AI knows. It tabulates this in the customer’s virtual shopping cart. If the customer returns it to the shelf, it removes it from the customer’s virtual shopping cart. When the customer exits the store, it calculates the final sales price.

With Amazon’s store model customers never see the AI technology. Neither will passengers of self-driving cars. The AI technology is embedded inside what looks like a conventional vehicle, minus the steering wheel.

Message to Small Businesses: Improve Your Focus on AI

Big business is riding the front of the AI bandwagon. Companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify are already using it. They are mining customer data for marketing, streamlining operations, and offering cutting-edge products and services.

61 percent of small businesses are lagging in growing their business with AI, according to Small Business Trends. This presents a great danger because big business is gaining a competitive advantage through AI development. This may leave small businesses behind.

If only big business reaches customers through AI-aided marketing, small businesses are shut out. These advances will help big businesses cut costs. This can leave small businesses unable to compete, so they must respond ASAP.

The benefits are immense. Artificial intelligence can aid each employee in doing his or her job. With this added edge, it can be like one employee doing the job of two. AI-aided CRMs provide easy customer contact ability, allowing small business to increase sales.

The future may seem overwhelming for small business owners, but artificial intelligence applications are being built for them. For example, Salesforce now offers Einstein, an AI add-on to its CRM product designed for small business. Utilizing tools like this, small businesses can keep up with trends. WordPress, of course, is making great strides in creating AI plugins, and plugins like Amazon Polly that will allow your articles to be heard through any smart device.

Though much debate still centers on how AI will affect society, one truth cannot be disputed. AI’s effect on the business world is revolutionary. The trend of AI innovation shows no sign of slowing. If you are a small business owner, you must improve your focus on AI.

AI means a faster, more data-driven business world. Without it, small businesses face a future of dwindling opportunity. By embracing future technology, small businesses can grow along with early adopters like Amazon.

Ian McClarty

Ian McClarty holds an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. He has over 20 years executive management experience in the cybersecurity and data center industry. Currently, he is the CEO and President of PhoenixNAP Global IT Services. PhoenixNap employs a staff of over 600, operating in 9 separate locations including two in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Valletta, Malta; Belgrade, Serbia; Novi Sad, Serbia; Amsterdam; Singapore; and Charlotte, NC.

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