Artificial intelligence (AI) has made great progress in certain sectors of the U.S. economy. However, it hasn’t reached many small to midsize businesses (SMBs) in a major way – yet.
In 2021, AI analysis firm Unsupervised published a survey of 520 SMB owners that found 48% of them still found AI too cost prohibitive, and 40% said their businesses lacked the staff expertise to use it. But the survey also found that one in five owners were implementing some form of AI, and 20% of respondents already using AI believed it had increased their profitability.
Defining The Term
People sometimes confuse AI with data analytics or the application of intense mathematics. However, it’s so much more. AI generally refers to using computers to perform complex tasks typically thought to require human intelligence — for example, image perception, voice recognition, decision-making, and problem solving.
Several types of technologies fall under the AI umbrella. One is machine learning, which applies statistical techniques to improve machines’ performance of a specific task over time with little or no programming or human intervention. Another is natural language processing, which uses algorithms to analyze unstructured human language in documents, emails, texts, conversation, or otherwise. And a third is robotic process automation, which automates time-consuming repetitive manual tasks that don’t require decision-making.
Going back to the survey above, 28% of SMB owners said they were still determining precisely how to implement AI. The answer for your company depends on what you do and which technologies you rely on. Here are some examples of how businesses can use AI:
Human Resources (HR): AI software can significantly expedite the hiring process by soliciting and screening candidates. It can narrow the field and save interviewing time, freeing up HR staff to deal with other issues that require human attention. AI also might reduce the risk of discrimination claims because human subjectivity plays less of a role in the process.
Communications: Chatbots and other tools make it easier to maintain efficient and effective communications with customers and prospects. Specifically, these tools can respond to frequently asked customer service questions, allowing front-facing employees to focus on more targeted or complex issues.
Growing companies also can use AI tools to automate communications with vendors and employees. Doing so ensures the timely delivery of information and minimizes the chance of costly or embarrassing human errors.
Cybersecurity: Every company, no matter how big or small, faces the threat of hackers and ransomware schemes — and the risk has grown only more intense in recent months.
In fact, given the sheer number of cyberthreats out there, and the virtually infinite ways that cybercriminals can vary their attacks, AI is fast becoming an essential defensive tool. For example, through machine learning, AI can devise ‘classification algorithms’ to detect spam and malware.
Proceeding With Caution
AI for business — including SMBs — isn’t going away. Does this mean you should throw caution to the wind and spend exorbitantly on an AI solution today? Not at all. Like any technology initiative, an AI implementation project should involve careful research into your needs and a prudent budget.