The media is flooded with stories on Artificial Intelligence (AI), some with dire predictions that it will soon eliminate a staggering number of jobs. For small business owners with limited budgets it may be necessary now, or in the near future, to decide whether to invest in AI or hire workers to get the job done.
My view is that you probably need both; you can’t have one without the other.
- You need AI to remain competitive.
- You need talent to work with new technologies.
At the very least, small business owners need to have a good understanding about what AI really is and how it can be used in their companies now, or in the near future.
What is AI?
There is some confusion about the meaning of the term “artificial intelligence.” Aren’t all computer programs a form of AI? Not really, because AI isn’t limited to crunching numbers and doing other rote activities.
AI essentially refers to technology that can think. Consider Alexa interpreting the speaker’s question as a good example of AI. There are different degrees of “thinking” (a TechRepublic article has a good explanation).
What to look into
Think about the operations and business processes in your company to see where AI can be deployed. Here are some examples that I’ve found to help you:
- Improve the customer experience. Make it easier for customers to place orders with you, through mobile apps, automated reordering, and other technologies. For example, Starbucks uses Alexa voice activation for customers to place orders.
- Improve customer relations management. Salesforce suggests AI is essential for customer relations management (CRM).
- Reduce costs. While not yet doable, it’s likely that soon you’ll be able to speed up deliveries for less cost using AI, such as driverless vehicles and drones.
Don’t overlook talent
When implementing technology changes in your company, it’s important to bring employees into the process. It is your employees who will be utilizing the technology. They need training and assurances that in many instances AI is intended to supplement, not supplant, their activities and their value to the company. Where AI replaces humans, employers need to think about retraining current employees for new tasks to retain their workforce and grow their companies.