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On Saturday June 22, 2019 I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on “How to Leverage Technology and AI for Small Business”. This panel was conducted during the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurial Summit. The effect of AI on Small and Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs) has two perspectives. One perspective focuses on how SMBs can leverage AI for a competitive advantage. The other perspective focuses on how AI will affect the way the SMB’s operate and how this disruption will affect the way they do business.

SMBs Leveraging AI for a Competitive Advantage

In examining how SMB’s can leverage AI for a competitive advantage there are several areas that should be considered, which include improving customer service, streamlining human resource tasks of hiring and onboarding, improving sales and marketing, and improving time management. AI tools that can be implemented that focus on these areas include incorporating chatbots into the customer service channel through the company’s internet or customer facing portals; AI tools used to automatically examine hundreds of applicants to match the criteria of the job openings at your company, this will also save valuable time and resources. AI infused knowledge management applications that will provide employees with answers to questions related to all areas of the company and performing their day-to-day tasks at the company; AI tools that gather customer data across communication channels (i.e., email, chat, social media) with the purpose of improving and/or automating the sales process; scheduling assistants for improved time management; and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or what is now called Intelligent Automation, providing SMBs the ability to automate certain repetitive tasks eliminating the need for additional staff and freeing workers to concentrate on more important task.

AI’s Disruption on SMBs

Depending on the industry the SMB operates in, AI will pose different challenges. If your SMB operates a staffing company AI used to automatically examine hundreds of applicants to match the criteria of the job openings has the potential to disrupt your staffing business. AI used to incorporate chatbots into the customer service channel eliminating the need for large staffs of customer service personnel will disrupt SMBs providing customer service personnel.

SMBs operating insurance companies are being disrupted by AI. Political and regulatory changes are rewriting the ground rules on how insurance carriers operate. This has enabled AI infused carriers such as Lemonade to enter and thrive in this market. SMBs in Retail will also face some disruption by AI. This will be primarily through supply chain automation, location-based marketing, and asset tracking. SMBs in retail must examine ways to incorporate these AI technologies to better streamline cost and remain competitive. As with any business its important to do your research to understand how AI and other technology may potentially disrupt your industry.

Quick AI Wins for SMBs

SMBs operating product and/or service-based businesses will benefit by using chatbots on their websites to initiate customer communication and help answer questions. Chatbots should be very familiar to us because we interact with them anytime you’ve seen popups on the bottom right of the screen when you first visit a website asking if you have any questions. This can be the SMBs sales and customer service representative that works for your organization 24/7. Chatbot software can be economically obtained through a number of sources. Zendesk offers information on chatbots and several vendors that can help your business; Larger players such as IBM offer a chatbot through IBM Watson for WordPress; there are many vendors out there so do your homework!

Another quick AI win for SMBs comes from incorporating scheduling assistants for improved time management. AI scheduling assistants allow for easier and less time-consuming task of scheduling meetings and other events across your entire company, no matter what your business is. This software can also help your sales teams and recruiters become more efficient. Julie Desk is one such product and another is Woven, created by former Facebook techies. As with any of the products mentioned here be sure to do your homework and understand what your company will need in order to successfully incorporate AI into your business.

Conclusion

AI is a multidisciplinary science which includes Expert Systems, Neural Networks, Machine Learning, Robotics, Natural Language Processing (NLP), Speech Recognition and Virtual Reality. Some of the technologies mentioned here combine areas of AI (i.e., RPA combines machine learning and Robotics). The intent of AI is to enable computers to perform tasks that normally requiring human intelligence. AI’s promise continues to be building systems that will make decisions faster and more efficiently than humans.

Other areas where AI can benefit SMBs (as well as larger corporations) is when expert knowledge is leaving the company, in this case Expert Assist Applications are very useful; in the case of  agents/customer service reps are inefficient and ineffective having difficulty obtaining answers to inquiries an Agent/Customer Rep Assist applications can be leveraged; and when employees need real-time access to information and knowledge a Knowledge Management Application with Employee Self-Service AI capabilities will be beneficial here.   

To incorporate AI into your SMBs start with:

  • Selecting the right business case
  • Understand Your Organization’s AI Requirements
  • Have a Process for Selecting the right AI Vendor
  • Assemble the right team

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