Artificial Intelligence

What does AI mean for SMEs?

26th April 2018
Anna Flockett

Last week the House of Lords’ Artificial Intelligence Committee released a new report titled ‘AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?’ Outlining the development and current uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in the UK, the paper identified five principles on which AI should be based.

Article written by Salvatore Minetti, CEO and founder, Prospex (pictured below).

For small businesses, in particular, the House of Lords noted that the principles of intelligibility and fairness should guide the long-term evolution of the AI industry, ensuring the new technologies are readily accessible for startups and SMEs. By promoting open access to the latest tech, the report concludes that the UK will be ideally placed to fortify its position as a global leader in AI innovation.

Recognising the practical uses of AI in enhancing operational efficiency for SMEs is positive and much-needed step forward. When considering business leader attitudes towards artificial intelligence, however, there still exists a certain level of distrust towards new technologies. A recent survey found that 67% of business leaders are sceptical of handing tasks to machines. Despite these concerns, business leaders believe AI is going to be fundamental to the future; of the same 67%, almost three quarters (72%) of them deemed AI to be a tool for gaining competitive advantage.

With the AI market set to grow from $2.5 billion in 2017 to $59.74bn by 2025, there is no question that businesses need to overcome their initial trepidations. As AI seeks to revolutionise the practices of small to medium-sized companies, businesses with a willingness to adopt these new technologies can drastically improve the way they operate. So, what can businesses do to ensure that AI is harnessed to benefit their company?

How can AI help businesses?
From the production of a certain product, to lead generation for sales and general administrative tasks, there are few business functions that cannot be enhanced through some form of AI. While the functionality of each AI solution differs, they are united by their ability to improve efficiency and reducing the amount of time it takes to complete a task. AI achieves this through its ability to process huge reams of data in a short amount of time.

Take, for instance, the sales side of a business’ operations. For any sales team looking for new clients, finding an ideal lead to target with a particular product or service can often be a time-consuming process. It involves manually scanning through social profiles or CRM systems and identifying the ones most relevant to the company. However, if given the key attributes and qualities of an ideal lead, AI-based solutions can seamlessly review vast amounts of data to produce a list of relevant leads. This can reduce the amount of time required by the sales team to sift through data to identify prospective clients and allow them to instead focus on completing sales from the relevant leads that have been identified.

Is it affordable?
Small firms may be concerned that the implementation of new technologies is a costly and time-consuming experience. Lacking the skills in-house to effectively use AI can act as a deterrent for business leaders. 

The reality, however, is that AI has never been more accessible, with specialised service providers offering third party solutions for startups across all areas of internal and external operations. Moreover, these solutions are often available on a SaaS model, removing the need for up front investment and long-term, costly contracts. This also gives companies the opportunity to trial different solutions, assessing which AI service is most effective for their own defined needs.

Using AI for the right reasons
When it comes to using AI, the one fundamental rule for all businesses to remember is that it should not be considered a solution to a problem, but rather seen as an instrument that can be used to improve how different parts of the company function. Therefore, to determine how artificial intelligence can be used to improve business outcomes, an objective must be in place.

Above all else, while AI cannot choose the destination, it can help businesses meet their objectives quicker if effectively adopted. 

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