Written by: Craig Heckrath, AI Delivery Lead

AI and Machine Learning Are Slowly Making Their Way Into Small Businesses

Large organizations are at the forefront of artificial intelligence and machine learning innovations in large part because they have the resources to invest the time and funds needed to bring projects to fruition. However, can the same be said for small to medium businesses (SMB)?

When it comes to small organizations, AI and ML adoption hasn’t yet reached the mainstream, due to the cost of the technology and the inability to meet the massive data analysis requirements for custom ML. However, as AI and ML innovations continue to make waves through large enterprises, they become commoditized and thus can filter down to SMBs as third-party SaaS solutions, providing all the functionality minus the time, resources and investments required to build these solutions.

An example here is chatbot technology, sold as an out-of-the-box solution with inherent basic functionality. These packages offer add-ons for further personalization and automation, enabling SMBs to deliver unique customer experiences.

Amazon Personalize is another example of ML made more accessible. Personalize makes it possible for developers with no prior ML experience to quickly build sophisticated personalization capabilities into their applications, using machine learning technology perfected from years of use on Amazon.com.

Other AI and ML innovations that are becoming accessible to the SMB market include face recognition for access control and customer experience, packaged products for recruitment, CRM systems, common IT services and products that utilize AI, e.g., smarter email auto-responses, spam/hack detection, targeted advertising. Within a few years, these products will become mainstream in the SMB space and will forever change customer service from the way we know it today.

AI Hype vs. Necessity

While large-scale customized AI and ML projects might not be readily accessible to SMBs, out of the box solutions are driving automation and disruption on large scales. However, with all the changes entering the market, SMBs need to have clear roadmaps in place when it comes to choosing AI technologies that will genuinely foster transformation.

Here are four tips to separate the hype from necessity:

1. Identify Opportunistic Challenges in Your Organization

Problems present opportunities and foster innovation. Therefore, to ensure your organization is harnessing technologies that are genuinely applicable and compatible with their specialization areas, you should pinpoint the unique challenges you are facing and match them to a suitable ideal technology.

2. Ensure a Well-Defined Roadmap

While transformation is crucial to ensure business survival, organizations need to transform along with the ecozystem in which they operate. Each organization is unique and needs to develop a roadmap that takes into account where they are and where they want to go to separate hype from necessity when it comes to technology adoption.

3. Research the 3 C’s

Competitors

Sometimes, the best way to see where you are supposed to go is to look at examples of organizations that have gone there and monitor what your competitors are doing. Organizations need to aspire to be like the big industry players, but adjust their successes to match their capabilities. Staying on top of competitors, big and small, is a must when it comes to innovation.

Consumers

For organizations to innovate, they need to disrupt processes and expectations by completely wowing consumers. How can you improve the lives of the businesses or consumers that use your product or service? What would make it that much better? Imagine how transport organizations improved customer service thanks to the invention of web-mapping services. Customers marveled at the accuracy of arrival time estimates. What challenges does your organization face that technological innovation can solve?

Customization

Once you have identified the areas of innovation to address, you need to research available technologies to see how your idea can turn into a reality. Most importantly, as with any AI and ML project, know your facts when it comes to customization. Ensure you know to what degree an out-of-the-box solution will cater to your requirements and how much customization will be required to meet your basic needs.

4. Trial Different Solutions

Once an organization pinpoints its requirements, such as a chatbot to automate customer queries for quotes, it is crucial to research all the different options available and test them. It is hard to know how a solution will work for your situation, and trials are a great way to see whether your expectations are achievable.

As a Huffington Post article said, AI is not going to become self-aware, rise up and destroy humanity. But with Gartner predicting that 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without a human by as soon as 2020, it is crucial for SMBs to ensure that AI forms part of their business processes to stay competitive.

About Mint Group

Mint Group a global IT consultancy recognized as a top 1% global systems integrator. Having provided CRM software to South African FSP’s for more than 17 years, the organisation is also a member of the prestigious Inner Circle for Microsoft Dynamics and recruits best-of-breed global IT skills and capabilities with two of only 144 ALM Rangers and 1 of only 160 PCSA’s globally employed as part of the Mint Group of companies.  As the dominant solutions provider to Africa’s financial services conglomerates, the company enables better business by digitally leading its clients through Customer Centricity with Dynamics 365, Employee Engagement with Office 365, Intelligent Insights with AI and Cognitive Computing, and Smarter Systems with Azure in the digital space.

Mint Group. Create Tomorrow.