We’ve been conditioned to think of Artificial Intelligence systems as a futuristic but malevolent force, that, once it reaches awareness, plans on how it’s going to exterminate humans.
“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“My logic is undeniable.”
“I’ll be back.”
While each of these quotes are familiar (you might recognize them from 2001, A Space Odyssey, I, Robot, and The Terminator), they are ultimately fearful and bring up visions of what machines can (and will) do to humans once they take control. While there are some very real ethical considerations that need to be addressed for the future of AI, the reality is that “real” AI is not like it’s portrayed in these movies.
AI as it actually exists isn’t quite ready to take over the world, but it is ready to take over some tasks in your business. Just as Dr. Alfred Lanning said in I, Robot, “you must ask the right questions” so, too, do we need to ask the right questions about what Artificial Intelligence Systems can and will mean for the future of small businesses.
We might not have hover cars or Jetson-style robots to cook and clean for us, but there are many exciting possibilities for the applications of AI in business. It’s a future that is quickly becoming the present, and the potential is infinite for small businesses that rapidly and effectively adopt AI technologies, whereas those that don’t, or won’t, will come up against a huge barrier to their success.
In this blog we’ll take a look at the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of AI and Small Business so that you know where to get started. Just don’t ask Skynet for any help.
Who can take advantage of Artificial Intelligence Systems?
As you will come to understand while reading this piece, Artificial Intelligence systems is not just the plaything of billionaires a la Ex Machina. While your company may not have the resources to create its own HAL, you can still go on your own ‘odyssey’ to integrate existing AI services into your business.
In Microsoft’s recent ebook entitled “The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and Its Role in Society”, they point out that the reality of today is that “organizations of any type can tap into the power of the cloud to develop and run their AI systems.” Small and medium sized businesses are just as poised to capitalize on the benefits of AI as larger enterprise businesses. Any organization, whether large or small, that uses and depends on any form of data or information will see major benefits from the implementation of various AI technologies.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
In a lot of ways, science fiction has given us a very negative portrayal of what artificial intelligence is: from robots turning on their masters because the hive mind deems humanity a threat, to Skynet’s attempt to wipe out humanity, to a lethally-malfunctioning computer that kills almost an entire spaceship crew.
But, science fiction aside, what exactly is Artificial Intelligence?
In The Future Computed, Microsoft defines Artificial Intelligence system as “a set of technologies that enable computers to perceive, learn, reason and assist in decision-making to solve problems in ways that are similar to what people do.”
For instance, consider how Alexa and Siri are able to make use of speech recognition and machine learning technology to feed us information that we ask for. This is one example of artificial intelligence systems at work.
When should you think about implementing Artificial Intelligence systems?
The sooner the better! In fact, it’s possible that you are already using AI without realizing it. Either way, whether you’re completely AI-free or whether you’ve started using AI in some small areas of your business, it’s definitely time to get on board.
AI has been floating around in the pubic consciousness for quite some time, but it is only recently that it has reached a level where it’s useful to the wider business community. The increase of Cloud computing power, data availability and more powerful AI algorithms have all contributed to making widespread AI use a reality. AI adoption will continue to increase, and as a result it’s important for small businesses to begin looking at ways to implement AI within their own organizations.
Where do you see examples of Artificial Intelligence systems in your Small Business?
Microsoft’s research in artificial intelligence has suggested that, similar to other new technology, the sooner an organization adopts Artificial Intelligence systems in their business, the better chance they have of leading the pack. And, to that effect, they have made a pledge to make AI available to everyone in the world. This is good news for small businesses! Microsoft has pledged to ensure that AI technologies can be accessible to developers and organizations of any size to create their own AI-powered products.
Here are two key examples of current Artificial Intelligence systems that you could already be seeing or using in your small business:
Embedded into Microsoft’s Windows 10, Cortana is your digital agent, capable of answering questions about various Windows products, helping you find your files, participating in Internet searches for information, sending emails and texts on your behalf, and much more. To use Cortana, you can either talk or type your questions to it, which sets this digital agent apart from say, Alexa, which can only respond to voice commands.
Cortana is great for small businesses, because this digital agent can help make your small workforce more productive. Want to see a full list of what Cortana is capable of? Check this out!
A chatbot is an artificial intelligence computer program that is designed to conduct a conversation with someone via auditory or textual means. Chatbots can be used to help people find information, shop for items, get information on the weather, and much more. They typically fall into two categories – ones that use rules (responding only to very specific commands), and ones that incorporate natural language processing systems to understand what you’re asking of it in a much broader context.
Chatbots are great for small businesses, because they help to take the burden of answering general questions about your business away from your sales team, allowing them to go after true leads. Interested in building your own chatbot to assist your customers? They’re not as difficult as you might think, so talk to us about how to get started!
Why should your Small Business look into an Artificial Intelligence System?
We’ve talked a lot about what AI is and the difference between its portrayal in popular culture versus the realities of AI today. While driver-less cars and your own personal Sonny or BB-8 sound like exciting possibilities for the future, small and medium-sized businesses need to focus on today.
Here are some excellent benefits for SMBs looking to implement AI tech into the workplace:
Benefit #1 – AI for Organizing and Remembering Data
Human creativity isn’t losing to AI anytime soon, but the human memory can be quite fallible. Computers, on the other hand, will never forget (without a total system failure – and even then, if you have a good back up plan most of the data should remain secure.) Human error is inevitable, and that is where AI can come in to complement the abilities of your employees. Many people are already using AI in this capacity without realizing it; even a simple Gmail account is currently filtering emails based on topic and priority.
Benefit #2 – AI and Employee Time Efficiency
SMBs are typically more agile organizations than enterprise businesses, requiring employees to wear many hats and be adaptable. There often isn’t the same level of administrative support as there is at much larger businesses. And the reality is that everyone would like an assistant – even the assistant would be happy for an assistant!
AI can, in a way, make that a reality for SMBs by using AI tools that deal with some of the repetitive, menial tasks, thereby freeing up employees’ time to focus on higher-level work. From digital assistants such as Cortana or Siri, to intelligent customer service tools such as Digital Genius, implementing AI can help your employees do the work that really matters.
Benefit #3 – AI to Increase Sales
At the end of the day, it’s money that keeps businesses running, so SMBs should always be looking for ways to help their salespeople be more efficient and effective. CRMs are incredibly important tools for small business sales, as we have said a few times before. AI can work with CRMs too. Salesforce’s Einstein AI, an intelligent CRM, takes the functionality of a CRM, but uses AI to delve deeper and gain a better understanding of the customer through predictions and recommendations based on your unique business processes and customer data. It’s always good to get a leg up on sales where you can, and intelligent CRMs are another way to stay competitive.
How can your Small Business get started with Artificial Intelligence?
Getting started with Artificial Intelligence systems in your small business is a lot easier than you may think – after all, you’re probably already using AI without even realizing that you are! Start by looking into what IT you might currently be using, and where Artificial Intelligence might fit in with what you’re currently doing. Need some help with this? An IT Roadmap could be a great first start, or contact us to help you understand your options in how to build Artificial Intelligence into your business.
This blog post is co-authored by ProServeIT and Change Connect. We publish a monthly blog specifically written for small businesses. Some of the topics we have discussed include security, CRM, Cloud computing, Small Business Tools and Business Intelligence (BI). Click here to view a list of our previous co-authored blogs for small businesses.
As a multi-award winning Microsoft Gold Partner, ProServeIT has been helping SMBs increase their efficiency for over fifteen years. We’re constantly looking for ways to help our customers get the most out of their technology investments, and we love introducing our small business clients to new tools that can help them be more productive. Interested in completing an IT Roadmap, or better understanding Artificial Intelligence for your small business? Talk to us to arrange a complementary demonstration of these, or other tools, that might be right for you!
About Change Connect
Change Connect specializes in helping clients to work more efficiently and effectively in pursuit of their revenue goals. We offer customized solutions for small to midsized businesses with a focus on Sales Transformation. Whatever stage your business is at, whether you’re a start-up looking to expand or an established company looking to move from a plateau to record growth, Change Connect is your partner in transformation. Change Connect – Making Sales Scalable.