How SMEs Can Catch The AI Wave
There is a specter haunting the world of business, and thankfully, it is a benevolent one. Artificial intelligence (AI) arose as a natural expression of an age-long human tendency to make our lives and affairs as easy as possible with the help of technology. Make no mistake, from the steam machine to quantum computing, there’s a clear trajectory at work here.
AI Pessimism Is Realism?
Adopting AI to the fullest is not only the speculative domain of business people, but of scientists, anthropologists and artists as well. All of them seem to join one of two groups: pessimistic skeptics, who see AI ushering us into a full-blown dystopia, or those who see it as a liberating, game-changing technology.
At first sight, you may be tempted to classify small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) as AI skeptics, but is their stance really valid? There are at least two common sense reasons for this sort of attitude.
SMEs Need Guarantees
First of all, SMEs have historically been less enthusiastic about new technologies. If they rush with the adoption of AI and it eventually proves to fall short of their expectations, they can hardly make up for the time, resources and know-how invested. Unlike larger business entities, which can absorb this shock better based on the scalability of their available resources, SMEs have nothing to fall on if such a capital investment fizzles out. In this sense, even startups have better cards when it comes to the adoption of AI, since they are, by their very nature, better prepared for eventual failure.
At the same time, this risk for SMEs is only exacerbated by the fact that many people in charge of them are still struggling with grasping what the incoming AI wave can do for their business, or they choose to even ignore it until it comes crashing down on their heads. Yet, there is no reason for this approach, as a business of any size and scale can profit from AI.
Knowing this, all it takes for operational and departmental leaders at SMEs is to show a bit more willingness to experiment not just with AI, but with mobile, virtual and augmented technologies. This is particularly true of companies in construction, manufacturing, retail and contracting industries that still lag behind other adopters in terms of using AI to manage their workforce more efficiently.
AI Can Enhance SMEs
The first thing you can do for your employees is to leverage AI’s capacity to process huge amounts of information in a blink of an eye. This information can include anything from paperwork, files and meeting minutes to literal mountains of emails, archived messages and memos.
By cutting down on time employees spend chasing documents in search of the right information, AI will help any SME get more comprehensive insights into any process and, consequently, arrive at better-informed business decisions.
Being fast, but not too fast so as to become reckless, is important in another area in which AI can help SMEs reap the benefits of increasingly faster technological revolution. This is the area of customer service, which faces increasingly demanding customers who want it to be both flawless and readily available 24/7. Did we mention “personalized” as well?
AI allows SMEs to integrate customer services at little cost. It can use its lightning speed data processing capacity to analyze all available information on any customer and automate answers based on this, thus reducing the burden on the staff in charge. In addition to this, it may ultimately allow these companies to cut down on operational costs, based on its ability to sort out messages and tickets and forward them to the right departments that can deal with them — say, human resources or IT. In this manner, the needed number of human staff members can be reduced without hurting the level of service offered to clients in the slightest.
There is yet another area in which AI promises to take business practices of SMEs to a whole new level. This has to do with it ensuring an uninterrupted workflow, which easily translates into better efficiency and business results. According to an interview with Gloria Mark, a department of informatics professor at the University of California, Irvine, which was published by Fast Company, her research has found that each interruption can set back a worker for up to 20 minutes. Considering that employees are interrupted every three minutes, on average, it becomes clear how this seemingly innocuous occurrence can eat away at your productivity and efficiency levels.
One of the major culprits here is the communication demands of every modern-day workplace, with employees being literally flooded with messages displayed in their apps, chat windows, deadline reminders and emails. Lately, this has expanded to include video as a modern-day equivalent of a boss tapping you on your shoulder. AI can help these employees significantly reduce the time they need to switch between various communication platforms and the tasks they need to attend to. With its help, they’ll be better equipped to prioritize, acquire and share information and reduce time wasted on distractions.
Small and medium-size enterprises have so far lagged behind big business in the adoption and promotion of AI, choosing to play it safe and see what happens when the dust settles. Yet, this attitude is based on misconceptions about the accessibility and utility of AI, with benefits ranging from allowing for data-driven decision making to creating highly personalized customer support with reduced operational costs. At the same time, AI also offers SMEs the opportunity to create highly focused and efficient workforces, based on its ability to minimize communicative disruptions and acquire and process information at unprecedented levels of speed.
Aug 7, 2018, 09:15am