The AI Revolution – How can small businesses reap the rewards?
A recent accounting industry article suggested that “AI could be the biggest invention since the calculator”. With it already having a massive impact on the accounting world, the big practices are reportedly investing heavily in AI.
Within the narrow confines of the accounting world, which is traditionally a process and systems based industry where micro decisions are made every day, AI allows scalable decisions to be made for repetitive high volume tasks, allowing accountants to focus on providing advisory services which add value. This should enable costs to be cut, quality to be improved and the increasing use of technology should allow accountants to focus on using our skills to drive business benefits for clients.
However, enough about boring accountants! Outside of the narrow confines of our industry, what is all the fuss about AI and how far will it extend? From Siri to self-driving cars, AI is progressing rapidly and here we’ll take a look at how it could help you.
Alexa – how can AI help my business? Unless you work in big tech, the implementation of artificial intelligence may seem like a daunting task. We hear a lot about large corporations tapping into AI and other advanced technologies, where it can offer the possibility of delivering accuracy with a greater degree of precision. Think space exploration, mining and so on and the hostile environments they pose, where intelligent robots are used because they are more resilient than humans. Or with banks and other financial institutions, which are using AI to organise and manage data as well as to detect fraud.
But how is it useful for us as smaller business owners? Well, there are many AI tools that may be able to help you right now. Here are five important areas to consider:
1. Improve customer service. AI tools can help employees to do their jobs more efficiently, while increasing customer engagement and satisfaction. Take ‘Avatars’ or ‘digital assistants’ for example. These tools can actually interact with users, answer questions or forward messages at any time of the day, giving a business a 24-7 resource and furthermore, freeing up employee time to focus on other tasks.
2. Enhance employee engagement For the many small businesses that don’t have an in-house HR resource, AI tools can be used to gather employee feedback on any concerns they may have, their training and development needs and ideas they have for the business. This can help to create a positive workplace culture where team members feel their feedback is taken on board. This in turn can assist with morale and productivity.
3. Streamline backend tasks.There are an increasing number of tools which are both affordable and easy to use for backend tasks like accounting, scheduling, and other forms of day-to-day organisation. Given that small businesses employ a limited number of people, using AI tools to perform time-consuming tasks like these makes a lot of sense and again allows employees to focus their time more efficiently.
4. Facilitate sophisticated consumer segmentation. Instead of having to pore over endless amounts of data manually, businesses can use AI to quickly gather and analyse market analytics. There are tools that can determine product-market fit quickly by accessing machine intelligence to understand consumer segmentation. It can also help small businesses to be much more targeted in their advertising, whether online or offline. AI is able to help pinpoint customers and give the business a better insight into targeting their customer base.
5. Get help from a voice-search assistant. We’ve mentioned Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa already but there are many more options for business owners who want to take the pressure off of their hard-pressed employees when it comes to sourcing information. Other contenders are Google’s Assistant and Bixby on the newest Samsung devices. By 2020, it has been predicted that virtual assistants may number as many as 7 billion, compared to 4 billion in 2017.
Science fact or science fiction – now is the time to tap into AI
Based on the premise that AI could become more intelligent than any human, big names like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates all expressed their concern about the risks posed by AI in the future. Whether you believe we are at risk of being overtaken by the machines, from modern day Terminators to people being engulfed in a Westworld style dystopian Disneyland, what AI offers now is a way of streamlining business operations and providing intelligence like never before.
One thing is for certain, AI is not going away and if we fail to take advantage, the competition surely will continue to adopt computer based technologies to enhance their businesses. This is something to ponder, as we drive home in our Tesla cars, ask Alexa what’s trending on Netflix and snuggle down cosily to watch TV at exactly the right temperature thanks to our Nest heating thermostat!