How to scale your SME business with AI

If you run a small or medium sized company, chances are you are already scaling your business with AI. Most of us use AI powered tools in our everyday work life, without even knowing it. Features like chatbots, email spam filters, voice-to-text/speech recognition, social media analytics just to name a few, use artificial intelligence to help you save time and solve business problems. Problem solving is in fact one of the main reasons why businesses adopt artificial intelligence powered solutions. You might think that starting an AI project in your small company is an impossible and very expensive goal to achieve. The truth is, that most likely you already have a lot of the resources needed to do so, without having to spend a fortune. But before we delve into the roadmap that we have put together to show you how you can scale your small/ medium business with AI, you need to understand what AI can do for your business. In order to help you do so, we have to go back to the very basic definition of artificial intelligence and understand how AI works. 

What is artificial intelligence and what can AI do for your business?

Artificial intelligence is “the study and development of computer systems that can copy intelligent human behaviour” (Oxford Dictionary). When it comes to the question of how your business can benefit from AI, there is no one single answer. Its most popular applications help increase employees’ productivity through the automation of tasks like scheduling or reporting, for example. Think about social media marketing. All social media platforms provide your marketing manager with detailed analytics about your campaigns. This means your marketing department doesn’t have to spend hours collecting all the data and organising it in different shapes and forms, because an AI application does the job for them. They can now use this extra time to plan and execute the next campaign. Now, imagine you could provide all your business departments with tools which could help your employees speed up certain tasks. That would increase your business’ productivity, which would soon result in an increased ROI for your company. Wouldn’t that be great? This is just an example, and there is much more AI can do to help you scale your business. From increasing customer engagement, to improving quality controls and reducing costs, there are many different ways your business can profit from AI. It really depends on what your priorities and your most pressing issues are.

How does artificial intelligence work?

In order to empower a machine to mimic human intelligence you need to feed it data. The more accurate your data is, the more accurate the output of the machine will be. Once the machine is provided with data, you need to make sure that the final output will match your requirements by training the machine on what parameters it has to use to analyse and sort your data. This process it’s called machine learningThis might still sound very technical and complex, but in reality it is easier than you think. There is no such thing as one size fits all and eventually, it all comes down to your business’ goals and the way you approach and pursue them. You probably think your company is too small and your budget is too tight for you to start an in house AI project, but by the end of this article you will have found out that you might already have in place everything you need to do so.

A roadmap to designing a simple and affordable in house AI tool. 

Start simple. We identified 5 simple steps you can take to start your in house AI project, and it all boils down to identifying your existing resources.

  1. Identify the right human resource. You know that smart guy in your IT department who knows how to code? That’s the first resource you will need. Even better if they know about statistics. In the initial phase of your project, and depending on its scope moving forward, you don’t need a PHD.
  2. Collect and organise your data. Now that you have your guy you need data. Where can you find data? We all collect it everyday in one way or another. If you run a business, even a very small one, you most likely use a CRM to collect and store information about the money your business is making everyday. You can take that numerical and textual data, organise it in different shapes and forms and apply some very basic machine learning. For example sentiment analysis, which is the “process of computationally identifying and categorising opinions expressed in a piece of text, especially in order to determine whether the writer’s attitude towards a particular topic, product, etc. is positive, negative, or neutral” (Oxford Dictionary). 
  3. Identify the tool you want to use. Some great examples of tools which are available to everyone are Google Sheets and Excel. Yes, you can turn the Excel spreadsheet which you already use on a daily basis into a machine learning tool. Excel is also equipped with an Analysis ToolPak that you can use for this purpose.
  4. Identify your business goals. Now that you have your resources and tools, you have to think and define what you want to achieve from a business perspective, and identify which department you want to apply AI to. Again, keep it simple. One department at a time, starting with the one where you think AI better fits its purpose within your strategic plan.
  5. Try, test, repeat! Once all the above has been set in place, you are ready to start trying, testing and repeating! Remember that a project might take months or years to deliver the desired results. If you are not ready to commit to your AI project in the long term, there’s no point in starting it.

Now that we’ve laid down the roadmap, it doesn’t look like an impossible achievement. Does it? But how much would that cost? Well, it’s difficult to give you a ballpark figure. In terms of human resources, for the first five to six months, you will require one employee to work exclusively on this project for one day a week. That should be enough to start it and then ramp it up. On our website, you can find a series of tools which will help you get started with your first AI project:

But what if you meet any roadblocks and don’t know how to overcome them? The web offers plenty of free resources, you can find many of those on our website and our Youtube channel. If that doesn’t help you going forward with your project, you can always reach out for help to an AI professional or consultancy firm like…Sparkd, for example! Jokes aside, if after reading this article you still have doubts about how to start growing your business with AI, you can book a free consultation with our AI Clinic. Our team will help you build an actionable plan that you can use internally to start your AI journey.

 

Author Manuela Armini

Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

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