Leveraging AI for Small Business Success: Practical Tips for Implementation

It is possible to harness and use the transformative power of machine learning, statistics: some call this AI, but for now I will use the terms that actually power the “magic” around the hype.

The benefits of “AI” for small businesses are widespread, but let’s look at what they really are:

Efficiency and automation to take over repetitive tasks such as scheduling, data entry, or initial routing of customer queries which can ultimately optimise processes and reduce operational costs.

Enhancing customer experience by using chatbots to interact with your customers, answer questions, or using algorithms to provide personalised recommendation to tailor your offering for them.

Data driven decision-making drawing on algorithm and mathematical models to analyse the data your company holds so you can find trends and insights to help inform your business decisions. 

But where is the starting point for implementing these techniques (whether you call them AI or not!)  My suggestion is to follow a 5 step framework:

  1. Develop a clear plan which outlines where automation and algorithms can have the biggest impact on your business. Look at your goals – could a chatbot help with customer service, do you need predictions on sales in the upcoming months, or perhaps help with writing copy for marketing? Prioritise one area to start with and learn about the tools in that area.
  2. Choose the best tools for what you want to achieve, because not all automation and algorithms are created equal. If you’re looking to create predictions, you will need a different algorithm to that which optimises or clusters data, and these are very different to chatbots.  Read and learn about the techniques are used in your priority area and gain a basic understanding of what they can do.
  3. Get everyone who needs to read, reading. It’s important everyone in your team understand the basics of the tools they will be using.  That’s not to say they all need to be amazing mathematicians, of love coding, but they do need to learn about the applications and limitations of the technology they are deploying. 
  4. Start small and scale: Begin with a small project, implement it, document processes and monitor the results. This will help you learn about the technology and how it is benefiting your business. Take time to learn and as you gain confidence in the technology’s value, start to move into other priority areas of your business.
  5. Learn about and stay compliant with of the data privacy regulations relevant to where you work and the data you collect.  This is absolutely paramount and should be at the forefront of your mind when starting to implement this type of technology.

It’s important to remember that whilst there is a lot of hype about AI, it is more than just a buzzword.  What we’ve talked about in this blog post isn’t AI – these are tools and techniques that can reason by themselves and learn by themselves.  They are, however, technologies that small businesses can use not only stay competitive but also redefine their business models for the better. So, take that first step, experiment with what works for your business, and watch as the wonders of maths (not magic) helps unlock new potentials.  Remember, the only limit is not technology itself, but how we choose to use it.

By Dr Sophie Carr

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