Many enterprise-sized companies have outsourced critical analytics tasks to artificial intelligence, or AI, relying on it to sift through scores of structured and unstructured consumer and market data to surface key insights that enable better decision-making.
But as AI services have grown in scope, scale and affordability, small and mid-size businesses can apply it to a series of everyday tasks that can make operations less expensive and resource-intensive, and reveal new opportunities for growth hidden within data.
Artificial Intelligence: A Quick Primer
Pre-AI programs excel at crunching numbers and organizing information (think: the main dashboard of your accounting software). AI programs add a layer of decision-making to those numbers based on objective-driven inputs you give it. For example, an online retailer that’s equipped with AI tools can suggest future products that customers might enjoy based on their past purchases. Alternately, a speech recognition call processing system that’s AI-enabled can recognize customers by their voice, remember recent transactions and anticipate any questions that they might have.
Another term often associated with AI is machine learning. It speaks to a specific form of artificial intelligence that allows solutions equipped with it to get smarter by themselves and evolve over time. For instance, the more data on user interactions and behaviors that an online analytics tool equipped with machine learning consumes, the better it becomes at predicting their needs, and which offers to send them. Similarly, a cybersecurity solution that includes machine learning can learn what constitutes a normal online exchange on your high-tech networks and detect when users are behaving suspiciously. As a result, machine learning tools “learn”—they get better the more that you use them.
How AI Can Help You Improve Your Business
Generally, artificial intelligence can help make your business more aware, more agile and more anticipatory. It can help you stay better attuned to signals that the market is sending and improve how you respond, and can also help you appropriately size business operations and enhance each interaction you have with individual customers. In effect, implementing AI and machine learning solutions doesn’t just allow you to add context to every user exchange, it helps provide the insight you need to better scale efforts to match changing industry demand, and bring predictive capabilities to bear that can help you rapidly identify and capitalize on emerging areas of opportunity.
Looking to add artificial intelligence to your IT systems? Online repositories such as GitHub and SourceForge offer premade AI routines that you can embed into your own products. However, the fastest, simplest way to deploy AI across your business is simply to turn to a wealth of online service providers and the turnkey tools they make available. Numerous providers in every space offer complete off-the-shelf solutions that can help you with tasks from customer relationship management to marketing for a monthly, variable or fixed fee. While these providers will typically manage and host these services, it’s up to you to make sure you’re asking AI tools the right questions—and thinking about how the answers they provide can help you maximize your business.
Although they’re incredibly advanced technologies, AI and machine learning are now easier to roll out and implement across your business than they’ve ever been.
Common types of AI applications include:
- Analytics Programs: If you’ve ever seen a “Recommended for You” section on an online storefront or online streaming video service, you have AI to thank. These monitoring programs track customer preferences and actions to mine data for helpful insights and customize content and offers to each individual.
- Chatbots: Always-on virtual customer service representatives. These computer programs, which are smart enough to pass for human speakers, often take the form of personalities (“Hi, I’m Joe. How can I help you?”) that pop up and aim to chat with you on websites. During times of disruption, such as the present, chatbots can help you field incoming queries 24/7.
- Cybersecurity Tools: Computer security solutions that constantly scan networks for dubious activity. They’re smart enough to establish what normal baseline traffic patterns and behaviors look like, and automatically track or shut down suspicious activity and accounts.
- Data Management Suites: Inputting, standardizing and reconciling data across different worksites, departments or lines of business can be a tedious and time-consuming task. AI-equipped solutions can help you speed things up considerably, and boost productivity, by automating these processes.
- Data Visualization Programs: Data visualization tools use AI to take all that data you’re gathering and quickly translate it into graphical models and visual representations that convey key insights at a glance. Turn to them for business intelligence that you can quickly translate into actionable strategy.
- Fraud Prevention Tools: Designed to provide enhanced security and privacy. These AI-equipped systems can track your voice, vocabulary and other data points (including behaviors and speech patterns) to verify your identity in seconds.
- Inventory Management Solutions: Running low on a popular item or key component? These AI tools can auto-detect shortages and reorder products on demand. Likewise, they can also predict which products are likely to fly off shelves—and help your business stock and promote these popular offerings accordingly.
- Marketing Tools: Overspent on any business purchases or suddenly decided to switch vendors at the last minute recently? Odds are you have AI solutions such as these to thank for delivering personalized and targeted promotions to you right as you were making a purchase decision.
- Process Improvement Programs: Designed to streamline and optimize internal processes and supply chain management programs of every kind. These tools track various aspects of day-to-day operations—e.g. shipping, logistics, man hours, etc.—to ensure you’re working at peak efficiency.
- Screening and Diagnostics: Because AI tools can scan and process millions of items of information in a fraction of the time compared to humans, they’re increasingly being used to monitor for product defects, performance concerns and more. Some programs are so advanced that they’re even being used to help scan for medical conditions or provide self-repairing maintenance solutions.
- Speech Recognition: Talked to any high-tech devices lately? Thank AI, which powers these conversations.
- Virtual Assistants: From smartphones to tablets, these vocal helpers help us plan our days and calendars. Each is an example of AI at its most advanced.
Factors to Consider When Considering AI Tools
Numerous providers can help your small business get up and running with AI solutions in a matter of minutes. Many of these providers offer tools and programs that can run on virtually any IT setup. As you review which potential solutions best suit your business, a few sample variables that you’ll want to consider are:
- high-tech compatibility
- ability to seamlessly integrate with your IT environment
- contract and payment terms, including monthly service charges
- setup or cancellation fees
- customer service and support
- security and fraud prevention features
- user experience
- back-office capabilities
Although they’re incredibly advanced technologies, AI and machine learning are now easier to roll out and implement across your business than they’ve ever been. Likewise, they can provide a convenient and cost-affordable way for maintaining service levels and consistency, especially in times of market upheaval. Implement these high-tech upgrades, and not only can you help to more effectively safeguard your business against disruption, you can also add a more human touch to every online exchange.
Photo: Getty Images