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Is it time to add artificial intelligence into your SMB?

The steps to adding AI in your business.

Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t some futuristic plot device of a science fiction novel — it’s here today and it can help your small business right now.

AI technology often involves analyzing huge volumes of information, predicting outcomes, suggesting best options, automating manual tasks and natural language processing. The result is automatic decision-making by machines that ‘learn’ over time based on past patterns of data and behaviour.

AI software does all this with mind-boggling speed and accuracy that go way beyond human capability. Luckily, you don’t have to look very far for ways to apply this technology within your own small or medium-sized business (SMB).

Start with these artificial intellingence apps for your SMB:

Clara, your AI-based virtual assistant

Clara AI

Clara is an AI-based virtual assistant that notifies you of meeting requests, finds the optimal time in your schedule for them, tracks your past meeting preferences and sends out emails and calendar invitations to keep track of everything for you.

Textio will proofread your work

Textio AI

Need assistance with writing a great help wanted ad? Based on the kind of candidate you seek and the job you have to fill, Textio analyzes your job posting to suggest the best language, sentence structure and information to include in order to attract top prospects.

Pegg will be your accounting Q&A bot

Sage Pegg AI

Accounting is nobody’s favourite business task. Now British-based software company turned AI-developer Sage hopes to make bean counting a bit easier with its Pegg chatbot. Just type any accounting question about your business into the text message function on your smartphone and Pegg texts you the answer in plain conversational language. Ask questions like, “Was my business profitable last month?” or “Does anyone owe me money?” and Pegg will find your answers.

The impact on your SMB

You can see some of AI’s business benefits pretty clearly in the examples above. Automation saves you time and labour, cutting costs in the process. In turn, the accuracy of AI systems frees up money that you’d spend fixing mistakes.

That also allows you to make business decisions based on data rather than unreliable hunches or human biases. Now, AI will allow you to focus more on innovation, design, strategy, generating leads and better serving your clients.

The steps to get your business ready for AI

With all of the business benefits outlined above, and the availability of user-friendly apps like Clara, Textio and Pegg, you might think SMBs are flocking to deploy AI. Yet a new Salesforce survey suggests otherwise. Of the 300 SMBs polled in the U.S., 61 per cent say their business is not ready for AI, mainly because it’s “too complex for what they need.”

How can SMBs prepare for AI adoption and its impacts on their business? It’s always best to take stock of your current situation first. Here are some initial steps:

  • Identify which parts of your business could be improved by (and benefit most from) AI technology so you can apply it strategically.
  • Identify parts of your business that could become vulnerable due to the proliferation of AI technology. Will AI render parts of your business obsolete by automating services you now provide to your clients manually? Will predictive AI outshine some of the information processing or analysis that your company offers now?
  • Shop around for vendors that already provide AI add-ons or APIs with their business tools. This can be a quick, affordable way to tap into AI with less integration or support worries. For example, Salesforce has integrated its Einstein AI capability into all of its CRM and ERP software. Similarly, MasterCard has integrated IBM’s Watson platform into its analytics offerings for SMB merchants.
  • Consider and plan for the long-term impact of AI on employment at your company and within your industry. In a 2016 study of 15 leading global economies, the World Economic Forum predicts five million jobs will be lost by 2020, with AI responsible for two-thirds of those losses.

Get smart about artificial intelligence

Don’t let the prospect of lost jobs scare you away from AI, however. As noted in this Salesforce blog post, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving believes AI will fuel entrepreneurship and make it easier than ever for SMBs to run their businesses.

“The same applied AI that’s driving job-killing automation can simultaneously help individuals follow their entrepreneurial dreams,” Irving wrote. “The ability for vastly more people to do work they love, without having to be experts in every aspect of business, could fuel a revolution toward a producer-based economy.”

Up next: Consider other ways your business can utilize new tech through cloud services for your business.

Should you be using cloud services for your business?

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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