Why can SME companies no longer afford to ignore AI?

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By Salvatore Minetti, CEO and founder, Prospex

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised for take-off. In 2017, it is estimated that the global AI market was worth $2.42 billion; by 2025 it is projected to reach a value of $59.74 billion.

It’s a technology that will undoubtedly infiltrate the day-to-day lives of consumers and businesses in the years to come, but for now it remains in its relative infancy. Indeed, for some the term AI still conjures images of self-aware robots ready to threaten mankind’s dominance over the planet, while for others it is simply a buzzword that is more hype over substance.

As with most new tech trends, there are two important steps that must be taken before mass adoption becomes possible. Firstly, the technology must be affordable and accessible enough for mass use. Secondly, there must be suitable awareness and education of the technology so individuals or businesses fully understand how and why they should use it.

In its challenge to enter the mainstream, AI has only taken one of these two steps. Today, the proliferation of innovative AI tools means that there are now cost-effective tools that enable even microbusinesses to benefit from this technological advancement. However, when it comes to the understanding of AI – particularly among SMEs – there is unquestionably still progress to be made; a survey in late 2017 found that less than a third of UK small business leaders believe AI plays a role in their day-to-day business activities.

Establishing the basics

So the first question to answer is: why should SMEs be using AI? In truth, thousands upon thousands of words could be dedicated to answering that question – so vast are the use cases of AI and machine learning already that it varies massively depending on a company’s sector, size, budget, structure, culture and skills.

But ultimately, SMEs should be using AI because it represents a completely new approach to solving business issues. By analysing huge amounts of data from a wide range of sources, establishing outliers and trends in real-time and recommending potential actions, AI produces forward-thinking results. In other words, artificial intelligence has the ability to tell us what will happen next, as opposed to more traditional data analytics and business intelligence tools that review what has already happened.

Beyond its ability to provide proactive insights, AI can also vastly improve processes through automation, while generally delivering greater intelligence to help an SME consistently make better decisions. In terms of practical applications, AI and machine learning tools today can generate new leads for a sales team; streamline the R&D process for new products; and personalise marketing activities to individual customers. And those are just a few of the more common uses.

What is important is that an SME understands that AI can deliver a major boost to their business – from this starting point they can then assess the specifics of how to do it.

AI is available for all

That leads us to the other perceived barriers that stand between SMEs and AI: can they afford it and do they have the necessary skills to integrate it into their business? In reality, neither cost nor expertise is an obstacle for small businesses hoping to adopt AI.

As with cloud computing and big data in the past two decades, advances in new technologies are levelling the playing field between small businesses and their larger counterparts. The democratisation of new tools – which are now typically available on a pay-as-you-go structure – is giving SMEs access to tech that previously would have been the reserve of capital-rich enterprises.

AI certainly fits into this category. In fact, thanks to advances in cloud computing and its as-a-service model, the entry point for small businesses wanting to adopt artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies has been lowered significantly. Consequently, the more agile and ambitious SMEs now have the opportunity to integrate AI within their operations to improve multiple areas of the business, in turn offering competitive advantage.

Free from legacy systems and more cumbersome sign-off processes when incorporating new tech into the business, SMEs actually have a head-start on larger firms. As stated earlier, the challenge is for a small company to identify the best use cases of AI and machine learning – they can then begin the due diligence process to find the right technology provider and integrate the appropriate tools within their business.

If you want to learn more how SMEs can benefit from AI, Prospex will be hosting a free event on the topic on Wednesday 18 April in London. For more information or to register for tickets, click here.

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