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How artificial intelligence is helping MSMEs to optimize processes, accelerate growth

Technology for MSME: While a large number of MSMEs are yet to fully benefit from the technology revolution, some of them have certainly been warming up to the new age solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI) and using it also for better growth.

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Post-Covid, more MSMEs had started to use primary technology tools at least such as social media, online service aggregators, company websites etc.

Technology for MSME: The shift towards more efficient technology solutions from the good old websites and emails, in the name of digital adoption, is apparent among MSMEs that have shied away from evolving technologies for a long time. The shift has largely been visible because of better affordability due to growing on-demand, or pay as you go or what is called the software-as-a-service (SaaS) ecosystem in India liberating small businesses from the cost conundrum to some extent. While a large number of MSMEs are yet to fully benefit from the technology revolution, there are some that have certainly been warming up to the new age solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI) and using it also for better growth.

The implementation of AI is across multiple use cases. For instance, Delhi-based long-haul logistics services provider JCCI Logistics has deployed AI and internet of things (IoT) solutions to manage its fleet of around 150 trucks. The company, launched in 2004, uses on-demand fleet management software for GPS tracking of vehicles, fuel management, driver analytics, and route planning.

“Vehicles need to run as much as possible and that’s what matters. Before deploying this solution in 2020, our monthly cumulative running was around 8,000 to 10,000 kilometres. It has increased by around 20 per cent now. The jump, I think, is primarily because of the on-board diagnostics (OBD) device that you can fit in a vehicle to get data related to fuel consumption, driver’s driving behaviour, whether there is unnecessary hard acceleration or not, etc.,” Sachin Jain, Founder, JCCI Logistics told Financial Express Online.

OBD is essentially a machine learning (ML) and internet of things (IoT) based device that gets signals from different sensors in a vehicle and conveys them to the user’s dashboard with the help of the software.

JCCI Logistics have been among post-Covid adopters of deep technology solutions as the pandemic perhaps necessitated the use of software and digital for sustenance.

“Covid might have caused a faster switch to some AI/ML applications since the labor force was locked up. AI/ML provides a significant opportunity for reduction in input costs, particularly those of human capital. The advent of edge AI/ML will further hasten adoption, particularly as it gets married to IoT on small devices and sensors that are available at scale and used routinely by businesses of all sizes,” Utkarsh Sinha, Managing Director at advisory firm Bexley Advisors told Financial Express Online.

Among the top sectors where the use of AI accelerated during the pandemic was restaurant as the pandemic precipitated the eateries into looking at ways that could help them optimize their processes right from sales to inventory management and more.

Kabir Suri who runs Azure Hospitality, which owns restaurant chains like Mamagoto, Dhaba, Speedy Chow, etc., has been using AI in the company’s operations for the past five years while Covid only reinforced his commitment to AI for efficiency and growth. “We have had a direct saving of 30 per cent in past five years along with getting customer insights due to AI that has led to an uptake in revenue as well. Five years back we had around 10 outlets and now have 60 across India,” Suri told Financial Express Online.

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The company has an in-house AI solution that shows live sales, total transactions, menus, items sold, total consumption per restaurant, etc. The solution captures data from every restaurant throughout the day on a real time basis and consolidates it to show up for analysis on its dashboard. This becomes important for restaurants with chains to understand the consumer-behaviour pattern, the impact of different occasions on business like festivals such as Navratras in North particularly, Christmas in Goa, and some other festivals in South, said Suri.

Moreover, the AI solution at Azure Hospitality helps Suri control the HR module as well. “You can look at your salary component, leaves, attendance, holidays, payslips, etc., through a single system every day whenever you want. Basically, AI helps you make better decisions as you grow bigger by minimizing the impact of any uncertainty,” Suri added.

Another sector that depends heavily on technology and AI particularly is tourism for purposes ranging from travel booking via chatbots, flight forecasting in terms of the current best price and future prices, recommendations for hotel and cab booking based on travel-related searches, etc.

“There is AI at every stage in tourism and aviation,” Subhas Goyal, Founder and Chairman at B2B travel company STIC Travel told Financial Express Online. The company is the exclusive General Sales Agent (GSA) — a sales representative of a company in a specific region or country – for 11 international airlines in India including United Airlines, Air China, Croatia Airlines etc.

STIC has been using for the past five years AI-based Microsoft Dynamics CRM to manage customer relationships, track sales leads, marketing, etc., and streamline administrative processes in sales and marketing. The company is now also implementing a chatbot assistant to answer customer queries on its platform. Goyal noted the standard queries around bookings, holiday searches can be answered by the AI bot while for further details and feedback, there would be manual intervention.

Post-Covid, more MSMEs had started to use primary technology tools at least such as social media, online service aggregators, company websites etc. According to a Crisil survey of around 540 micro and small units released in April this year, over 65 per cent respondents adopted or upgraded their use of online aggregators, social media platforms, and company websites. Among sectors, manufacturing reported higher adoption with 71 per cent respondents adopting or upgrading their use of digital platforms in comparison to 66 per cent respondents in the services sector. 

“Good technology is invisible. AI/ML will soon form a fundamental layer in all operations and interactions for small businesses. As technology offerings scale, it will soon be easier to get good AI to do certain tasks than to get a human to do it. The impact of this on labor force utilization will be significant,” added Sinha.

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