To begin with, SMEs can use AI tools that are available ‘off the shelf’ and embedded as part of the solutions.
The intense focus on the exponential potential of AI and related tools for businesses has thrown up questions around their relevance for the SMEs and whether they would stand to gain from investments in this area. In the early 70s, personal computers were new to business domains with only large-scale companies being able to justify the investment.
To a great extent, the scenario with respect to AI and businesses is very similar. However, due to the hype created, small businesses are made to consider AI as probably essential to their survival. Just as in the 80s, when there were exceptions and some businesses considered investment in computers for the future of business, SMEs who see value in such investment to maintain their edge and are able to afford it, should go ahead and evaluate their investment decision based on their business objective and not just because of AI’s novelty value. AI related technologies would take some more time to mature and in due course of time when AI tools become more accessible with lowering of costs and better defined business use cases, small businesses would be in a position to make use of these tools and implement them with ease.
Nevertheless, to begin with, it would be beneficial to consider AI tools that are available ‘off the shelf’ that are embedded as part of the solutions that SMEs could procure. For example, advertising and marketing solutions provided by Facebook and Google are universally applicable—be they large or small businesses. Particularly for SMEs with limited budgets at their disposal, this could be effectively utilised to target the desired customers with precision messaging and aim at better conversions with the help of AI enabled solutions provided. By starting off with a focused target group of potential customers as part of the database identified by an SME for its campaign, using its algorithmic capabilities, Facebook will come up with the commonalities of their profiles and help create other identical cluster of potential customers. These groups will be exposed to sharply focused messages to engage with them and encourage them to learn about the SME’s offerings.
Detecting malicious activities and preventing misuse of customers’ credit card or debit card data require complex solutions customised to the requirements of specific businesses. Data security and protection from frauds have therefore become areas of necessity and SMEs can benefit by leveraging AI applications using vendor companies.
While currently the access to required datasets, the ability to construct datalakes and the skills required to build algorithms may be some of the challenges faced by SMEs, in the near future, we are likely to have AI based systems leveraging the data related to a combination of small and large clients developing recommendation systems. This would enable SMEs to skip the phase of building their own AI systems around their own databases and leverage the readily available off the shelf AI systems trained on multiple databases. Thus, in due course of time, matured ready-to-use AI platforms or tools for various functions would be available for businesses to adopt and integrate with their business transactions.
In preparation for this, focus on capturing and building a robust data infrastructure is essential. For AI tools to deliver results, businesses should start planning for proper cataloguing of data in which AI systems can be trained and therefore SMEs would do well to pay adequate attention to treating data as an important resource right away.
The writer is chairperson, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions firm