AI For Small Business: Is It Possible?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has seen stunning development in recent years, and these improvements are wiggling their way into the day-to-day operations of small businesses faster than many business owners realize.

CoxBlue puts it this way: “As more and more data goes digital, it increases the possibilities for what we can accomplish without human intervention. Artificial intelligence has seen rapid advances in the past few years, to the point that news stories are no longer about if AI is possible, but rather how much it will change our lives.”

The simple fact is that AI and machine learning are expanding into new areas that could bring benefits to small and medium-sized businesses. Yes, it will not be a celebration for all. AI will likely eliminate some kinds of jobs, but it could make others much easier, especially as accounting teams are able to work with customers more easily and sift through financial data faster to make sense of the numbers.

As Biz Tech Magazine notes, AI could also free up accountants and small business owners to work on other tasks that require more personalized touches and skills. In a December 2016 report from consultancy Accenture, the firm notes that “automation, minibots, machine learning and adaptive intelligence are becoming part of the finance team at lightning speed,” and that it expects “30 to 50 percent of traditional shared services roles, including those in finance, will disappear over the next five years thanks to them.”

That’s astonishing.

The report adds: “As routine tasks become automated, finance professionals will be freed up to focus on more judgment-intensive activities. Some jobs will disappear, others will transform, and new roles will emerge.”

According to Accenture, by 2020, more than 80 percent of traditional finance services will be delivered by cross-functional teams that include AI.

The Benefits of AI

As Small Biz Trends has pointed out, maximizing resources and prioritizing time are two big benefits of artificial intelligence, but there are others:

  • You can predict customer service issues before they happen.
  • You can identify the prospects that are most likely to buy your goods and services.
  • Your marketing efforts become more personalized because you have more information about customer preferences to work with.

All thanks to AI.

In addition, the benefits of AI include the ability to help your business:

  • Automate the send-time for your marketing emails to arrive when they will most likely be read.
  • Figure out which segments of your audience to target with the greatest expectation of return on investment.
  • Predict the amount of sales in your pipeline — even before the results come in.
  • Predict your most important sales leads.

In the Small Business Trends report, they spoke with Tony Rodoni, Executive Vice President for SMB sales at Salesforce, about AI and what it can do for small businesses.

The pace of technology adoption by small businesses isn’t always fast.  Salesforce’s 2016 Connected Small Business Report notes only 21 percent of small businesses are using features like business intelligence software and analytics.

Rodoni explains what they’re missing by not adopting AI.

“AI has the potential to make every company and every employee smarter, faster, more operationally efficient and more productive,” he says.  “For small businesses with limited time and resources, the ability to work smarter and automate basic tasks can be a life-saver.

In fact, small businesses that are early to adopt new technologies look bigger than they are. Rodoni has called this the blowfish effect.

In conclusion, the information provided above is not advice but is simply general information. With AI this is an especially important disclaimer. The nature of AI technology can change so rapidly that it’s always good to do as much as homework as possible before you jump in. (Don’t rely 100 percent on last month’s assessment of what AI has available, in other words. Even a few weeks can change the landscape dramatically.)