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Artificial intelligence (AI) or bust. That’s the chant you’ll hear across the digital landscape today as major corporations are beginning to reap the rewards associated with automation, machine learning, and digital assistants. I mean, we all know AI is going to be revolutionary for the big players in the digital marketplace. But for SMBs who lack the same resources, talent, and IT budget to make AI a core function of business today, what’s the best way to stay competitive? Is there such a thing as AI for SMBs — tools developed to be make AI more accessible to the little (or littler) guy?
First off, I’ll give a caveat I often offer when dealing with new tech in digital transformation. Despite the hoopla and hero worship surrounding AI right now, research shows it isn’t a strategic necessity for many businesses—just yet. Indeed, nearly 30 percent say AI is not currently a priority and another 30 percent say they’re just now in the pilot phase of determining where AI might be valuable and actionable. Does that mean you ignore the growing excitement about AI use-cases in business? Of course, not. But it does mean that when it comes to AI for SMBs, caution and strategy are very important things.
AI for SMBs: A Do-able Strategy
First off, do not focus on the thrill of being an early adopter. As many consumers learn, it’s often better to let someone else find the kinks with a new technology—especially if you’re a smaller organization without the budget or capacity to adopt and upgrade multiple iterations. No, when it comes to AI adoption, SMBs should be slow and steady. If you’re not sure where to start, try the following.
Pick strategic AI priorities that will support very clear business goals. You don’t have to incorporate every new AI capability—just the ones that are most relevant to your company today. And most importantly: make a plan. Do not pass go until you know why you’re adopting AI for SMBs and what you hope to get from it.
Get the Right People or Retrain Your Employees
Even better, use one of the many as-a-Service programs available on the market today to make your life even easier. When it comes to AI for SMBs, you’ll want to make your resources go as far as they possibly can. If you can retrain a great employee to learn some new AI skills where relevant, rather than hire a new teammate, do it! Otherwise, check out the off-the-shelf technologies already on the market, many of which are so simple anyone in your company could use them. Use Salesforce to gain better traction on analytics; use Crayon to capture insights on your competitors’ websites, social media, and messaging; try Acquisio to manage your marketing across platforms; use Digital Genius to automatically kick tickets to the right teams. Off-the-shelf AI-as-a-Service solutions are perfect for building efficiency and capacity. Just be sure to choose tools that can scale with your company.
Test and Get Feedback
One of the biggest mistakes I see in digital transformation is the “set it and forget it” model of implementing a new technology—in this instance, adopting AI for SMBs but never checking to make sure it’s effectively utilized. Doing that in the digital transformation is almost as bad as never adopting the tech at all. Today’s technology changes daily. Keep your ear to the ground to see how AI is being used in your industry, listen to feedback from on-the-ground employees who are using it; and always be open to change. After all, it’s the hall mark of digital transformation.
Don’t Give Up
But don’t give in, either. Maybe now is the time to adopt AI—but maybe it isn’t. It’s your job as an executive leader to determine which option is better for your company. Still, I urge that even if you decide to forego AI for now, you shouldn’t ignore it altogether. Stay alert to the possibilities. Listen up for new ways it could save your employees time and your company money. Because mark my words: even if you aren’t interested in AI for SMBs now—it won’t be long before it becomes another business necessity.
Daniel Newman is the Chief Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio