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How can AI help my business?

  • Exploring use cases for SMEs and the benefits they can bring


Artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving at a rapid pace. As it continues to improve, it is redefining the way companies operate, creating a wealth of opportunities for them to reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve employee satisfaction.

In a rapidly evolving technological landscape, knowing where to start can be challenging. To help your small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) get ready for AI, here are some of the most popular use cases for this technology, as well a few important facts to know before getting started.

If it’s the right solution for them, SMEs shouldn’t wait for AI regulations to pass before using it. A combination of awareness, proper precautions and ethical considerations is the key to using AI safely. ~ Samuel Easto-Lefebvre, Senior Business Advisor, BDC Advisory Services.

What are the main advantages of AI?

AI offers a number of potential benefits for SMEs, explains Samuel Easto-Lefebvre, Senior Business Advisor, BDC Advisory Services. Among them, are:

  • Increased efficiency: By automating tasks, employees are free to handle higher-value activities—a big plus if you are dealing with the labour shortage.
  • Improved employee satisfaction: By freeing workers from doing dull and repetitive tasks, employee engagement is improved.
  • Saved costs: By predicting equipment breakdown, for instance, AI can help you reduce maintenance costs.
  • Improved value: AI will improve your value proposition by enhancing customer support and communications, quality control and product recommendations.

What are the main disadvantages of AI?

Although extremely useful, AI comes with a few areas of concern. With a bit of awareness, business owners can reduce risks. “Governments are working on AI laws to protect users, but these will take time to become effective,” Easto-Lefebvre says. “If it’s the right solution for them, SMEs shouldn’t wait for AI regulations to pass before using it. A combination of awareness, proper precautions, and ethical considerations is the key to using AI safely.” These are the main issues companies should be aware of:

  • Privacy concerns: Some AI tools (especially Generative AI) can put your customers’ data and your own at risk. This also means that some of the outputs it generates are copyrighted. SMEs must be careful what they type into or share from AI tools.
  • Ethical concerns: Due to biases in existing information, some generative AI tools can generate false or discriminatory outputs. SMEs should always have someone knowledgeable review AI-generated information.
  • Cost: While a number of AI tools can be used cheaply, or even for free, personalized solutions can be expensive. SMEs must carefully weigh the potential benefits against the financial investment when choosing a solution.
  • Complexity: Not all SMEs have the skills necessary to implement, manage and monitor AI tools. Make sure you understand the level of difficulty involved in a given project before jumping ahead.

Top use cases for AI by business function

There are countless uses for AI in a small business. In general, AI is capable of processing vast amounts of data and automating time-consuming, routine tasks. The following are just a few examples of some common ways AI is used by various business functions.

AI for marketing

  • Generate product descriptions: A tedious task, writing product descriptions can be facilitated by generative AI. Without divulging any intellectual property, feed your product characteristics as well as your text specifications (length, format, language, etc.) to the app, and it will quickly draft a preliminary description that you can then edit to your liking.
  • Create visual content: Online tools like DALL-E can help you create images to liven up your website, newsletter and social media channels. They are a great solution if you are looking for visual content on a limited budget.

AI for sales

  • Formulate personalized recommendations: Using sales data, a CRM tool with AI capabilities can help you recommend products based on seasonal trends. It can also suggest products based on a customer’s buying history (“You bought French wine last time, so you may like this other French wine”) or product clusters (“Customers who buy a shovel also buy gardening gloves”).
  • Generate website reports automatically: Using metrics such as page views, bounce rates and user interactions, AI-enhanced advanced algorithms can generate insights on customer behaviour and website performance. This will tell you which pages and designs are most (or least) engaging, and ultimately, help you improve sales and user experience.

AI for customer service

  • Improve customer communications: AI-powered typing assistants like Grammarly can help your employees reply faster to clients and customers. These writing tools also help them avoid spelling mistakes, choose an appropriate style and tone, and generally convey a more professional image.
  • Handle customer support: Chatbots are nothing new. But recent developments in large language models (LLM), a language-processing algorithm, have made them both cheaper and more powerful. No longer do Chatbots need to reply with a small set of pre-programmed replies. They can comprehend your customer’s query and formulate a relevant answer that is easy to understand.

AI for supply chain management

  • Create restock alerts: Using your sales data, current inventory levels and external factors such as market trends and seasonal fluctuations, predictive AI algorithms can anticipate future demand patterns and create automatic restock alerts. By better predicting sales pattern, you will in turn be able to better manage your supply chain.
  • Manage your supplier relationships: AI can assess supplier performance (on-time delivery, product quality, compliance, etc.), track deliveries and identify potential risks. This ensures a reliable and resilient supply chain by enabling businesses to make informed decisions regarding supplier relationships and negotiations.

AI for human resources

  • Screen through resumes: Your HR team is busy. Reading every resume in detail may not be realistic. AI tools, however, can crawl through thousands of them in a few seconds and identify CVs with keywords matching the skill you are looking for.
  • Identify skills gap: AI tools can assess the skills of existing employees and identify skill gaps within the organization. This information helps HR develop targeted training programs, succession planning and talent development initiatives.

AI for manufacturing

  • Predict machine maintenance: Using sensors, runtime information and historical data on maintenance records and failure events, AI tools can predict when a piece of equipment is likely to fail. This allows for proactive maintenance, minimizing downtime, improving safety, reducing maintenance costs and extending the lifespan of your machines.
  • Improve quality control: Thanks to advances in machine learning, vision systems have improved tremendously over the past few years. AI-powered computer vision systems can now inspect items in real-time, identifying defects or anomalies before your products reach the market.

How can I prepare to add AI to my business?

Before settling on a technology, make sure you understand the challenges and requirements associated with the use case in which you are interested. Here are three important things to keep in mind:

  1. Understand the rules:If you are interested in generative AI, for instance, make sure your employees understand best practices regarding data privacy, copyright infringement and inaccurate information. Draft an AI usage policy and provide them with training. Also, get up to speed on regulations governing what is required and expected from organizations using a given AI use case.
  2. Explore the technological requirements:A use case may be well suited to your business needs, but your company may not be technologically ready to implement it. If you are interested in a sales analytics tool, for instance, you will need sufficient sales data to extract useful insights. Make sure you assess your company’s technological readiness.
  3. Think about practicalities:Some use cases are more difficult to implement than others. Being the first in your industry to put in place a given solution will give you an edge, but it may also be a risky challenge. When weighing your options, look at your peers and competitors. What AI tools are they using? Identifying popular, practical solutions will go a long way towards reducing risk.

In sum, AI is a powerful tool for your business, and there are many use cases to choose from. But like a good craftsperson, choosing the right tool for the job is key to success. So, make sure you reach for the right one. And don’t forget that the field of AI is rapidly evolving, with new use cases emerging every year. To maximize the benefits of AI technology, make sure to stay informed. After all, a bit of human intelligence will go a long way towards achieving your goals.

Next step:

Discover a variety of low-cost tools and software, some of which are augmented by AI capabilities.



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