Navigating Opportunities And Challenges With Adopting Artificial Intelligence In A Small Business

For the last several years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken center stage in nearly every business meeting and conference call, as organizational leaders across various industries plan to incorporate some form of artificial technology as part of their forward-looking strategy.

Companies that have adopted artificial intelligence are not slowing down anytime soon. One recent survey found that around ninety percent of small-to-medium enterprise (SME) owners have said that AI models have made their business more successful. 

Implementing this technology has become non-negotiable. With multinational brands investing in large-scale adoption, smaller companies will be required to onboard various AI-based projects to remain ahead in the race for innovation. 

However, familiarizing yourself with this technology takes time, and often means that as a business, you will need to rethink and strategize your business model to determine the level of investment, and where these tools will deliver improved efficiency output. 

How to successfully incorporate AI models in your business 

Implementing artificial intelligence isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. AI-powered applications can be broad and often require you to carefully determine which part of the business will most likely benefit from this technology. 

We’ve compiled a short discussion surrounding simple steps entrepreneurs and small-medium business owners can take to help them successfully incorporate AI projects in their business model and overcome market disruptions. 

Identify key business areas 

The popularity of artificial intelligence has allowed for the development of a wide variety of AI models that are being applied in multiple businesses across different industries. These applications are often diverse and can become cross-functional additions to any business that has carefully identified key areas that could benefit from the implementation and effective use of AI tools. 

Business owners shouldn’t feel intimidated by artificial intelligence, but rather approach these models with an open mind and an attitude to learn about how these tools can help improve their operations and workflow.

Some of the most popular applications being used in business functions include customer service, cybersecurity, fraud management, digital customer service relationship management, and inventory management, among others. 

Familiarize yourself with different tools 

While it’s important to consider where in your business these models will most likely be used, the value thereof comes with understanding how these tools function, and what each of them can do for your business. 

Although it’s possible to deploy these models across various business functions, as an owner, you will need to invest time and effort to familiarize yourself with the tools you’re potentially going to use. More than this, you will need to provide sufficient training to employees and teams to ensure they have a firm understanding that they can effectively use these tools to improve their workflow. 

“Without clearly knowing how each of these tools works, you’re simply shooting in the dark, and hoping to retain results. Unfortunately hope isn’t a fulfilling strategy in business, and getting yourself comfortable with the tools that are most applicable will help make the onboarding feel more effortless,”says Dusty, Vice President of Operations at Sibu.

Dusty and his brother, Peter McMullin are part of the executive management at Sibu Sea Berry Therapy, founded by their father Bruce McMullin. 

Evaluate the problems you want to solve 

Not every problem in your business will have similar solutions. Dealing with an unhappy customer often requires a more empathic approach, while overcoming economic challenges will rely more on data and forward-looking analysis. 

Each problem in your business is unique and requires careful evaluation to determine possible solutions. There are multiple factors that you will need to consider, these include: 

  • How is the issue impacting near-term growth?
  • Can the problem be resolved at a later stage? 
  • What is the required investment needed? 
  • Do you need more data to evaluate the problem?
  • What are the long-term return and cost implications? 

By carefully assessing each problem, you can determine the variables or factors that might present you with the best possible solution. On top of this, you will have the opportunity to evaluate whether or not an AI application is the most suitable solution for your problem, and whether there is a provider or AI solution available. 

Prioritize building an AI strategy or plan 

Next, start thinking of possible AI projects you want to incorporate in your business, and how you will be doing this. By building an AI-focused strategy, you will allow yourself the opportunity to evaluate your objectives, and ensure that these align with your broader business model.

You will need to determine specific factors that can influence the implementation process, things such as the availability of resources; expertise, and skills to manage AI projects; desired timelines; scope of implementation and use cases; data collection; measuring and optimizing AI projects; and risk management. 

Each of these facets will help you to establish a robust blueprint regarding the forward-looking process. By prioritizing your AI strategy, you can identify key challenges that will require further assessment and the milestones you would like to achieve within a specific timeframe. 

Consider the resource availability within your business 

When we’re talking about resources, we’re not only talking about the physical monetary investment that will be needed to incorporate AI projects across your business. Instead, consider how well your team is equipped to manage AI projects, and whether you will need additional expertise to assist with the integration process. 

“Having a highly functional team that can cross-collaborate, and learn new skills at the same time is one of the most valuable assets in any business. We’ve seen this with our own teams, and the people we incorporated on new projects. When you allow teams the opportunity to learn new skills, or even take the lead on projects, they are more likely to share a sense of loyalty towards your company,” says Peter McMullin, President of Sibu.  

Sibu is a supplier of natural specialty supplements and functional foods. A key ingredient in their supplements include Sea Buckthorn oil, a highly effective ingredient that contains valuable Omega-7 properties. 

Distribution of resources ensures that teams have access to vital tools that can help them navigate the complexities of artificial intelligence. More importantly, these resources can assist team members to successfully complete new AI projects, and understand how the development of these projects will help shape their forward-looking objectives. 

Conduct data analysis throughout the process 

If there’s one thing a business in today’s day and age can’t do without, it’s data. Collecting useful and valuable data is one of the most important undertakings any business owner or team leader needs to consider throughout the process of developing an AI strategy. 

Data analysis has become one of the most important, and perhaps vital resources in any business looking to scale with the use of artificial intelligence. For starters, AI models learn faster and become more reliable through the availability of data, and the amount of data provided to these models. 

Without the right data or key insights, AI models will become less effective, potentially delivering less actionable solutions, and providing misguided decision-making concepts that can lead to poor deliverables. 

Although entrepreneurs and small business owners might think that their AI projects provide unlimited opportunities, keep in mind that these projects will only work and deliver the results you’re looking for as long as you can provide it with the necessary data.

By conducting a data analysis, you deliberately tap into new possibilities for providing more effective solutions, or even better understanding the marketplace. With data, you can begin to make more informed decisions; create more targeted marketing messages; mitigate potential risks; and plan more effectively for inefficiencies in your business. 

Consider the value of AI projects 

Often something many business owners overlook when planning to implement artificial intelligence across their operations and workflow is the value these projects will deliver in the near and long-term process. 

As already mentioned, each AI project holds different qualities and allows you to solve multiple problems. However, the outcomes thereof need to align with the overarching objectives of your business, and consistently create more value-driven results. 

Let’s say you launch a chatbot on your website to assist with customer questions and queries. The chatbot can help reduce the time needed customer representatives have to spend dealing with repetitive tasks, helping time spent on these activities, and increasing their productivity. 

However, customers feel that these chatbots deliver insufficient assistance, and often don’t clearly understand customer questions. This leads to customers feeling demotivated, or often frustrated having to solve even a simple problem. The result could be that customers either phone a sales representative; leave your website; or change suppliers to a company that can resolve their issues more effectively. 

Not only are you losing a customer, but other potential customers might struggle with the same problem, which leads to bigger long-term financial losses and decreased client retention. 

At every level, quality and value should be one of your biggest considerations. Running multiple AI projects, only for it to deliver results that don’t contribute towards your long-term strategy leaves you falling behind, and costing more resources to resolve the issue.

Start with smaller projects

Instead of conducting a wide-scale overhaul of your business, and implementing multiple AI projects simultaneously, focus rather on starting with smaller, less complex projects first before moving on to bigger attempts. 

Starting small allows you to carefully consider the problems you’d want AI to solve, and monitor the process along the way. Additionally, this will allow you to evaluate the delivery of data, to ensure that you’re on track with meeting your goals and that projects are flexible enough to grow as your business begins to scale. 

You might find that one project is more suitable for smaller tasks, while other AI applications can help improve workflow and operations. By conducting tests, and understanding how multiple variables are impacting the deployment of AI projects, you can make more informed decisions, and confidently determine whether or not a project will improve your long-term strategy. 

Conduct regular optimization tests 

There is value in making informed changes to help deliver more optimized results that directly contribute to your company’s investment in AI projects. More than this, there’s no value in implementing a project, and ignoring important intricacies that can help improve the overall desired outcomes.

Making changes throughout the implementation process is normal, in fact, it’s often strongly advised by many experts and AI consultants. By carefully considering how a project has developed over time will allow you to see where you might need to make changes, or even adjustments to retrieve the desired outcomes. 

Be sure that as a project evolves, your business grows, or the market dynamic changes, you’re equipped with the resources to make the necessary adjustments. 

“We’ve learned to optimize our strategy as we go along, and see which direction helps to provide us with the results we’re looking for, and aligns with the objective of a specific project,” tells Dusty. 

Allow projects to scale with your business 

As a business owner, you understand the value of having the right people on your team, and as your business has taken shape over time, you’ve onboarded more employees to help tackle difficult tasks and provide expertise on specific matters. 

The same can be said about artificial intelligence. Once your business begins to accelerate, and demand increases, you will need to ensure that the applications you’re using are flexible enough to scale with your business. 

While it’s important to plan ahead in terms of the direction of your business, it’s necessary to plan in terms of how artificial intelligence will develop alongside your business prospects. Keeping a system or project that no longer serves a purpose could be replaced with something more robust that helps improve business efficiency and boosts team productivity. 

Make an effort to clearly understand your objectives with each project, and how over time more flexibility would mean that the project both evolves with your business, but also delivers the outcomes you desire. 

Final Thoughts 

Ignoring the future potential of artificial intelligence will become increasingly challenging over the coming years, as more companies begin to invest in AI projects that directly complement their business model. 

Having a forward-looking strategy enables you as a business owner to understand the value and potential AI holds, and how these projects can help drive innovative efforts across multiple levels of the organizational structure. 

As a business owner, or starting entrepreneur, consider building your AI projects in balance with your wider audience objectives. Investing in an artificial intelligence strategy encourages your business to seek new opportunities in your wider market, but further overcome obstacles more effectively, without having to disturb critical business functions.