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Ben O'Loghlin

Towards the end of 2019, social media was inundated with motivational quotes and messages about how the following year would play out.

AI Technology on a Small Business Budget

Towards the end of 2019, social media was inundated with motivational quotes and messages about how the following year would play out.

The general consensus was that the start of a new decade would be the best ever. It wasn’t uncommon to see posts such as “2020. Just believe good things are on their way” dominate newsfeeds.

How wrong they were.

Skip forward a few months, and out of nowhere we were hit with a global pandemic that’s devastated lives and livelihoods. Several months in and some countries still face a continued battle, while others slowly try to return to normal.

While I don’t want to downplay the impact of COVID-19 and acknowledge the road back won’t be easy, I choose to view our future post-pandemic as still more positive, than game over.

This situation might be different, but business has been here before and it’s a well known fact that innovative thinking in recessions can result in booming businesses. IBM, Disney, General Motors, Burger King and Microsoft (among others) all started in tough economical or social times.

Now as we come to terms with working remotely and the continual digitalisation of the workforce, the opportunity that presents itself to small to medium businesses is automation powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

What is AI technology?

AI technology is considered a computer science that helps to build smart machines (or digital solutions) that can perform tasks that typically require a physical worker to complete. AI technology needs to be seen as a system of workflow that allows work to get done more efficiently.

While the World Economic Forum does state AI technology will displace 75 million jobs worldwide, it suggests AI will also create more than 130 million new jobs in return within a few years.

The introduction of AI technology does not spell the end of employees, it simply means staff are enabled to work in a more concise and less labour intensive manner, no matter their role.

Whether we like it or not, AI is here to stay.

It was reported by Gartner, a research and advisory company, that the migration to AI is well and truly on. Two recent reports they published found that:

● 37% of organisations have implemented AI; and

● By the year 2021, 80% of emerging technologies will have AI foundations.

These figures alone prove that the way we conduct business is changing and, in order to keep pace, AI needs to be introduced by small to medium businesses sooner rather than later.

AI is not just for large corporations

It’s logical to assume that anything tech-related from an emerging industry comes with a hefty price tag. The reality is, however, Enterprise-level automation solutions can be introduced on a small business budget.

As a small business owner or employee in your role, think about the tasks and processes that fill your day with frustration. No doubt you can list several things that make your blood boil.

Fortunately, there’s a high chance the pain points and obstructions you face can now be automated and reduce the need for your direct involvement.

Here are some ways automation can be used by small to medium businesses:

IT service desk or for IT personnel: How many times a week are you asked to do a password reset for another staff member? You do it without the obvious annoyance because you’re a professional, but it happens too often and slows you down in completing the more important requirements of your role.

AI technology can deviate repetitive tasks away from IT service desk staff or personnel and allow employees to solve their issue via step-by-step automation.

Onboarding new employees: It’s always exciting to welcome a new member to the team, but it does come with some headaches, mainly around how to enable them to hit the ground running from day one. Generally new staff members need a computer, log-ins and to fill out information required by Human Resources (HR) at a bare minimum.

The onboarding process can be entirely automated and reduce the stress of both the new staff member and the small to medium business experience during this time.

HR training: HR team members are required to do a lot in their role.

  • Recruit and hire new staff
  • Organise payroll
  • Conduct audits and disciplinary actions
  • Oversee employee records

Going further, it’s within the HR remit to provide guidance to management and staff to ensure they remain as healthy and functional as possible.

HR can benefit from AI technology and become more digitised through the automation of training and remove one barrier HR personnel face, being everywhere all the time.

Remote work: The big lesson learnt, in a business capacity, from this pandemic is just how mobile and location independent a workforce now needs to be. While there’s been talk on this subject for a number of years, pushing it to the absolute limit never really happened until COVID-19 forced our hand.

Now staff members need to be able to work from home or an island paradise (when restrictions cease) when it suits them. This means less face-to-face communication and will rely heavily on the use of automation to ensure the requirements of their role can be carried out seamlessly.

Afterall, if devices like Google Home operate quickly, staff don’t want to be hampered by the slowness of technology as they try to work.

With a small business failure rate nearing 90%

it makes sense that any advantage a small to medium business gets, it should capitalise on.

In a business sense, the big takeaway from this pandemic is how much more efficient, responsive and user-friendly workforces need to be to ensure staff are happy and small to medium businesses remain viable in difficult circumstances.

AI technology is by no means a new phenomenon, but the way in which small to medium businesses can use it is. Gone are the days of AI technology being reserved for the big end of town who willfully splash cash on innovative measures to increase their competitive advantage.

AI technology has evolved so powerfully that Enterprise-level automation solutions can be implemented on a small business budget.

Small to medium businesses that introduce automation now stand a good chance of living up to the social media hype of late 2019. With several months to go, AI technology just might make 2020 ‘your best year yet’.

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