Artificial intelligence and machine learning can significantly improve speed and productivity across a variety of industries. Small businesses in particular can boost their competitive edge through the use of AI and ML, but small-business owners may think that they don’t have the capability or budget to implement such technology.
However, with careful planning and targeted implementation, even small businesses can tap into the power of AI and ML. To help, 12 experts from Forbes Technology Council share tips to help small businesses incorporate AI and ML without breaking the bank.
1. First define the problem to be solved.
AI/ML systems analyze and categorize data. While this technology is cutting-edge, I believe you must understand your “why” before making any investment. A business must define its business problem and then collect data to better understand its root issues. Then, determine how AI and ML address that business problem. At this point, you can increase the ROI of your investment by being extremely targeted in your approach. – Ibrahim Chaudhry, Ferrara Candy Company
2. Look for ways to eliminate mundane tasks.
Look to tackle specific problems, and focus on areas that will help drive the efficiency of your employees by augmenting their talent and removing mundane tasks. See if you can test out AI/ML with existing solutions in the market, and look at that as a test case. The key is to look for real ROI, not buy into the hype. Test small, adjust and scale up if the results are positive. – Ernie Bray, AutoClaims Direct Inc. (ACD)
3. Integrate it into something you already do.
From process automation and data analytics to chatbots, there are many ways small businesses can incorporate AI into their processes. One approach is to integrate AI into something you’re already doing to make it better, such as Facebook advertising. Existing Facebook features such as Lookalike Audiences can help you find the people most likely to be interested in your product. – Roman Taranov, Ruby Labs
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4. Take small steps at first.
One cost-effective way to explore AI/ML is through small applications that don’t require an entire system overhaul. Image recognition to deposit checks, for example, is a very mature area of ML for banking apps and requires little surface area. Identifying smaller areas to apply AI/ML to is a smart way to begin introducing this technology that can save money for a business in the long haul. – Brandon Dewitt, MX
5. Start with a customer service solution.
The best way for a small business to incorporate AI is to start with something like customer service. There are plenty of AI bots that can assist your customers even when your customer service team is sleeping. The integration of customer service bots requires just 10 lines of code today, and it can be added to your website/portal/business in no time. You don’t even need technical skills to do so. – Mercedes Soria, Knightscope
6. Focus on the areas you can quantify.
If you’re a smaller business or just exploring ML/AI, start in the business areas you can best quantify so you can build on success. First, go to areas that impact your revenue, because revenue changes are easy to quantify. Then go to areas that impact cost. After that, go to areas that impact risk, which is sometimes hard to quantify but is still very important. – Arijit Sengupta, Aible
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7. Leverage existing solutions.
Don’t reinvent the wheel; not every solution has to be created from scratch. Leverage existing solutions, and customize them for your particular business. Also, focus on implementing one use case at a time. Don’t try to solve multiple problems at once. – Ruchi Goyal, Accenture
8. Find a vendor that can meet your needs.
For most businesses, the expectation should be that software investments will produce a quick ROI. Very few businesses need extensive customization that takes years to produce and millions in investment. AI/ML is no different. Small businesses should look for companies that provide AI/ML solutions instead of DIY toolkits and plan a methodical rollout of the capabilities as they get comfortable. – Prakash Ramamurthy, Freshworks
9. Explore low-code and no-code.
Securing AI can lead to inclusive growth for all companies, including smaller ones. For this reason, there are tools today that enable every organization in the world to benefit from AI. The easiest and probably most effective way to incorporate AI/ML without breaking the bank is having employees become low-code/no-code AI developers. It is much simpler than most people would expect. – Fabio Moioli, Microsoft
10. Customize an open-source solution.
For small businesses or companies looking to dip their toes into AI and ML implementation, there are great—and most importantly, free—open-source, ready-to-use solutions. You can explore prebuilt packages, ML models and AI frameworks that anyone can extend and customize further. Many are made available by technology giants—ML Core, MediaPipe and ML Kit are among the most well-known. – Alex Dzyuba, Lucid Reality Labs
11. Work on future-proofing your CX.
In today’s digital-first world, consumers expect a frictionless online journey, often ditching a brand if the website experience is complicated or unsatisfactory. Implement AI that will gather valuable insights into who your customers are and what they expect from their digital experience. Future-proofing your customer experience with AI will drive customer loyalty and, ultimately, more revenue. – Gregg Johnson, Invoca
12. Clean up your supply-chain data.
Data fuels the modern supply chain. Companies can see results without much investment when using machine-learning processes to clean this data, ensuring the logistics information they consume is reliable, accurate and actionable. AI can also help businesses save money by automating multimodal route and carrier selection and establishing dynamic ETAs before and during the shipment lifecycle. – Pervinder Johar, Blume Global