Do SMEs need Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

It’s hard to turn the television on or look at content on the internet these days without seeing various reports about the encroachment of AI into modern life and the potential risks it poses. But for many SMEs it can seem like pie in the sky and not something they’re likely to come into contact with. But is that actually the case or do SMEs need to consider if and how AI can support their businesses?

What is AI?

In essence Artificial Intelligence is computer based learning whereby routine tasks can be learned and repeated by a computer or operating system. One of the earliest uses of AI that hit the press was the IBM computer which was taught to play chess; going on to beat then World Champion Gary Kasparov in the 1980s.

But because it is developed to learn, AI can actually be programmed to acquire the function, repeat it and then further develop its understanding, building up a memory and adapting the process accordingly – similar to the human brain. We’re currently seeing the development of self-driving cars, which use AI to drive the car, assess the risks and react. But in the last few months it has been the rise and rise of systems such as Chat GPT which have led the headlines as the technology demonstrates how it can design logos, write essays and develop well considered responses and arguments to some quite challenging subject matter with a high degree of accuracy.

AI is not new

Whilst AI has been hitting the headlines lately, it is far from a new concept. As noted, its origins stretch back decades, but it is the scale and pace of development which is perhaps making it such a hot topic. We probably all encounter some aspect of AI every day of our lives as major businesses use it to automate the more mundane processes in their organisations. Car manufacture, automated service assistants and chatbots on websites are all good examples of how AI is already in use. As you walk through most town centres you’ll even be subject to AI as footfall cameras pick up your movements, working out when you entered the precinct, how you got there, how long you stay and how often you return. All of this data is captured every second of every day and is used to generate trends, statistics and shopper profiles that stores and businesses can buy into to get a better understanding of their audiences. When used in this form, AI and automated learning can be hugely beneficial.

Is AI just the preserve of the big boys?

The simple answer is no, aspects of AI can be used by individuals, SMEs and major corporates alike. It has some extremely effective uses such as those with a customer service and automation function, as mentioned, and it is perhaps in this space whereby SMEs can make the most effective use of the technology.  As tech companies develop AI based solutions there will be more opportunities for SMEs to make use of AI and embed it into their businesses. Think back ten years to the advent of cloud solutions and consider the positive impact the move to Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) and on-demand has had across a range of day-to-day business applications including Customer Relationship Management (CRM), accounting and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).  

So, there will be an affordable and useful function for AI within the SME space and some sectors are likely to benefit more than others. As one recent tongue-in-cheek post on LinkedIn pointed out, AI can only replace graphic designers if clients can provide a clear and concise brief and not change their minds repeatedly..!

This article was not written by AI – just for clarity….