artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence: What Small Businesses Need to Know

Today, the possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI) are within the reach of almost every small business. Contemporary artificial intelligence is not only equivalent to the human mind for some particular tasks, but goes beyond what can be asked of mortal employees when it comes to the 9 to 5. In business, there are a few specialized areas in which AI is unquestionably superior. While the bleeding-edge of machine learning may be dominated by a handful of big companies that can invest millions or billions of dollars in this technology, this doesn’t mean that their discoveries can’t be harnessed by entrepreneurial organizations of a more humble size.

Automated intelligence

The interactions you have with potential customers yield useful information, like contact details and demographic profiles, that can enhance your marketing strategies. The problem is that this data piles up quickly and can turn into a vast mountain that seems too big to deal with. Artificial intelligence programs can help sort through it all, analyze it, make accurate predictions and deliver actionable recommendations for how to maximize your marketing returns.

Once your outreach efforts start to yield results and crowds begin lining up to buy your product or utilize your services, you can use AI to make your sales funnel more successful. Many of the routine chores associated with guiding a lead through to a successful conversion can be automated with the help of innovative technologies.

Related: Wired Magazine Co-Founder Talks Major Artificial Intelligence Breakthroughs [Book Excerpt]

Intelligent assistants

Chatbots have a role to play in both sales and marketing. They can engage in natural language conversations with customers through email or live chat, answering questions and booking sales without any human monitoring required. They’re also great at spreading the word about your enterprise through text messages and social marketing.

Networking with other entrepreneurs and leaders in your field becomes easier with AI by your side. Automatic translation tools enable conversations with people all around the world, significantly expanding your list of possible contacts. A computerized virtual assistant can schedule meetings for you, remind you of items on your to-do list and more.

One category of virtual assistants deserves special mention: voice-enabled software agents that you can interact with merely by speaking to them. Amazon’s Alexa AI application has shown that these capabilities are available to the average layperson rather than being the exclusive domain of the tech-savvy. Not only can Alexa make your daily routines go faster and more smoothly, but it also opens up another avenue for communicating with your audience.

Artificial intelligence efficiencies

Even in the back office, artificial intelligence is proving its mettle. Routine accounting tasks, like invoice preparation and making charts, can be put into the hands of an autonomous system. This will free up your own accounting personnel for more vital endeavors, or, if your organization has very modest accounting requirements, it might even allow you to forgo the services of a full-time accountant entirely.

Small businesses also must take precaution to safeguard their own computers, files and other valuable assets (including goods for sale) and typically must do so on a tight budget. Artificial intelligence is the future of security (for better or worse) and savvy businesses would do well to incorporate it into their overall security strategy. AI analytics in smart security cameras and motion detectors make a security officer’s efforts more calculated and effective. Regarding cyber security, AI-enabled tools are the best defence against hackers, who use increasingly sophisticated methods to gain access to business networks and steal valuable private data.

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The number of AI packages that individual business owners can take advantage of right now is large and growing. There are a host of solutions for data analytics, predictive modeling and market intelligence that you can sign up for without having to try to build everything from scratch. Amazon and Salesforce are two of the giants who can deploy AI on your behalf for a modest price. There are other companies that will help you cost-effectively develop a custom chatbot, and you can always create a “Skill” for the Amazon Alexa that will put your name in front of thousands of users.

As we head into the future, we’ll see the further refinement of artificial intelligence to the point that it may become impossible to distinguish human conversations from those involving chatbots. Google’s sophisticated image categorizing routines have already achieved error rates more or less equal to those of flesh-and-blood people, and there’s no reason why chatbots can’t eventually demonstrate the same level of accuracy. This will effectively give small businesses virtual employees who are well-rounded, competent and able to work 24/7. It’s clear that entrepreneurs who leverage the potential of this technology will encounter exciting opportunities for growth.

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