How AI Can Benefit Small Businesses: What it is and What it can Do

The adoption of AI (Artificial Intelligence) in business is gathering pace across the world, standing to offer tremendous benefits to businesses that get ahead of the curve of adoption. The accessibility of AI has also exploded in research years, with small and medium businesses able to access and deploy it like never before.

The benefits on offer are vast. Fundamentally, AI enables businesses to achieve more, using less time and resources. With the next generation of AI available today, it also offers data-driven insights that can empower business strategies, marketing outreach efforts and operations, among many other areas. In this piece we will introduce you to AI, break it down into two generations, and outline what it can do in businesses. In our next piece, we will give you a handy guide for getting started with applying it in your business.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

As the name implies, AI describes technology that mimics human intelligence. AI is able to work with information based on categories and rules. Let’s take an example of a business that has a contact form on its website to take enquiries. When a key detail such as a phone number is missing, AI can recognise this, and prompt the user to enter the missing number. Now this is a simple example in today’s world! AI is also capable of far more complex tasks, as is commonly seen now with ChatGPT’s ability to answer highly specific and abstract questions alike.

To understand the scope of benefits that AI can bring to a business, we can simplify it into two generations. The first of these is based on explicit and specific instructions, while the newer generation is able to work with vast datasets and operate under uncertain conditions.

The Two Generations of AI and How They Work

The first generation of AI has been around for decades and is sometimes termed ‘narrow’ AI. This kind of AI could take and carry out explicit instructions and follow a concrete process. This technology is still very useful today and underpins a variety of businesses processes; taking a somewhat more sophisticated example, a program can be designed to flag invoices of a certain amount by sending an automated email address to a designated email address in a finance department.

While valuable, a new generation of ‘broad’ AI is emerging that can solve more complicated problems and use past data to make even better decisions and suggestions. The new generation uses large datasets, cloud technology, and machine learning algorithms to derive correlations and predictions in real time for users. Let’s outline a few key examples.

The next generation of AI is already present in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem and will be extended with the release of Microsoft’s CoPilot. For example, when you’re designing a PowerPoint presentation, broad AI is what enables it to offer design suggestions that reflect the wording and structure of the content you’re writing; while ChatGPT can take a set of meeting notes and a prompt of criteria and then structure it into an action plan. This generation of AI is being used in a range of other areas too, for business intelligence, marketing design, planning and much more.

Where and How AI Can Benefit Your Small Business

For a small business, using AI is most practically possible through Software as a Solution (SaaS) providers that have inbuilt AI functionalities. This includes the Microsoft 365 platform, but a business can also take advantage of AI-driven features through accounting, marketing and project management solutions. There are some solutions that are a step further, such as using Microsoft 365’s Power BI (Business Intelligence) platform, which can create data-driven insights after it is fed a structured set of data inputs.

The benefits of applying AI are wide-ranging but include:

  • Saved Time: less time and resources will be needed to do the same tasks, as AI will be able to work around the clock and at a faster speed.
  • Saved Money: The capital costs involved in workflows or employing human capital to conduct manual processes is reduced.
  • Focus on higher-value tasks: You can free up your team’s time to develop new skills as well as to focus on more value-adding tasks.
  • Empower Productivity: AI can work with prompts and inputs to offer helpful decisions that provide value to your team’s everyday tasks, such as creating documents and emails.
  • Data-Driven Insights: AI is able to derive insights from data that might otherwise be missed.  This might include detecting subtle correlations within in a spreadsheet of data, or identifying new customer segments through analysis of a company’s CRM data for example.
  • Personalisation at Scale: From responsive chatbots that use chat prompts and customer detail to give personalised responses and recommendations, to personalised email messaging for different customer segments, AI is able to deliver personalisation at scale.
  • Advanced Cyber Security: Using its ability to analyse patterns, AI is being used in modern cyber security tools to detect anomalies and prevent threats, as well as sourcing helpful cyber intelligence online.

We hope that this guide has been useful for understanding AI and the scope of what is possible for your small business. Of course, applying AI to its full potential will take time, but by understanding what can be achieved you can start to chart a course to adopting it, which will sharpen your competitive edge and empower your business in a range of areas. In our next piece, we will give you a three-step guide for getting started with applying AI in your business.

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