Joining the AI Party: Practical Steps for Smaller Businesses

The rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers businesses of all sizes the opportunity to gain a competitive edge. However, for smaller businesses, the prospect of adopting AI solutions, including generative AI, might seem costly and overwhelming.

Leveraging these technologies is likely more accessible and cost-effective than you might think. Here are a few tips to help you use AI while balancing opportunities and risks.

Understand AI Technologies and the Tools Available

Before diving into AI implementation, it’s essential to develop an understanding of AI technology and what’s available. There are subtle but important differences between AI and traditional systems. This knowledge will enable you to make informed decisions about seizing opportunities within your risk appetite.

Enhance your understanding by:

  • Attending local workshops, seminars, or online webinars focused on AI technologies and their practical applications for smaller businesses.
  • Engaging with industry experts and consultants to gain insights into AI’s potential impact on your business. Ensure they have practical experience and avoid “AI experts” who graduated three months ago.
  • Exploring online resources, e.g. articles, blogs, and online courses, to learn more about AI technologies and tools available in the market. Stay curious, it’s a fast moving field. Bear in mind that a lot of the specialised tools you pay for today might be free tomorrow.

Set the Tone, Goals, Guardrails, and Guidelines

When adopting AI for your business, it’s crucial to establish the right tone and goals, as well as to set guardrails and guidelines to balance opportunities and risks. This helps ensure that your AI aligns with your business objectives while addressing potential concerns:

  • Define clear goals for AI implementation that matter to your business, e.g. improving customer service, managing supply chain, or enhancing financial management.
  • Establish guardrails and guidelines outlining the appropriate use of AI, compliance with relevant regulations, and respect for your organisation’s culture. Be clear about which data and tasks are unsuitable.
  • Encourage open communication within your team about the potential benefits and risks of AI adoption. This will help create a supportive environment for AI integration and address any concerns that may arise.

Experiment with AI Tools

Experimentation is key to finding the right AI solution for your business.

  • Encourage your teams to actively try things out, whilst respecting the boundaries you’ve agreed upon. Set aside time if possible.
  • Test different tools on a small scale, focusing on one or two areas of your business where AI can have a significant impact.
  • Ask the team to share their findings in meetings, on the intranet site, by emailing a group, etc.

Identify the Winners and Scale

Identify the experiments that have delivered tangible benefits to your business. Focus on the tools that align with your business objectives and have demonstrated the potential for success.

Then scale:

  • Gradually expand the use of the selected AI solutions to other areas of your business. Be ready to have a few setbacks, keep your guardrails present as you scale.
  • Train your team to effectively use the AI tools and integrate them into their daily workflow. Give them the confidence to use the tools and understanding of how they differ from regular systems.
  • Continuously monitor the performance of your AI solutions and adjust your strategy as needed.

By understanding AI technologies, setting the tone, goals, guardrails, and guidelines, experimenting with existing tools, and gradually scaling the winners, smaller businesses can leverage these tools. This will enable you to capitalise on the opportunities presented by AI while mitigating risks, ultimately driving growth and staying competitive in this rapidly evolving business landscape.

One thing is certain: doing nothing is not a wise option.

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