How Machine Learning and AI Can Help Small Businesses


The concept of Artificial Intelligence, or at least what most of us think of when we hear the term, seems to be futuristic and intimidating. However, the reality is that AI has already been integrated into several aspects of our everyday lives in ways that we don’t always notice.

That doesn’t just include our obviously intelligent friends Siri, Alexa, and Google Home. Many of our luxuries of the 21st century, from curated Spotify playlists to the suggestions generated by your Netflix account, rely on machine learning to deduce what products may be worth your time.

Even though we’re surrounded by AI in our homes, it’s tougher to think about it permeating our workplaces. Some are afraid that using AI will diminish the value of human workers and result in unemployment. Paul Daugherty, chief technology officer of Accenture, aptly addresses this concern.

He explains that the purpose of AI is not to replace humans, but rather to take over mundane, repetitive tasks that consume time so that employees can focus on “solving more complex problems and dealing with the more complex issues that arise in business.”

And the use of AI isn’t just for the big-wigs, either. There are many ways small businesses can benefit from using AI and machine learning without blowing their budgets. The key is remembering you’re not in this alone. There are a plethora of resources out there made for businesses just like yours, made by people who know their way around AI.

You can pick and choose the applications that work best for your team so that everyone can maximize their productivity while still maintaining that essential human touch. Here are just a few of the ways that AI and machine learning have proven beneficial for small businesses.

Targeted Marketing

One of the most widespread uses for AI is quick and easy marketing to your target audience. Instead of putting up a billboard and hoping someone finds it interesting, or the more common practice of blasting out emails in hopes someone responds, you can take advantage of “programmatic advertising” technology.

The more obvious examples of this are big companies like Google or Facebook, though many other advertisers use AI in the same way. You provide target audience information and the fancy AI algorithms find the right users, discover the commonalities between them, and display ads to users that it determines to be “look-alikes” to those users.

The reasoning behind the process, Daniel Faggella of TechEmergence explains, is simple: “They want to put ads in front of people who are likely to do something with them.” It’s beneficial for them and for you.

When it comes to marketing, AI saves you the time you would otherwise spend mining data and building ideal customer profiles.

Affordability

In an ideal world, every business could hire teams of data scientists to build customized AI. Unfortunately, that's usually not the case. But that doesn't mean you can't afford the technology to keep up with your competition.

The widespread availability of many AI solutions gives you the freedom to choose the services your company needs “off the shelf,” similar to the way that you choose vendors for materials that keep your business running. This variety of selection means that you only pay for what you need.

There are a lot of AI applications out there. As handy as they are, most companies don’t actually need all of them. When it comes to choosing software, Daniel Faggella advises picking whichever options “seems to have the best use cases to achieve your business goals and to give a positive return.”

As with many other things in life, AI is best in moderation. The moderation is good for your bottom line, and the AI is good for your business.

Fraud Detection

“Machine learning” means exactly what it sounds like. But what are the machines learning? In most cases, it’s processing data and discovering patterns.

When a machine detects a certain type or trend of data repeatedly, it begins to recognize it. And from there, it can sort the data out and make note of it however it is programmed to. Throughout this process, the machine also learns what kind of data is not normal.

This is how it becomes super useful for cybersecurity and fraud detection. AI can detect data that is out of place or suspicious, which is really significant if your business handles any sensitive information, which most do in some regard.

An example of this in action is Stripe, a payment processing company that collects data from the businesses already using the application in order to improve its ability to detect transactions out of the ordinary.

Tracking Various Analytics

This is another obvious use for our intelligent machines: crunching numbers. It’s also the use that’s applicable to virtually every business, as they evaluate several outcomes and variables on a regular basis.

Evgeny Kurt, CEO of Ukit, notes that the analytical functions of AI are especially helpful with “unstructured data such as social media, call center notes, images, and open-ended surveys,” in which AI can also notice patterns and results.

Michael Cristiani, part of the data and analytics group of PowerHouse Factories, even suggests that businesses are more in need of applications to analyze data than to collect it. He says “small businesses aren’t starving for data...they’re starving for insights.”

If you’re finding your company starving for insights and low on time, there are several applications out there to help. Prodoscore is one example of an application that analyzes data from app usage and puts it into a convenient format that allows you to visualize the productivity of your team, so that you can gain insights on how to improve productivity.

Analytical AI allows you to truly measure your progress and keep track of KPIs without having to do the painstaking calculations.

Never Fear, Choose Wisely

AI is nothing for small businesses to be afraid of. While AI isn’t the magical cure for all business problems, it does free up small businesses to focus on growth and management while letting machines take care of the more menial tasks.

Don’t be afraid to investigate what applications may work best for you in your quest for productivity and excellence.

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