What exactly is artificial intelligence (AI)?

No, it’s not the plot of Alien: Covenant. And it has nothing to do with the argument or exploration into alien life forms on Mars and beyond Earth.

To put it simply, AI is the ability of a computer program or machine to think and learn — and not just learn your habits but think and learn as a device.

Purchase prediction is an example of AI that might be used in your everyday life. Let’s say you buy your dog’s food from Amazon because it’s cheaper and more convenient than running to your local pet store. Amazon can send you your dog’s food before you need it, eliminating any last minute visits to the online store, and eliminating an item on your “to-do” list. Before you even needed to think about it, technology has thought for you.

AI is changing the face of business by making things more efficient and smart, and by predicting your habits and preferences — such as the example above — or sometimes suggesting products or services you didn’t even know you wanted in the first place.

While all of these benefits sound great, AI is causing some concern for small businesses. Concerns such as a loss of jobs, or giving larger organizations an unfair advantage because they have the dollars and teams to implement this technology easier. However, AI does not need to be looked at on such a grandiose scale. There are many benefits to small businesses if you choose to implement AI. For example, as a small business owner, you can:

  1. Automate the send time for your email newsletters and promotional emails, so they arrive at the optimal time to be read. Maybe your audience is more likely to read after they’ve had dinner or before they head to bed. Using technology to automate this feature would eliminate an employee having to log in after the work hours to deploy the email.
  2. Identify who within your target audience has the higher propensity to purchase your product or service by using technology data. This will save money on resources spent on the part of your target audience who isn’t looking the purchase the time of contact.
  3. Project the sales coming down the funnel – before the results come in. Also, identify and predict your most important sales leads.
  4. Utilize Facebook Messenger’s chatbots to leverage AI for your business’ customer service. This is an inexpensive way to be a part of a platform that your customers are using and appear modern and with the AI times.

While the thought of introducing AI to your small business may appear daunting, these are smaller tasks are less complex to automate and will still have a huge benefit from an operational and process standpoint. If this is something that sounds right for your business, below are a few questions to help you prep for and start framing out your next steps.

What are your goals?

First, it’s crucial to start with a plan and prioritize your organization’s specific reason for AI technology. What are you looking to make more efficient? For example, you may be an office supplies delivery service. You’ll look into predictive analytics technologies to routinely restock the supplies for every company you deliver to, ensuring your own business is stocked with the supplies, and your customers are as well. Identifying where you can automate processes is the first step in adopting AI technology.

Are your IT capabilities up to speed?

Smaller businesses (or any business in general), won’t benefit from AI if their IT infrastructure can’t support it. If AI is something you’d like to implement into your organization, move away from legacy on-premise solutions towards cloud-based resources. Cloud-based technology will allow your organization to host a software platform or service from a remote location and can be accessed freely anywhere through internet access and one application login. This will allow you to scale up quickly and securely.

How will you use the data from AI?

AI gives you the ability to receive data you wouldn’t normally have received through the traditional filing of paperwork and capturing leads, etc. For example, if you adopt an AI solution that predicts purchasing habits for your product or service, your organization’s sales team will have a better understanding of what your top prospects habits are, and any market-based factors, as well. These insights are invaluable. It sets your sales team up for success and deep knowledge of your customers. All this can lead to the growth of your business. When establishing your goals, think about the type of data output you hope to receive from your AI solution.

How will you monitor AI growth?

The evolution of AI is moving at lightning speed. Continuing to follow and monitor the growth of new AI technologies will help you understand how it can keep benefitting your business. It will also help you keep an eye out on your competitors, ensuring you don’t fall behind. You can set up Google Alerts for “artificial intelligence,” so your inbox receives the latest updates from the industry.

If you’re not ready to tackle something larger, start by automating the small stuff, such as invoicing, payment reminders, welcome emails or targeted promotions, even scoring leads for your sales team. AI has the potential to make every organization and its employees smarter, faster, more efficient and productive. Many small businesses have limited time and resources, and AI can enable employees to work smarter and automate basic tasks to improve your organization’s bottom line.