What Small Businesses Need to Know about Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have invaded the workplace, and concerns are rising that the invasion isn’t going to be peaceful for their human counterparts. Gartner predicts smart machines and robots will replace highly trained professionals in tasks within medicine, law and IT as soon as 2022. Perhaps even more ominous are the words of Stephen Prentice, a former Gartner vice president and current Gartner Fellow, who describes the type of human-less workforce that science-fiction films have long foreshadowed:

“Many competitive, high-margin industries will become more like utilities as AI turns complex work into a metered service that the enterprise pays for, like electricity.”

So, the research begs the question: Is AI gearing up to replace the human workforce? Yes and no. A more accurate description of AI’s impact on the workplace may be that it is not a replacement, but an augmentation — one that is not a guaranteed solution for your business nor one that requires an all-or-nothing overhaul of your existing technologies, processes or talent.

Read on to dive deeper into the positive impact of AI on the workplace, how it’s helping improve workplace collaboration and how it can be a practical, inexpensive enhancement to your small- or mid-sized business (SMB).

The Positive Impact of Artificial Intelligence

AI has taken work off humans’ plates by automating many menial tasks and organizational processes. But, rather than diminishing humans’ workplace value, this type of job and task automation might only enhance it.

According to a recent survey from ServiceNow, Inc.:

  • 79% of executives expect AI to create new jobs for humans
  • 48% have seen productivity levels spike by 20% after introducing AI
  • 91% feel their skilled employees spend too much time on menial tasks
  • 93% feel reducing menial workloads will increase employee creativity

AI and Workplace Collaboration

Perhaps the most telling statistic from ServiceNow’s survey is one that gauges AI’s impact on workplace collaboration: 94% of executives feel AI will increase demand for “soft skills” like collaboration and problem solving. Much has already been published about AI’s impact on workplace collaboration, and CIO recently published a piece exploring how AI-enabled collaboration tools are entering the mainstream market via platforms like Slack and tools like Siri.

What Does This Mean for Small Businesses?

The fact that AI is hitting the mainstream market means that the technology is becoming more readily available and affordable. This should spell good news if you’re an SMB, especially one that has a limited technology budget, few in-house technical resources and an increasingly mobile workforce. By streamlining processes and removing tedious manual work from your employees’ schedules, AI technology presents a solution for helping you get more value from your technology spend and refocus your staff on revenue-generating activities.

But, if AI solutions can deliver these benefits, you may ask, “Why aren’t more SMBs inserting them into their workplaces?” According to Salesforce’s 2016 Connected Small Business Report, it’s because SMB owners feel implementing and managing the technology is too complicated. But is it?

Three Practical Uses of AI for SMBs

The truth is, there are a variety of ways you can adopt AI solutions without breaking your budget or uprooting existing tools and processes.

1. Voice Assistants

Everyone knows Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, but providers are also starting to tailor these voice-enabled assistants for business-oriented tasks as well. For example, you can use Cisco’s Spark assistant to dial up phone contacts and set up and record online meetings.

2. Meeting Moderators

AI technology is also being deployed to help you create better online meeting experiences. Consider the example of a new attendee entering a video conference and not being in view of the camera. AI features can reposition the camera to include the new participant without disrupting the meeting experience or requiring manual assistance. Cisco is even using AI to block audio distractions like keyboard-clicking and background chatter from your online meetings.

3. Smart CRMs

Wouldn’t it be great if you could automate the process of capturing and acting upon customer data, so your staff could focus entirely on managing the relationship? Using solutions like Salesforce’s Einstein AI, you can. Einstein AI helps you capture and analyze customer data from interactions like phone calls, emails and social posts, leveraging the information to automatically personalize your email messages and re-route phone calls.

These are three uncomplicated, relatively inexpensive ways you can leverage AI to make your SMB more efficient and collaborative. They are also great options if you’re looking to test the waters with AI at your workplace.

Ready for AI at Your Organization?

The most important thing for you to remember about AI — whether you have a large or small company — is it’s like any other business technology. To be implemented correctly, AI requires you to take a step back and identify what you’re trying to accomplish by adopting it — whether that’s as massive as automating an entire operational procedure or as straightforward as creating more efficient meetings.

Interested in how AI fits into your collaboration environment? Connect with Select Communications.