Initially fueled by the pandemic, the adoption of AI in business isn’t slowing down. In fact, research shows that 56% of companies adopted AI in 2021, and 84% of C-suite executives think leveraging AI will help achieve growth objectives.
We’ve seen many use cases touting the benefits that AI can bring to functions like HR, customer service, operations, marketing and IT. Yet smaller companies remain hesitant to jump on the AI bandwagon. When asked why, they often cite cost, difficulty around implementation or lack of in-house expertise.
The term “AI” can be intimidating for small or mid-market companies. It evokes a sense of power, innovation and intelligence but also vastness and obscurity. It also evokes dollar signs. The truth is that many small and mid-sized businesses simply need a better understanding of the value and flexibility that AI can bring.
Let’s bust a few common myths that SMBs associate with the adoption of AI.
Many companies believe they don’t have the time, people or budget to benefit from AI. They believe it requires specialized teams of data scientists, is outrageously expensive and only large enterprises can implement it successfully and see a true return on their investment.
Many think that AI is a “pie-in-the-sky” dream—too good to be true and only something large companies with deep pockets can implement successfully. The reality is that small and mid-sized companies can benefit from AI just as much, if not more, than their larger counterparts.
Adopting AI-driven tools can lessen the burden on resource-stretched businesses, reduce bottlenecks and make processes more efficient—freeing up time to focus on strategic efforts. Furthermore, an in-house IT team or deep technical know-how isn’t necessary to realize the benefits of AI. “Unsupervised” AI learning uses machine learning algorithms to analyze data and discover hidden patterns without the need for human intervention or data scientists (ideal for a business function like cyber security or IT service desk).
Myth #2: Adopting AI will threaten my team.
Many business leaders also believe that, when adopting AI, their employees will feel like they’re being replaced. On the contrary, AI frees up your best people to focus on what they do best and makes them feel more supported.
AI offloads menial tasks from humans to machines, allowing your team to focus on more strategic initiatives. In a PwC survey, companies said that AI has helped increase productivity in the past year through automation, improved decision making, innovating products and services, increased agility and improved retention and recruitment. When used right, AI can help your people work better and avoid burnout associated with repetitive, menial tasks.
Myth #3: AI is a fancy word for chatbot, and we don’t need one.
Chatbots are often the first thing that comes to mind when you mention AI in a business setting. AI-powered chatbots can provide a high level of customer support from the very first interaction through to ongoing service needs without human intervention.
But there is much more to AI beyond powering website chatbots. Companies can use AI to streamline inventory and logistics, hiring and scheduling and sales and marketing efforts. AI can also help with areas that small- and mid-market companies often feel overwhelmed with or are downright ignoring, such as cybersecurity or compliance efforts.
AI-driven cybersecurity, for example, can be useful to small and mid-market companies that don’t have dedicated security or IT teams. Mid-market companies can also benefit from using AI technology to manage their compliance efforts, as they are under the same regulatory pressures as their larger counterparts but with a fraction of the resources dedicated to deciphering logs and pulling compliance reports.
How do I get started?
Now you see that AI can support mid-market business leaders and give them the freedom to manage and scale their businesses. So, where do you start?
Companies that take a more holistic approach to AI and focus on achieving top business goals see greater success than those that take a singular approach. According to PwC’s 2022 AI Business Survey, companies that holistically adopt AI are twice as likely to glean value from AI initiatives and improve productivity, decision making, customer experience, product and service innovation, employee experience and more.
But don’t mistake holistic for all-at-once. Start with a specific need, then scale up. When evaluating where to start, the first step should be to identify which tasks have the most bottlenecks—perhaps it’s responding to cyber threats or managing your inventory. Then evaluate and buy software that has ethical AI and ML built-in.
As consumers, we’re used to using AI in our daily lives—asking Alexa for the weather each morning, using Siri to find the nearest pizza place, using Waze to find the best driving route and even Instagram feeding us recommended content.
Using AI in business settings should feel just as natural. Smaller companies now may have the advantage of sitting back and observing how their larger counterparts have used AI over the past several years. By embracing AI, mid-market business owners can free up resources to focus on revenue-driving functions like marketing and sales instead of spending valuable time on manually-intensive jobs, whether it’s managing inventory or responding to security threats.