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Artifical Intelligence

AI can transform
small business

Small and medium enterprises can now unlock the potential of Artificial Intelligence, writes YUGEN NAIDOO, general manager of Lenovo Southern Africa.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer the exclusive domain of large enterprises. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are increasingly recognising the transformative potential of AI in enhancing efficiency, revolutionising customer interactions, streamlining internal processes, and providing data-driven strategic insights. 

As Forbes notes, the democratisation of AI has made it accessible to businesses of all sizes, with user-friendly platforms and cost-effective solutions paving the way for widespread adoption.

By integrating AI into their operations and strategy, SMBs stand to reap tangible benefits. Intelligent chatbots offer round-the-clock customer support, predictive analytics turn data into actionable insights, and automation liberates employees from mundane tasks. This democratisation of AI empowers SMBs to level the playing field, enabling them to compete effectively against larger counterparts. 

Embracing AI is no longer a superior aspiration but a logical necessity for SMBs looking to sharpen their operations, understand their customers, and accelerate intelligent decision-making.

Revolutionising customer engagement 

AI revolutionises customer engagement for SMBs by enabling highly personalised interactions and streamlining order processing. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants, for example, provide instant customer support, offer personalised recommendations, and streamline order tracking. On the operations side, AI automates tasks such as employee onboarding, training, and SOP optimisation, resulting in cost savings, improved efficiency, and enhanced employee satisfaction.

A recent American study reveals that 16% of SMBs (defined in the USA as comprising companies with 1-499 employees) currently operate with fewer than 20 employees, underscoring the critical importance of efficiency. By assisting SMBs in enhancing their efficiency levels, enterprises can cultivate enduring relationships with them and expand SMB purchasing patterns.

Generative AI holds the key to maximising output with minimal resources for SMBs. While numerous productivity use cases exist, leaders should prioritise intuitive AI tools that streamline repetitive tasks or enable new ones beyond SMBs’ usual capabilities. For instance, ChatGPT plugins now facilitate interaction with third-party applications, transforming the chatbot into an executive assistant. This saves SMB owners time and resources while enhancing productivity.

As SMBs embark on their AI journey, the key lies in starting small and focusing on high-impact areas. By leveraging AI to enhance customer engagement, streamline internal processes, and unlock strategic insights, SMBs can pave the way for sustained success and growth in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Turning Data into Strategy

AI empowers SMBs to unlock the power of their data, turning raw information into strategic assets. Through advanced algorithms and machine learning techniques, AI systems can analyse vast datasets to uncover hidden patterns, trends, and correlations. This newfound ability to extract actionable insights from existing data provides SMBs with a competitive edge previously reserved for enterprise corporations.

For instance, IHG, a leading hotel chain, utilises AI to track and reduce food waste, resulting in significant cost savings and operational efficiencies. Similarly, AI-driven analytics enable SMBs to forecast demand, optimise inventory levels, and identify opportunities for growth. With cloud-based AI solutions becoming increasingly accessible, businesses can further harness the full potential of their data to drive innovation, efficiency, and sustainable growth.

Developing Trust & Scaling 

In 2021, a report by Accenture revealed that 49% of SMBs  globally do not trust the enterprises they work with, despite 83% of enterprises thinking otherwise. Years later, this gap remains unchanged.

It is clear that these businesses have a need for personalised experiences and seek partnerships with entities that comprehend their unique business needs and perspectives.  Regrettably, enterprises often stumble in meeting these expectations, which erodes trust. Notably, the same study highlights that SMBs who have faith in enterprises tend to allocate 5-15% more of their budget towards their offerings, underscoring the revenue potential lost due to the absence of trust.

Enterprises can pivot towards generative AI to cultivate stronger bonds with SMBs, offering the personalised solutions they require.  By harnessing generative AI, enterprises can tailor products and services to suit the specific needs of SMBs, thereby fostering trust and loyalty.

A pivotal starting point for enterprises is the integration of generative AI into their existing suite of offerings. For instance, platforms like Google Workspace have successfully incorporated AI functionalities into widely used document editors and spreadsheets, streamlining SMBs’ daily operations, and enhancing their experience with enterprise solutions.

As SMBs acclimate to generative AI, enterprises can progressively introduce more advanced tools, such as CRM integrations and campaign management solutions, to address a broader spectrum of challenges. Platforms like GitHub’s Copilot, augmented with ChatGPT capabilities, exemplify the potential to enhance software engineering efficiency, facilitating custom feature development at reduced costs.

Illuminating complex decision-making

AI coupled with deep learning represents the pinnacle of employing neural networks to engage in nonlinear reasoning and tackle multifaceted challenges. From fraud detection to autonomous agents, AI algorithms excel at synthesising disparate data points to inform real-time decisions. 

Generally, both SMBs and large enterprises share the common goal of maintaining and expanding their customer base. However, while SMBs struggle with retaining existing customers, newer SMBs face challenges in acquiring new ones, this is where significant decision-making is crucial. 

As SMBs accumulate more customers, they tend to increase their consumption of enterprise products and services to support their growing clientele, fostering mutual growth.

Enterprises can aid in customer retention and acquisition by leveraging data optimisation and analysis to inform strategic decision-making. This empowers SMBs to gain deeper insights into their customer base, elevate customer service standards, and craft personalised messaging and experiences. AI further presents an opportunity to further elevate customer success efforts. By rapidly scaling capabilities, SMBs can effectively reach new customers and markets through tailored interactions and campaigns, driving sustained growth and expansion.

AI and the workforce

While AI promises to enhance productivity and drive efficiency, concerns about its impact on the workforce loom large. Yet, amid apprehensions of job displacement, experts envision a future where AI augments human capabilities rather than supplanting them, heralding a paradigm shift towards a more specialised and knowledge-driven economy.

At Lenovo, we remain steadfast in our commitment to harnessing the power of AI to empower businesses and individuals alike, ushering in a new era of unparalleled opportunity and prosperity. 

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