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How SMEs can implement AI without breaking the bank

Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t just for corporate giants with deep pockets and entire departments dedicated to innovation.

With recent developments making this technology more accessible than ever before, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can now harness the power of AI to gain a competitive edge, improve customer experiences, and streamline operations. 

In this article, we’ll explore how you can integrate this revolutionary technology into your business operations without having to break the bank. 

What can AI help with?

AI uses algorithms and pattern-recognition software to mimic human cognitive processes – including learning, reasoning, and self-correction. This technology has opened the doors for virtually limitless business applications across businesses at all levels. From predictive analytics that anticipate customer trends to chatbots that manage customer inquiries, AI can significantly enhance the efficiency of your SME.

Cloud-based services negate the need for a large upfront investment, and also cuts out maintenance costs. These platforms can automate routine tasks to help boost productivity, cut operational costs, and implement enhanced decision-making to analyse vast datasets to identify new market opportunities or optimise current strategies. 

Different pricing options

Open-source AI tools come with lower costs and can be tailored according to the specific needs of an SME. They are particularly well-suited for businesses willing to invest time and resources in customising solutions. Popular options include TensorFlow, an end-to-end open-source platform for machine learning developed by Google, and Jupyter, an open-source web application that allows you to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualisations, and text.

You could also opt for AI-powered, subscription-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) which offers tools designed for non-technical users, making it easy to implement without an in-house development or coding team. Examples of these would be chatbot providers and marketing automation tools such as Adobe Marketo or HubSpot, which both use AI to create unique campaigns at a fraction of the cost of custom solutions.

Prioritise your needs

Adopting AI doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. SMEs can take a phased approach, starting with low-cost, high-return AI initiatives before moving on to more ambitious projects. The first step is to identify where AI can make the most significant impact. Is it in improving lead generation, enhancing customer service, or optimising supply chain management?

Once you’ve identified your pain points by looking at areas of your business that are time-consuming or prone to human error, you can assess the potential ROI of implementing specific AI tools. Start small with projects that can show quick wins and easily measurable results to ensure you’ll see the benefit of your investments. By holding back a little, you avoid running over budget and can clearly see where your business could benefit from AI. 

Training and upskilling existing staff

Rather than hiring and onboarding new staff to manage your AI-powered systems, why not upskill your existing team? Investing in training your employees to work with AI tools is a long-term solution that builds internal capabilities and helps everyone move forward with the times.

You could opt for online courses and encourage employees to apply their newfound AI skills to real work projects for hands-on practical learning. Alternatively, you could attend some workshops and seminars that focus on AI for SMEs. 

Data security

While it’s true that AI can bring about significant benefits, there are some important things to consider when looking to implement it into your business. With AI’s reliance on data, ensuring the security and privacy of customer and business information is paramount. Be sure to make cybersecurity training available to all employees and ensure your teams are well-versed on data security best practices.

Focus on staying informed about data protection regulations, and ensure any AI systems you use comply with them. You should also use encryption methods to protect your data when using AI and conduct regular audits to address any vulnerabilities.

A step into the future

AI can seem like uncharted territory for SMEs with limited resources, but it’s a technology that can no longer be ignored. With the myriad of cost-effective options available, there’s never been a better time for small and medium-sized businesses to dip their toes into the waters of artificial intelligence. By taking a strategic, step-by-step approach and considering the challenges ahead of time, SMEs can successfully implement AI solutions that offer real value without breaking the bank. 

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Charlie Harris

Charlie Harris

Charlie Harris is the Freelance Writer at Quantexa.

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