Technology often starts out in a small niche and then makes its way into the mainstream, generally improving (and becoming more affordable) as it goes. But business owners can find it hard to recognise when a technology has become so mainstream that they should start to embrace it in their own companies.
This is particularly true when it comes to SMEs, which tend to operate on tight budgets and hence can be very reluctant to “jump into” new technology unless the benefit of doing so is both obvious and compelling.
AI has now indisputably reached the mainstream, even if it often takes forms that may not be immediately obvious as implementations of AI, especially if you’re still wedded to the idea that AI means the sort of human-style computers and androids we see in sci-fi films.
These days, AI is more likely to mean smart devices (such as your favourite voice assistants) and smart processes. This is great news for SMEs as it helps to level up the gap between them and the big corporates with their massive resources. Perhaps, in the fullness of time, it may even start to put SMEs at an advantage, as their smaller size can help to make them more nimble than the behemoths; they could be able to react more quickly to a changing world and the opportunities it brings.
One size may fit all but it won’t fit everyone perfectly. With AI, however, the benefits of customisation can be brought into the mainstream.
We are already seeing this through numerous apps that offer some form of personalised service, for example, fitness apps, which help people to monitor the development of their performance. What tends to happen with these apps is that people who simply want a basic log of their activity will be quite happy with the support offered by the app, while those who really want to maximise performance will use the app in combination with a professional coach to obtain the highest possible results.
In fact, it seems very likely that, for the foreseeable future, this will be the way forward for AI. It will perform the basic, process-based tasks to which computers are so well suited, and then a human will take over. Using human input or machine learning can customise AI services to suit a business where it is and help it to grow when the time is right.
The first level of many business processes is really basic data gathering, which is often a very mundane task and hence prone to human error.
As with the example of fitness AI, data gathering is exactly the sort of task at which computers excel and can provide great value. For example, the concept of predictive maintenance is now being adopted by many industries. At its core, this simply means using AI to keep track of the performance of an asset and alerting a human when there are signs that something is amiss. This allows humans to take action quickly and “keep the wheels turning”.