Artificial intelligence for the small business: Three things SMEs need to know

Here, Francois Cadillon, vice president UK & Ireland at MicroStrategy talks on how businesses should be embracing AI and machine learning, rather than fearing it.

Over the past few years, we’ve all witnessed the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). Devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home and now, Apple HomePod, have made it into millions of homes around the world. Applications like self-driving cars, smart-home security systems and intelligent refrigerators are also changing our understanding of what is possible.

Though emerging technology has taken the consumer realm by storm, the next wave of AI is bound for something greater. No longer will the benefits of AI technology be confined to your living rooms or cars, but will enter our offices to change the way we do business for the better.

The potential for AI at work is largely untapped, and the coming years are expected to bring new meaning to this emerging technology. This is especially true for small businesses who, previously, may not have had the budget or the expertise to implement more expensive and complex AI applications that have been dominant to this point.

Looking ahead, we’ve outlined the top three things you should be prepared for as AI makes its way into the workplace:

Artificial intelligence will find its place

Across industries, companies have been toying with machine learning (ML) without full knowledge of how exactly it should be applied. This experimental phase is coming to a close. As we move through the next years, businesses will work to define how AI and ML can be applied in specific industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and transportation.

Vendors are starting to focus AI and ML innovation efforts on meeting the specific needs of business users, boosting the productivity of workforces and the automation of repetitive tasks currently taking up a significant amount of time and resources.

Voice and natural language interfaces will get practical

Voice-enabled devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home have become household staples — helping people do things like check the weather or order pizza. With all the buzz around the consumer benefits of these virtual assistants, enterprises have been slow to recognise their value in the workplace. As natural language processing advances, this will change in a massive way.

Language is the most natural form of communication, which has enabled voice interfaces to pick up steam so quickly. As this level of ease moves into the workplace, the adoption of these devices among broader, business-focused audiences will skyrocket and the benefits will be huge. The use of voice interfaces and AI-driven enterprise technology will ensure that smaller tasks won’t pile up like they used to and bigger initiatives will become a whole lot more feasible.

Metadata will turn into gold

For years, metadata has been the missing piece of the machine learning puzzle. It’s the data that makes all the other data make sense, and improves the quality of machine learning output. As companies diligently label their metadata, we’ll start to see everyday business tasks become augmented by AI in a more impactful way than before.

For instance, rather than AI algorithms pulling data about global sales into a table of numbers, it’ll display information that can be interpreted by people, such as drop percentages and pie charts onto a word map, enabling anyone to easily interpret the output and make it actionable.

Organisations are beginning to recognise that classifying metadata should be a top priority and coming to terms with the fact that AI in it of itself isn’t magic. Looking ahead, a hyper-focus on metadata will ensure our algorithms are only fed with the best of the best information. As a result, data-driven businesses embracing AI will thrive.

In the past few years, we’ve seen AI technology develop rapidly. For consumers, this has been most visible in smart assistant and smart home applications. In business, large companies with big budgets have been best placed to experiment and deploy it.

Now, as AI applications move on from the experimental phase, natural language processing starts to get practical and companies start to appreciate the importance of metadata, small businesses will also now benefit from the transformative potential of artificial intelligence.

Francois Cadillon is vice president for UK & Ireland at MicroStrategy

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