By Arlene Wherrett

It has been verified that the benefits of AI for business is widespread – from enabling a higher level of customer service with real-time replies to customer queries, to improved marketing strategies for precise marketing results and providing low-cost and accessible ways to get faster insights thereby enabling SMEs to make better business decisions to achieve their growth ambitions.

To accelerate adoption, SMEs need to implement this technology in bite-sized pieces. So basically, start small and increase the use of AI gradually over time in one and then many functional areas. Laying the foundation for AI adoption is key in ensuring the acceleration is a realistic effort.

Secondly, companies should define the areas and expected results, then monitor, measure and record the outcomes. Once the expectations are met successfully, then  share the positive results across the company so as to validate the value of adopting AI further in other business areas and departments.

An area that SMEs could consider accelerating adoption include internal processes by the Finance and HR teams, helping businesses manage everything from money to people where mundane repetitive accounting tasks, payroll processing as well as recruitment and salary increments can be automated with AI.

Here, SMEs can cut the burden of administration and improve employee management which enhances the performance and productivity of the workforce and ultimately the business.

A live example here is Sage’s own smart assistant, known as Pegg. Introduced in 2016, Pegg is meant to help businesses manage financial tasks through a familiar messaging platform on their phone, tablet or laptop to ensure expenses are recorded, determine the status of invoices, generate outstanding invoice reminders or check the overall balance of their business. This goes a long way towards reducing the administration burden for the finance department, positively contributing to improved productivity and outcomes.

With the internal adoption in place,  SMEs can move to external areas where customer support and customer facing solutions are involved. Adopt chatbots or smart assistants, where its capability to interact and engage with customers, answer questions, and route inquiries aptly whilst processing huge amounts of customer data in a blink of an eye, allows lean businesses to be a lot more effective and efficient. This essentially contributes to customer satisfaction and retention as well as cutting operational costs.

Next, move on to marketing. By deploying programmatic advertising, SMEs can easily reach a considerably large audience online, which was not possible earlier. Platforms such as Facebook have tailor made AI algorithms to target an SME’s desired audience. Here AI ensures a very tight and precise targeting of demographics and allows SMEs to amplify their reach, gain insights to customer behaviours and increase the chances of sales conversions.

Finally, implement AI for analysis. This allows data driven decision making, which is real-time and based on accurate business intelligence. The giant pool of data drawn from the various business areas compiled into a dashboard view, generating key crucial business data  or fast and timely management decisions, is priceless. An example such an AI offering are cashflow bots, which combine new cash flow reporting tools with a notification that SME clients are pre-qualified to apply for a respected financial institution like Standard Chartered business instalment loan, to help them anticipate and address future funding needs. The AI reporting and financial forecasting capabilities can alert SMEs when a potential need for external financing due to cashflow shortfall is detected, thereby alerting them to necessary next steps to save their business.

The acceleration of the decision process due to the use of AI keeps SMEs ahead of competitors, where the race is real. A strategic and tactical plan ensures SMEs reap the maximum rewards of the AI technological revolution. Working AI into the various business areas, step by step, and winning stakeholders over with the results is key to the successful acceleration of AI adoption for SMEs.

Arlene Wherrett is Vice President & Managing Director, Sage Asia.

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