AI on a Budget

AI on a Budget: How SMBs can Leverage it without Breaking the Bank

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now firmly ingrained into all aspects of our society.  We have been using AI technologies for years, but many may not have realized it.  Devices like Siri or driving programs like Waze uses AI features.  Tools like Open AI’s Chat GPT and Google Bard contains features like generative AI that is so promising that many businesses, including us, have already begun using it daily.  So, many Small to Medium-sized businesses (SMB)  have been thinking about using it but just not sure where to begin.  No better time than the present to jump in.

AI on a Budget

Harnessing the Power of AI with Affordable Costs
I have worked for very large companies during my career where money was available to purchase the most expensive technology. That afforded me the opportunity to utilize many high cost tools that were not available to many SMBs due to the costs.  Well, that has all changed. From Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tools to Project Management tools to data integration tools, there is always a tool that is either low-cost or has a freemium version or typically has an open-source option that are open to businesses of all sizes.  Every time new technology is developed, larger organizations seem to be the early adopters because they are constantly looking for an edge.  But not long after, smaller organizations can jump on and begin using them.  Today, many products are deployed via the CLOUD and offer a pay-as-you-go model, which makes it far easier for SMBs to jump in early.  Gone are the days requiring organizations to make huge upfront investments in on-prem or CLOUD infrastructure to support each technology venture.  That opens up the door to everyone.  

 

Begin with Free or Low-Cost Tools and Educate Yourself
Chat GPT and Bard are really exciting AI tools available for all SMBs.  There is a free version for both.  Note: Please remember not to include personal or company identifying information or company secrets in prompts as the data can potentially become public. These tools amongst many others are a great place for SMBs to start educating themselves on the power and opportunities of AI, if they don’t already know that.  One good use case of these tools is using Generative AI to produce initial draft versions of communications (email, LinkedIn) and other documents.  It can also provide some ideas of best use cases for AI technology. 

AI on a Budget

Focus on 1 or 2 pain points

Next step is to determine a problem that you would like to solve or make better using AI.  Don’t try to boil the ocean. Identify a couple of pain points in your business that AI can assist in making better.  Things like repetitive tasks that tend to take too much time and/or can be frustrating to everyone to do like data entry or lackluster customer engagement are examples.  I would start with a question.  What task am I doing now that is repetitive and time-consuming, inefficient, prone to errors, and employees regularly complain about.  Can it could be automated ? 

A few other possibilities are: 

  • Chatbots or automated Email response and engagement 
  • Filtering emails to focus on important ones
  • Using AI for personalized customer recommendations or inventory management
  • Helping to improve scheduling
  • Reducing manual data entry 
  • Improving customer support using chatbots
  • Using a tool to help generate images to match your thoughts to use in marketing

Key is to focus on the specific issues first and then find places where AI can assist. Conduct a small pilot project to test it out.  If it makes a difference to business leaders liking, then they can scale it. 

Tools
In addition to the tools mentioned above, there are many more to explore.  Start by exploring the wealth of free, freemium, open-source, and low-cost AI tools available online. From chatbots to manage basic customer inquiries, to tools like Midjourney to assist in generative art, to social media marketing tools like Cleverly, there are so many options. Open-source software like TensorFlow or Scikit-Learn offers a cost-effective entry point into AI, requiring only the investment of time to learn and integrate these tools into their existing systems.  Other cloud-based AI services from providers like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure present scalable and flexible solutions that are perfect for SMBs. These platforms typically operate on a pay-as-you-go model, allowing SMBs to have state-of-the-art AI capabilities used by the large enterprises.

 

Conclusion
In conclusion, SMBs don’t have to do everything themselves.  They can consider bringing in consultants that can help to implement the technology quicker. There is a wealth of expertise available.  I have found that a great source of learning has always been garnered by attending  industry seminars.  Online communities is another great place for collaboration and information. SMBs should remember,  however, to tailor the technology to their specific business use cases to be sure that it works in line with what they wish to accomplish.  By leveraging free, freemium, open-source and low-cost cloud-based solutions, focusing on specific use cases, and embracing collaborative learning, even smaller business without the huge budgets can tap into the transformative power of AI.   

#Small Business, #Small Budget, #AI, #Automation 

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AI on a Budget