Jan 04 2024
Digital Workspace

How Small Businesses Can Get Started with AI

Artificial intelligence is everywhere, but what do smart solutions mean for small and midsize businesses?

Small and midsized businesses can benefit greatly from artificial intelligence-powered tools. As noted by Forbes, 91 percent of SMBs that have implemented AI say it has made their business more successful.

But survey data also revealed that just a quarter of smaller companies have invested in AI. While 46 percent say they want to start using it soon, there’s a disconnect between the potential benefits of AI and how SMBs can practically deploy these tools in day-to-day operations.

I’m often asked by small business leaders about how they can get started with AI. Here’s what I tell them.

Click the banner to view our small business IT influencer list of 2023.

The Value of Smart Solutions

AI is evolving. While many small businesses are familiar with use cases such as content recommendations and chatbots, new tools are changing the way staff and customers interact with AI.

Consider the meteoric rise of solutions such as ChatGPT. Launched to the public in November 2022, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer application in history when it reached 100 million monthly active users in January 2023. Using what’s known as generative AI, ChatGPT creates intelligent responses to prompts — user-generated questions — that are far more complex and in-depth than any previous tool can provide. By learning from each new question received, the app constantly improves its output.  

Other solutions, such as Microsoft Copilot, combine large language models with a company’s existing data set to help employees become more creative and collaborative.

LEARN MORE: How can you make AI tools work for you?

Getting Started with AI

When it comes to AI adoption, SMBs typically fall into one of two categories: First are eager adopters, who are curious about what AI has to offer. Next are delayed deployers, who are more cautious with their AI options.

Both approaches can be problematic. Rapid adoption may lead to rushed implementation that leaves SMBs open to potential compromise or that frustrates staff who prefer legacy toolsets. Taking too much time, however, could leave small businesses forever catching up to the competition.

The solution is moderation. Start by identifying a specific process where AI could help, such as cloud workload management or customer segment analysis, then deploy tools fit for that purpose that deliver measurable outcomes. If metrics are favorable, scale up deployment. If not, go back to the drawing board.

RELATED: These small business solutions can help your organization.

The potential use cases for AI are almost endless, but here are three common ways that small businesses can use AI to achieve measurable progress.

  • Optimizing DevOps processes: One ideal area for AI deployment is software development. For organizations that have in-house teams to create code, AI tools are well suited to tasks such as automated testing, error detection, resource optimization and security enhancements. The major cloud platforms — Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure — all have tools that can help DevOps teams take advantage of AI, and other solutions exist for those operating off-cloud.
  • Cloud workload management: AI can also help SMBs improve cloud workload management. With many businesses now using a combination of public and private clouds and hybrid environments, complexity is a growing challenge to effective data and resource management. Here, solutions such as Nutanix AI-ready hybrid cloud infrastructure make it possible for businesses to create and capture cloud data in real time.
  • Worker efficiency and collaboration: Access to AI tools can improve staff productivity. According to a recent MIT study, the introduction of a generative AI-based conversation assistant enhanced productivity by 14 percent per hour. Solutions such as Microsoft Copilot, meanwhile, are designed to enable employee creativity; used with Microsoft Word, for example, the tool can generate first-draft documents for staff to iterate and improve upon, rather than requiring them to start from scratch.

UP NEXT: Why platform engineering improves DevOps and workflow.

For small businesses, AI offers the potential to improve application development, enhance cloud management, and reduce reliance on manual processes.

The secret to getting started? Be specific, and take it slow. Pick a goal, define a metric and deploy AI solutions for this purpose. Evaluate progress at regular intervals; if AI is working as intended, scale up or out to increase its impact.

Put simply, AI isn’t going anywhere. While development is happening at breakneck speed, SMBs don’t need to keep up, they just need to stay in the race.

This article is part of BizTech's AgilITy blog series.


filadendron/Getty Images

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.