How to get started with AI for your small business

Posted by The Icehouse on 10/10/2023 12:00:00 AM

Artificial intelligence is a 2023 buzzword, and the appetite to comprehend and utilise AI's transformative potential across businesses is clearly here, albeit with a certain amount of apprehension. 

How to get started with AI for your small business

A recent Ipsos Global Advisor in survey found that on average across 31 countries (including New Zealand), 54% of respondents are excited about products and services that use AI but 52% are “nervous” about the technology.  

“As a founder or CEO attempting to scale and balance the growth of the business with the demands of daily operations, AI can seem daunting and even a little out of reach,” says Summer Collins, General Manager of Data and Growth Capability at One NZ.  

The business reason for using a new vehicle, such as AI, to unlock new avenues for growth, efficiency, and competitiveness in the digital age is a compelling one. But the most sensible advice is to properly investigate whether AI is right for your business, in which areas, and to equip employees with the skills to make it both effective and profitable.  

“AI can really help organisations deliver things faster, better and cheaper than humans alone. Understanding how to apply AI in your business strategically is a vital use of a CEO and founder’s time. That will require them delving into what AI is capable of,” says Summer.  

Leaders should be bold in embracing the concepts and encourage their teams to lean in and discover more around AI’s key principles – and benefits. As Summer explains, AI is “not magic”. 
“What has changed is the availability and the cost of compute. Huge amounts of compute with the cloud are now available, and the cost of that compute has dropped dramatically.” 

One of the key benefits of AI is its ability to process, analyse and summarise large amounts of raw data. SMEs and medium-sized businesses will be attracted to AI in that it has the capability to advance the personalisation of the customer experience, cut costs, stimulate data-driven decision making and increase efficiency.  
“Whatever those key goals or problems are, that’s where teams should be leaning into – understanding whether data and AI can provide an acceleration.” 

From automated attacks to phishing and social engineering and data theft, another huge consideration is how AI adoption can threaten an organisation’s cyber security.  
“A lot of phishing and attempts to actually break through will be enhanced by bad actors using AI. So it is 100% something that small businesses in particular should be aware of, and whether or not your data set or the model you're using is biased in any way,” says Summer. 
DEFEND is One NZ’s specialist cybersecurity company and assists ONE NZ customers with any cybersecurity requirements they may have. DEFEND utilises its Advanced Threat Management platform called SHERLOCK and Cyber Threat Intelligence provided by the GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre’s Malware Free Networks service (MFN) to protect customers from threats at the network level. 

Small and medium-sized businesses can tap into the availability of ‘plug and play’ AI, one of the real game-changers for businesses of all sizes. As the name suggests, the new enterprise version of Chat GPT is specifically aimed at businesses, offering tools such as enterprise-grade security and privacy and unlimited higher-speed GPT-4 access. 
Amazon SageMaker is a cloud machine-learning platform that enables developers to create, train and deploy machine-learning models in the cloud, while Microsoft’s Azure AI is a comprehensive suite of out-of-the-box customisable AI tools, APIs and models, to help modernise and speed up certain business processes.  

“What may appeal to owners and senior management teams, and is perhaps most relevant about the progression of AI in the workplace, is that you don’t need to employ developers and data scientists to understand how it can help your business,” says Summer. 
However, it is important that any discussion around AI adoption considers what are the key challenges in the business and asking how AI can solve or make efficient those challenges. Forecasting? Scaling internal teams? Revenue growth? Customer satisfaction?  

“Whatever those key goals or problems are, that’s where teams should be leaning into – understanding whether data and AI can provide an acceleration.” 

Summer explains that the same rules apply with any new technology adoption. Do your research, speak to the experts, think strategically, and talk to your account manager. 

“As any business plan is vital, understanding the ability of AI to accelerate a business plan is becoming even more so.”

For information on programmes, workshops and business coaching services from The Icehouse, click here.

For more business ownership and leadership advice, check out more of our resources.

Icehouse Alumni? For exclusive content on Icehouse Central, register now.