Many employees are wary of the idea of AI in the workplace– but small businesses might already be using it in ways they don’t expect.
Artificial intelligence is coming to your workplace, whether you’re planning to incorporate it or not. Many small businesses can’t foresee justification for the cost of the technology, or the benefit of its use. But AI is in its infancy: business and entrepreneurs are looking for ways to adopt machine learning to enhance the working world. The fourth industrial revolution is poised to permanently change the way we work for businesses small and large.
In the same way spreadsheets emptied accounting departments and robots changed production lines, AI is positioned to replace repetitive, predictable and routine tasks with faster, more efficient capabilities. But as AI replaces humans, it will also create more jobs. The World Economic Forum predicts while AI will displace many workers, it will create more jobs than it eliminates. Their research suggests a net gain in jobs of almost 60 million by 2022.
Small companies that don’t believe they’ll be using AI any time soon are probably already using it.
But that doesn’t mean workers will make an automatic switch. Some estimates put over 100 million workers in need of retraining in top global markets due to AI and intelligent automation within the next 3 years. For small business, shifting to the use of AI and IA will be needed to remain competitive. The transition may be challenging, but the rewards can be great.
Are you already using AI?
Small companies that don’t believe they’ll be using AI any time soon are probably already using it. Here are some examples.
If you post open positions on any of the major jobs platforms, AI is screening candidates for you. Tech is using keywords to eliminate job seekers that don’t meet your criteria and push those who do to the front of the line.
Many small businesses use third-party platforms that enable chatbots to prescreen applicants as well. A few, well-chosen questions are programmed into the system, which then screens candidates for you. Those who pass muster move on to the next steps in the process, like online scheduling, also driven by technology.
Small businesses often rely on internet advertising for their products or services. There, AI is used to target messaging to the right audience. Business can provide platforms with an email list of customers or data about people they want to target. The platform uses AI to find customers to advertise to. AI can even perform analysis and find more sales leads based on data points uncovered from established customer lists.
You’re likely using some third-party platform to secure your business data. Algorithms detect malicious activity and fraud. Businesses that accept online payments use AI to protect payments and customer data.
If you’re not already using AI to target your advertising, you should be.
How can my business benefit from AI in the workplace?
Beyond the tasks AI is already performing for you, AI is the answer for repetitive tasks and duties that don’t need a personal touch. Operators taking customer orders can be shifted to online shopping carts; kiosks can take orders in fast food venues; telemarketers can be replaced with robo-callers. There are many other ways it can enhance your workplace.
If you’re not already using AI to target your advertising, you should be. Programmatic advertising may be more complex than your business is ready to handle, but there are companies that can help. They target demographics and optimize advertising budgets, assuring the lowest price paid for the most impactful ads.
Your business may be able to process orders 24/7 with automation, but are you able to respond to customer questions as easily? Chatbots can be programmed to respond to frequently asked questions, direct customers to tutorials on your website, or pass them on to a human helper when they’re unable to assist.
Any repetitive task that can be performed by a human can likely be performed by intelligent automation. Whether a robot is right for your company can depend on cost and need. Automated production lines can run into the millions of dollars, but smaller, single task bots can cost as little at $25,000.00. New tax credits and depreciation rules could put technology within reach for smaller companies.
Drivers are the hardest jobs to fill in the US and have been for some time. It’s estimated 25% of today’s drivers will retire or leave the industry within the next 10 years. Companies that rely on drivers may be able to leverage AI with driverless deliveries. Small companies are partnering with tech for local grocery deliveries. Ford and Walmart are partnering to pilot a delivery program at scale. AI could keep product on the move.
Should employees be worried?
Remember, AI replaces tasks, not people. For work that is repetitive, routine and easily replicated, AI may seem to pose a threat. But for many industries the threat hasn’t panned out. ATM machines were supposed to replace tellers and displace thousands of workers in the 1990s. Banks adopted the technology and some tellers were temporarily out of a job. But with the savings, banks opened more branches, resulting in a net gain of teller jobs in the end.
In Human Resources, technology is replacing many personnel functions, like benefits enrollment, screening, payroll and more. But rather than displacing workers, tech is freeing them for more important work, like staff relations, upskilling and developing employees.
The challenge for businesses, large and small, is to find ways AI and intelligent automation can free valuable employees for more important tasks, like customer relations, sales, R&D and innovation.
How can my business prepare for this shift?
Prepping your business for a shift to technology requires long-term consideration. What tasks can tech do better, faster and smarter? Are there aspects of the work that are particularly hazardous, where automated systems could lower risk to employees? What technologies are your competitors using – and are they gaining an edge over your business?
Small companies may dip their toes in the tech waters with partnership agreements, like the driverless grocery delivery example, to see what works for them and what will not. One of the first questions may be what area of the work can be improved, and is there tech available to help?
The impact on staff
If you have the potential to free employees from routine, rote tasks with technology, you’ll need to consider what they will do instead. Will they need training to interface with the technology?
The transition may be slow, but working with an outside vendor can answer questions and assist with implementation. It will be important to get buy-in from staff as you make the change. Messaging will need to be clear and concise: AI will enhance their workplace, not replace their jobs. Staff will gain skills and capabilities as technology frees them for more important tasks.
Workers are aware they will need to work with technology to stay employable as the workplace evolves. Upskilling provides them a broader skill set, which can alleviate some fears of technology. Bringing them on board with ongoing communication and training preps them for their jobs today and tomorrow.