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Can SME Businesses Utilize AI Technology to Achieve Success?

Can SME businesses utilize AI technology to achieve success? Artificial Intelligence Technology has been touted as the solution that will address the decline of business efficiency and stagnated growth. Investors and Government departments are in awe of AI technology, how it can change the way businesses operate and the opportunity it offers to redefine how a workforce is to be deployed. AI is now at a cross roads, with growth, usage and adoption expected to extend from large corporates to SMEs and start ups.

With this in mind, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has launched an exclusive London centric project with the aim of growing businesses with the latest AI technology. The Mayor of London Technology for Business Team has lead the way in requesting businesses across various sectors including technology, hospitality, e-commerce, jewellery and retail to apply to the programme in order to be able to access part of a £200,000 budget to spend on technology.

The Mayor of London SME Technology for Business Programme Overview

By answering a short survey and providing thoughts on AI, SME business owners will receive an exclusive handbook that ‘demystifies’ AI technologies and gives practical advice on how to use AI to grow sales. Businesses will also go into the draw to win:

  • Access to a share of a £200,000 pot of funding to directly test an advanced AI-driven product, plus help from an expert caseworker.
  • An invitation to meet AI suppliers and experts who can show how AI products can assist with business growth

Led by the Greater London Authority, in partnership with the London School of Economics, CognitionX, and Capital Enterprise, the programme has been funded through the Business Basics Fund, by (BEIS) the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, (now led by the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, Secretary of State for the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy). The Department has recently extended the programme’s application deadline until 25th August 2019 in order to open up the initiative to as many businesses as possible. London based SME businesses can apply to the scheme via this link.

Assessing the value of Artificial Intelligence

Although multinationals are employing AI systems to streamline and reinvigorate their supply chains, the value of AI tool usage has been felt more so within large corporates pertaining to the disciplines of large manufacturing and logistics firms. The challenge moving forward for Government and the proposed programme led by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is twofold;

First, how can Government ensure artificial intelligence is relevant to industries outside manufacturing and logistics that have so far enjoyed relative success? Accenture Research has for example shown how, “Bosch, is placing AI at the forefront of their business. The company’s “thinking factory,” currently rolled out in one of Bosch’s German automotive plants, aims to enable AI-powered machines to self-diagnose technical failures, autonomously order replacement parts and anticipate maintenance needs.”

For the creative services industry and the hospitality, travel and leisure sector, how useful can AI possibly be in what are predominantly client-facing industries? Are luxury hotel chains to embrace self-serving check in and robot waiters? To what extent are chatbots popular amongst certain target markets? We look forward to uncovering the value of AI tools for these industries in the coming weeks and months.

How C-suite SME Executives measure and define success

Secondly, with the creative services and hospitality industries proving to create new challenges for AI firms, the Latest Sale team wonders, how will the Government and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan measure success for these industries and many others where qualitative measurements as opposed to quantitative findings would need to be closely examined?

These qualitative measurements include societal impacts, stimulating job creation and the development of human engagement into the AI process that all form part of the Latest Sale “organic technology” ethos. The Accenture study How AI Boosts Industry Profits And Innovationalso highlights cross– industry strategies for success that describes how to make “the benefits of AI tangible to the C-suite (CFO, CEO, CTO etc).”  We certainly look forward to uncovering the range of AI firms involved in the programme this Autumn 2019 that have been tasked with meeting the needs of C-suite SME decision makers, whether these be CFOs, CEOs or CTOs in the key industries of focus.

Quantitative Outputs and AI versus human assets

Clearly, quantitative outputs are a key focus of the “How AI Boosts Industry Profits And Innovation” study by Accenture Research that has been led by Mark Purdy Managing Director of Accenture Research @MPurdyAccenture and Paul Daugherty, Accenture Chief Technology Innovation Officer @pauldaugh, With a clear determination to reinvigorate profit potential, can a decline in business profitability within industries such as the hospitality sector or the creative services industry be attributable to the lack of artificial intelligence tools within one business or another? The Accenture study asserts that AI has the potential to, “Boost rates of profitability by an average of 38 percent by 2035.” and “Lead to an economic boost of US$14 trillion across 16 industries in 12 economies by 2035.”

The study also encourages businesses to;

Measure your return on algorithms- unlike traditional assets that depreciate over time, AI assets, with their self-learning technologies, gain value as time passes.” It will be interesting to better understand how the Mayor of London Technology for Business Programme addresses human assets in a working environment and their tangible value vis-à-vis algorithms, especially as the Accenture study further asserts;

Traditional measures for tracking capital investments will become outdated in an AI era. CFOs will need a new toolbox of financial metrics to properly assess the “Return on AI.”

The Mayor of London Technology for Business Programme Benefits

The Mayor of London Technology for Business programme not only offers businesses across various sectors with the opportunity to participate in AI research and therefore add value to riveting technology of the future by giving their feedback, but it also may help to remove doubts and raise awareness given that SME business leaders will have the opportunity to network with AI professionals who can guide them through the myths of AI applications. It will also give the programme organisers the opportunity to truly test the expected outputs of AI with a captive audience of SME business leaders.

With a robust field test highlighted in the programme that commences in London in Q4 2019, SME businesses will be able to field test cutting-edge AI tools whilst improving key understanding of its potential benefits and limitations in the business environment. If, following this testing phase, SME business leaders can declare that they have had a positive experience with the AI tools in question it may serve as an excellent way of measuring the usage parameters of early adopters who will undoubtedly gain an edge over competitors by embracing AI technology.

The Qualitative Impact Factors of AI- The Societal Effect and the Basic Income

That being said, concerns regarding AI-driven unemployment also need to be addressed. Government and industry will be required to propose robust solutions quite urgently due to Government expectations and timeframes regarding the adoption of AI driven tools en masse before there is even a solution as to how new jobs will be created and the potential number of replacement jobs available versus the population at large.

To mitigate the negative impact of AI, the proposal of a Universal Basic Income offered by the state to all citizens, irrespective of their employment status or any other factor may not be enough. Although this unconditional income aims to eliminate the need to “work for survival” and free up the population for more intellectual and creative pursuits that in turn, will benefit the economy, the reality is that such an income would be hardly enough to meet all needs of its recipients. Equally, the Universal Basic Income principles do not address the fact that not all members of the population have a bursting desire to be an entrepreneur preferring instead to be a valued employee with stability and structure that is offered in traditional employment.

Let us not forget either that policy makers have not taken into account the fact that financial institutions in particular will always support employees so much more to plan their lives with robust funding options on offer for multiple purposes whether this be to purchase a car or a house, than they ever would a start up company and/or an entrepreneur who is most likely to be severely restricted. This in itself makes the decision to embrace a universal basic income a controversial one.

A basic income does not replace a steady job with prospects, the ability to progress, to be promoted and be valued. The basic income is also just that, a base rate that cannot replace or compensate for the loss of white collar salaries and stimulus, benefits (health or otherwise), and bonuses enjoyed by high earning individuals in middle management that enable them to plan ahead, and invest due to their earning potential.

Furthermore, what type of society will be created in developed and traditionally capitalist economies if a large proportion of a given population is expected to react the same way, be dependent on the state and live on the same income? Does this represent equality or rather inequality because the choices that we value so much in society would be stripped away under such a scheme? How will a Universal Basic Income affect gender relations and impact family life?

The Universal Basic Income has the potential to actually hamper creativity as well as generating a new worldwide community with worrying societal challenges in which key protagonists are unchallenged, docile, and complacent, with no personal economic power. This in itself can only lead to the continuous biased rise of the machines.

Guest contributor Michelle Ogbonna CEO and Founder of Latestsale.com Limited explores whether businesses can utilize AI Technology to achieve success.

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