How to Adopt Artificial Intelligence in a SME?

How to Adopt Artificial Intelligence in a SME?

Currently, AI dominates much of the media, thanks to significant advances we've seen in recent years, particularly with the advent of personal assistants like ChatGPT, which have achieved major milestones by passing exams in fields such as Medicine and Law, although often not with top grades.

Nevertheless, it's important to be aware that much of the information we receive on social media is driven by strong commercial interests. This often distorts reality and creates the impression that every company needs to jump on the AI bandwagon immediately to avoid being left behind. This, in turn, contributes to creating excessive alarmism around the idea that AI will imminently replace numerous jobs.

It is true that this revolution will eventually reach all types of companies and sectors, but before embarking on any AI project, we must analyze a series of key questions:

Is my organization ready for this? What use cases might I have in my industry? In which of them can I obtain a return on investment that justifies it?

The purpose of this article is firstly to clarify what AI (Artificial Intelligence) is and what it is not; and from there, follow a series of recommendations to prepare our organization for this change, taking into account all economic, technical, and organizational variables.

We will also explore the potential advantages AI can offer to our SME and better understand how it will be a key factor—regardless of what our company does—in increasing competitiveness in the near future. This is the next great economic revolution, similar to significant past inventions like the development of telecommunications and large-scale transportation.

What Is and What Is Not Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence can be defined as the science that studies and develops intelligent systems capable of simulating human capacities related to cognition, understanding, and reasoning. Some of its main fields of study include natural language processing, computer vision, machine learning, and robotics.

What distinguishes an AI system from a traditional algorithm-based system is that AI can learn autonomously, capable of self-improvement recursively over time, with its main characteristic being adaptability.

This provides countless competitive advantages in the business world, given that the current economic and social environment is highly dynamic. AI arrives with the promise of revolutionizing various business processes, and it is true that in various areas like technology and finance, it is already doing so. The problem now is that often what is labeled as AI is not, greatly distorting the concept and creating unwarranted hopes.

AI Is Not Just Automating Processes

It is true that AI can achieve a higher degree of process automation, providing new insights that allow for better decision-making based on statistical correlations from numerous databases. Traditional automation refers to an algorithm that executes certain tasks in a specific order to produce a determined result. In contrast, AI can learn and make the best recommendations in each new scenario.

AI Is Not Suitable for Every Kind of Task

AI is far from perfect and has several significant limitations. Some of these limitations relate to the lack of certain skills that are inherently human, such as empathy, ethics, or creativity.

For example, AI can generate creative content, and we can use it to help us write a new essay. However, it requires clear, sequential instructions (prompts) about what we want to achieve.

In other words, without proper training and understanding of how these technologies work, the correct adoption of AI by organizations is hindered.

AI Will Not Replace Jobs

It is quite unlikely that AI will replace jobs for several reasons, the primary one being that AI systems are not completely autonomous. They may have near-complete autonomy within a controlled environment, but we are far from a scenario where robots and AI systems operate entirely independently without human intervention.

Instead, we believe that an unstoppable trend is for companies that know how to adopt and integrate AI correctly into their processes to become more agile and adaptive to the market and consumer preferences, resulting in a competitive advantage that will be key in the 21st century.

Steps to Start Implementing AI in Your Company

Ready to take the leap into AI?

We encourage you first to follow our recommendations to start off on the right foot in your adoption strategy.

1. Define a Strategy Aligned with the Business

Before starting any AI initiative, we must first develop a strategy aligned with our vision and business plan for the future. Essentially: in which areas will we focus?

Depending on this objective, we can focus on different options and available technologies. For instance, to improve user experience, we could use personal assistants to enhance the management of tasks such as order tracking or handling complaints.

In contrast, other areas like commercial management could benefit from massive data analysis, recognizing trends and patterns in consumer habits, allowing us to tailor our marketing and communication processes to a more personalized proposal.

2. Focus on a High-Potential Use Case

As with any other technological initiative, we must propose a business case that genuinely has the potential to yield a significant return on investment, considering all associated indirect costs. Without this prior feasibility analysis, we risk falling into a very risky investment that many companies cannot afford.

We must remember that, beyond having a good technical solution available in the market (and be cautious because AI is often misrepresented), we must always keep in mind the impact it will have on our organization: be it on processes, infrastructure, and especially on people.

It is most advisable to focus specifically on improving one area of the business and then gradually scale up based on the improvements obtained. This is the virtuous circle of technology adoption.

3. Prioritize Data Management

AI without data is like a car without fuel. Therefore, if you want to succeed in implementing any AI initiative, you must first work on the data culture as previously discussed in this article.

Without the necessary cultural change, it is really difficult for people to make the most of the data, sharing, generating, and understanding the data that, in turn, allow AI algorithms to learn autonomously.

As we can see, the human factor, which is always the most critical factor, cannot be overlooked in the background of any technological improvement.

Let's look at some examples of how to apply AI in sectors that traditionally have significant weight within SMEs.

AI in Agriculture

Agricultural robots and the use of drones equipped with sensors, cameras, and advanced technologies such as satellite image analysis and predictive analysis are transforming agriculture. These innovations enable the implementation of new harvesting methods and significantly improve the monitoring of crops, soils, and weather conditions, fostering a more efficient and sustainable precision agriculture model.

AI in Construction

Thanks to advanced technologies like 3D building modeling (BIM), essentially a digital replica of what will be built, combined with the use of drones and sensors on-site, it is possible to analyze large amounts of data that streamline decision-making in construction management.

These new practices optimize building layouts, such as planning routes for pipes and electrical wiring; improve information sharing and coordination among industry professionals; and enhance the monitoring of construction in key aspects like safety, work progress, and facilitating the proper flow of people and materials.

AI in Hospitality

Technologies such as AI-powered chatbots for reservations and orders, facial recognition for check-ins, smart devices for heating and air conditioning, and automation in services like bartending, cooking, and room service are transforming the hospitality sector with great potential in the coming years as robotics become more widespread.

Machine learning, based on customer data, occupancy, and guest feedback, allows for automated 24-hour service, greater personalization of offers and services, and optimization of occupancy and pricing to reduce uncertainty related to seasonality, as well as streamline maintenance processes.

Are You Ready for This Major Change?

AI will undoubtedly be the technology that makes a difference in the competitiveness of your business in the coming years. If you have read this far, you are fully aware of its importance and are likely working on it or considering starting.

At Ettnia, we are happy to assist you in this adaptation process, identifying business cases in your company that justify the investment, as well as developing a strategic plan that aligns business, technology, and people to ensure the project's success.

Start Boosting Your AI Transition with Ettnia!