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How Generative AI can help small businesses in the not-so-distant future

Travis Rehl, chief technology officer at Innovative Solutions, a Rochester-based AWS Premier Tier Services Partner, says he typically sees two types of people when it comes to generative AI and how it can impact their small business.


“Those who are extremely excited about the possibilities and those who are extremely skeptical,” Rehl said. “But I think over time, the excited will win out.”

Among the many reasons Rehl says generative AI (the type of artificial intelligence that can generate or create new content) can benefit small businesses are being able to do more with fewer people or capital; solve for gaps in an organization’s knowledge or skillset; drive organizational efficiency and improve workflow automation.

“Where AI shines is when you tell it what your process is and what your guardrails are and let it help accelerate that process,” Rehl said. “We’re seeing that style of problem really helps small organizations scale more quickly and more efficiently.”

When it comes to risks with the use of generative AI, one of Rehl’s concerns is accuracy, noting that outputs from generative AI systems still need humans to double-check their work to make sure it is both accurate and worthwhile.

Referring to generative AI as a “copilot, as an assistant, as a helper,” he also considers the avoidance of using generative AI to be a risk as well.

“I think businesses will be forced to adopt generative AI ultimately,” Rehl said. “I do think today it’s still early, but I do think in a year, year and a half from now, if there isn’t widespread adoption, I do think it will become very awkward for a business to be competitive.”

For small businesses that are concerned about the cost, Rehl says generative AI platforms and tools are becoming less expensive by the week as the industry grows and that more and more options specific to small businesses are hitting the market.

“It’s becoming exceptionally easy to get started with these technologies,” Rehl said. “A year ago, there weren’t great solutions in the market for small businesses. Today there are dozens upon dozens of established businesses, software providers and more that can very easily integrate technologies into a small business.”


John C.S. Loury, president and co-founder of Rochester-based CAUSE + EFFECT Strategy – a business intelligence and analytics consulting firm – likens generative AI to a sportscar.

“I would consider gen AI like the potential for a Ferrari in your garage — it’s super exciting and could be an amazing thing, but it also packs a lot of power,” Loury said.

“With an untrained driver, it’s not that they would intend to do something bad, but they could,” Rehl said. “If I had a Ferrari in my garage I’d be taking some serious driving lessons before I hit the street.”

In incorporating generative AI into a business of any size, Loury points to the need for a strong foundation built on a careful and strategic plan — something that can sometimes be overlooked with the excitement of a new technology, especially one as powerful as generative AI.

“You also need to do your due diligence from a data perspective,” Loury said. “Creating a solid foundation in data is important and one of the keys to successes in generative AI, because generative AI in particular requires tremendous amounts of data, not only to get off the ground but also to learn.”

Data governance is also an important part of using and understanding generative AI, Loury said, as is building or using systems that are transparent, explainable and fair.

“Governance is something that is a critical component to ensure that your AI implementation is ethical, legal and trustworthy and mitigates the potential reputational and legal risks,” he said.

Among the benefits of generative AI during this first wave of use, Loury points to it being a tremendous tool from an automation standpoint and also in helping people process large amounts of data. He also notes its value in programming, chatbot integration, marketing, customer service engagement and personalization.

“A generative AI initiative is not fairy dust, though, it’s not a magic trick,” Loury cautions. “It’s an amazing technology, but it’s just technology. It’s not going to do things for you. You have to set it and chart the course.”

Reg Harnish is the CEO of OrbitalFire, a leading cybersecurity services provider specifically for small businesses headquartered in the Capitol Region with clients in Rochester. He says one critical issue small businesses need to consider regarding generative AI is source integrity.

Reg HarnishHarnish

“I think as a small organization, especially if you have larger customers, keep in mind that with any input that comes from your third parties you have to ask yourself, ‘Was this generated by a computer? Did a human write this?’” Harnish said.

He also says it’s important to consider acceptable use and accountability.

“As we see AI leaking into areas where there are more serious outcomes or impact, it becomes a real challenge because it has nothing to do with technology or code or machine learning,” Harnish said. “It has to do with ‘Who do we hold accountable’ when something goes wrong.’”

Harnish also notes that it’s important for small businesses to be aware of the impact of generative AI on cybersecurity.

“When generative AI was first introduced, everyone was saying, ‘Oh, this is going to be a boon for cybercriminals because now they can make all of their attacks better,’” Harnish said. “I don’t think that’s true, but what has happened is that it’s made cybercrime more economical and more accessible, which means that results in more frequent attacks and a bigger audience.”

With cybercrime becoming faster, cheaper and impacting more businesses of all sizes, Harnish says small business owners must be vigilant and proactive.

“We don’t want to scare people, but I think we want to help them recognize that if you haven’t thought about cyber security and risk, it’s probably a good time to start because your adversary just got a whole bunch of powerful new capabilities,” he said.

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

Originally Appeared Here

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