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Small business and artificial intelligence – The Irish News

Although the application of artificial intelligence (AI) is still considered “new” within the small business sector, it is working at a fast pace to become indispensable to future business growth.

It is gaining traction through it promises of greater efficiencies and automation and businesses such as those in e-commerce are using chatbots and virtual assistants to reach international markets and communicate with customers 24/7.

Others are using AI tools to automate the raising and processing of invoices, speeding up the payment cycle and reducing the likelihood of mistakes. The ability for AI to assist companies to target a specific customer base is starting to prove invaluable in new leads generation.

Yet, there are still many small business owners that are relatively unaware of AI and its potential benefits to business growth even though there is really no excuse for this lack of knowledge given the number of programmes, webinars and workshops available.

Both the Artificial Intelligence Research Centre at Ulster University and the Artificial Intelligence Collaboration Centre at Queen’s University (also in collaboration with Ulster University) are playing a leading role in raising the application of AI.

The AICC just launched in March with £16.3 million investment from the Department For the Economy, to promote the adoption of AI. It offers a range of fully funded postgraduate places, to equip graduates with the technical skills required to bridge the link between academia and industry.

This policy drive to encourage our use of AI is not without consequences and a number of ethical issues. There is no doubt that the automation and efficiencies it provides on the one hand, will impact on employment and recruitment on the other.

Certain roles will certainly disappear to AI in many sectors including in small businesses. Self check outs in our local shops is just one obvious example where human input has already been replaced by machines. This change to employment levels is also perhaps creating another discussion for another day.

Michelle Lestas Michelle Lestas

Will it still be useful to consider increased employment levels as an indicator of small business growth when companies are applying for grant support?

None of us could imagine operating a business today without the internet. There is no doubt that we will also be saying this about AI in the not too distant future, so the question for every small business owner is not will we embrace AI, but when and in what way?

  • Michelle Lestas is a strategic business turnaround specialist, published author on business leadership “In Business With Yourself”, and founder and CEO of MENTupLEADup for small business mentors and advisers.

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