Boosting your small business in 2020
Here are some ways how can small businesses boost in the world of AI.
Prof. Alexiei Dingli
2019 was, without doubt, the year of Artificial Intelligence (AI). We have heard a lot about it, but many are unsure whether this is just the latest fad or if its here to stay.
If we peep a little bit at what is happening in the world around us, the AI industry will grow to a $190 billion industry worldwide by 2025. 23% of businesses are already using AI in some form or another, and this will go up to 75% by 2021. In fact, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), 40% of digital transformations today make use AI services.
One might argue that this holds for large corporations but does not apply for small businesses. This assumption cannot be further from the truth. In this article, we will have a look at how AI can help small businesses, in particular; restaurants, retailers, the service industry and those working in hospitality.
Let us have a look at restaurants. The company accounts already hold a record of most of the data related to the purchase of raw materials. The sales records can be accessed through the point-of-sale system. Furthermore, most restaurants today have a web presence either through their website or through a facebook page. If these three pieces of information are combined and sprinkled with some AI, the restauranteur can get some incredible insight into his future operations. The system can easily calculate footfall (even taking into consideration seasonality, feasts, etc.), and it will be able to profile clients. It essentially means that the AI can predict; when someone will book a table, for how many people and also what they will likely order. The effect of this is that the restauranteur can adopt a just-in-time ordering system, thus reducing food waste and eventually reducing his costs by around 12%. The AI can even analyse the reviews on social media and suggest possible improvements to the restaurant.
When it comes to retail, most of the shops rely on impulse buying. To satisfy customers, retailers need to pile up stock based upon customer preferences. However, too much stock might be problematic since it might lead to dead stock. Once again, given that most of the data is available, AI can be used to help retailers improve their sales. A chatbot can be used to answer user queries through the Facebook page and also sell specific items 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Online portals, combined with targeted campaigns, can be used to sell deadstock online. Profiling clients can help to predict future purchases. It then reduces stock orders; thus storing less stock but obtaining more notable sales. Such systems are also capable of predicting customer churn and significantly improve the retention of existent customers.
Within the service industry, time is of the essence. Because of this, simple automation tasks can go a long way. The most basic one is scheduling appointments. Imagine a Barbershop that employs four barbers. Each barber can service around 375 clients per month (assuming 30 minutes per client and a six-day working week). So in total, this shop of four barbers has 1,500 appointments per month. If each of those appointments is made via a phone call and every call lasts for 1 minute, this means that one of the barbers is spending three full working days per month scheduling appointments rather than cutting hair. In this case, a simple online system can automate the whole process!
The hospitality industry too can benefit from AI, irrespective of whether one owns a small Airbnb or a large hotel. AI systems can be used to analyse listings, perform sentiment analysis on the review and get recommendations on how the place can be improved. Automatic translators make communication with foreigners easier since emails can be translated to the most spoken languages on our planet. Analytics can help to project future trends and predict occupancy. Profiling of clients will help to provide customers with a personalised and unique experience. Finally, AI can be used to ease the recruitment of personnel and provide adequate training.
As can be seen from the various examples mentioned above, irrespective of the size of the business, AI is used in several use cases. 2020 will be the year where we will experience wider AI adoption throughout the different economic sectors since AI provides a competitive advantage to any organisation that uses it. Because of this, why not make a new year resolution and start looking at the possibilities brought forth by AI.
Prof. Alexiei Dingli
Prof Alexiei Dingli is a Professor of AI at the University of Malta. He has been conducting research and working in the field of AI for more than two decades, assisting different companies to implement AI solutions. His work has been rated World Class by international experts and he won several local and international awards (such as those by the European Space Agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations to name a few). He has published several peer-reviewed publications and formed part of the Malta.AI task-force which was set up by the Maltese government, aimed at making Malta one of the top AI countries in the world.