Is There A Place for AI in Small to Medium Businesses?

Many small to medium business owners view artificial intelligence as something only huge corporations need.

In reality, it can help position them to compete with those corporations on a whole new level.

It seems like everyone in the business world is launching artificial intelligence programs.

That’s partly because nearly everyone is. 61% of businesses have already begun using some form of artificial intelligence, many of those focusing on predictive analytics and machine learning.

71% report they plan to expand their use of predictive analytics and other AI applications over the next year.

For most companies the decision to adopt AI is an easy one.

For small to medium businesses (SMBs), though, there are tough questions to answer.

Even successful SMBs don’t have the same depth of financial resources as a multinational corporation.

They need to invest cautiously, and artificial intelligence can sound like a science fiction daydream.

That’s unfortunate, because artificial intelligence is fast becoming the kind of tool that can help small to medium businesses keep up with their larger competitors.

Read on to explore the things keeping SMBs from investing in artificial intelligence. then find out how to get past them and what technologies are best suited for small to medium businesses.

Practical Artificial Intelligence

“Artificial Intelligence” brings to mind futuristic robots and complex movie plots, but the reality is much simpler.

The term refers to teaching machines to “think” and interpret information like humans do. Humans have very flexible minds.

They can handle a variety of rapidly-changing topics and navigate difficult conditions that confuse computers (although computers have a greater ability to process repetitive data quickly and accurately).

Modern artificial intelligence has come a long way.

It can’t quite mimic human thought yet, but there have been some exciting advances using AI techniques like machine learning and deep learning that show potential for nuanced processing.

The technology is proving its value as an enterprise tool, too.

There are a few common applications that some people don’t realize are based on artificial intelligence:

  • Predictive analytics, especially embedded features in enterprise software
  • Chatbots on websites or social media pages
  • Intelligent assistants in office and productivity software
  • Recommendation engines used for suggesting Netflix titles and upselling in ecommerce

What Holds SMBs Back

Even as larger companies move to wider integrations of artificial technologies, small to medium businesses are slow to adopt.

Their hesitation is understandable – after all, a failed technology project could threaten the future of their company – but it also holds them back.

The truth is, many of their concerns aren’t as serious as they think.

The issues have practical workarounds or can otherwise be mitigated through proper planning.

Here’s why the leading reasons SMBs aren’t adopting artificial intelligence don’t have to be unmovable roadblocks to progress and how they can be overcome.

AI is too expensive

Industry news reports tend to cover high-end artificial intelligence ventures done by major international corporations, with price tags in the millions (or occasionally billions).

That kind of investment is an intimidating prospect for an SMB who just needs a better way to utilize their data.

The thing is, those programs usually involve the most difficult and expensive forms of AI.

Experimental programming, complex interactions, sensitive health information, government-regulated data, huge amounts of simultaneous users, and other complicating factors raise the costs above the average for enterprise AI projects.

SMBs don’t need the same amount of scale or infrastructure. Their modest needs can be met at a much more reasonable price point.

There is no “usual” price for AI. The costs associated with artificial intelligence are based on many factors, including safety and regulatory protocols and the complexity of necessary interactions.

To build an estimate, developers will ask questions such as:

  • Does the program need access to sensitive information?
  • Is it designed to address a specific set of circumstances or is it more a broad-spectrum tool?
  • What level of interaction with humans is desired?
  • What’s the scale involved?
  • Will the AI need to perform complex actions?

Even when a full artificial intelligence program is out of reach, there are ways to integrate AI on a limited budget.

For one thing, AI is included in many enterprise software packages. Most companies already have access to some AI tools, even if they don’t realize it.

Targeting tools in email marketing software and personal assistants on smartphones are both driven by artificial intelligence.

More in-depth AI toolsets are often available with a reasonably-priced software upgrade to enterprise level from free or lower-tier accounts.

It’s work checking with vendors to see what’s within reach.

The rise of reusable code and powerful development frameworks has put small-scale custom solutions within reach, as well.

Developers have platform options for creating analytics dashboards and chatbots that makes the costs approachable for SMBs.

AI isn’t ready for enterprise because the projects fail too often

Project failure is a daunting prospect for SMBs, who usually have a longer list of desired business improvements than they have capital to spend.

They need to prioritize projects because they can’t do everything they’d like.

Investing in AI means putting another project on hold, something they aren’t willing to do when it seems like all they hear about is failed artificial intelligence projects.

It’s easy to become discouraged by high-profile AI failures or assume tools are overhyped, because some projects do fail and some tools are overhyped.

Artificial intelligence is at a point in the Hype Cycle where its applications are being rigorously tested, and some won’t make it through to becoming everyday technologies.

However, project failure is more often an organizational issue instead of a technological one.

Projects fail for a variety of reasons, most commonly:

  • A weak discovery process results in a weak final product.
  • Internal adoption rates are too low to realize the project’s potential.
  • Misaligned business goals lead to the company creating a product that no longer fits within their workflows.
  • The company experiences an outsourcing failure or developer issues.

Avoiding these issues is somewhere small to medium businesses may have an edge over larger corporations. Why?

  • Pushing internal adoption on a small team is more effective because the company leadership can personally talk to everyone (or at least every team leader) to convince them of a project’s value.
  • There is less opportunity for confusion over business needs and goals.
  • The development process has fewer moving parts, so it’s easier to make needs clear during discovery.

What SMBs need to watch out for is the tendency to default to the lowest bidder, especially when outsourcing overseas.

If they focus on quality as much as price, they’re more likely to get a quality return on their investment.

Choosing Agile development methods is another way to ensure a positive outcome.

Developers who use Agile and conduct a thorough discovery are actually seeing a rise in project success rates, and have been for a couple of years.

AI isn’t practical for a small to medium business; it only works for massive corporations.

Many SMB owners see AI as something that can’t help their business.

They assume they don’t have enough data to process or that the impact of AI won’t be noticeable at a smaller scale.

A lot of those same owners would be surprised to realize how much data they already have – data which is going untapped.

Putting that data to work might result in smaller gains, but proportionately those gains matter more.

One interesting thing about AI is that is has opposite benefits for SMBs and larger companies.

It helps giant companies operate with the personalization of an SMB while allowing SMBs to function with the efficiency of a massive corporation.

That is, it gives small to medium businesses the edge they need to “punch outside their weight class” when it comes to competing for market share.

While there are some AI applications that won’t help smaller-scale businesses, there are many more that will.

A small bookshop with five employees wouldn’t get value from predictive scheduling software, but they could see an impressive return on predictive ordering and email marketing programs.

AI doesn’t apply to this industry

There’s a perception that artificial intelligence is only for high-tech fields like software development or banking.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. AI can be applied anywhere where data is generated – that is, everywhere – to improve efficiency, guide decision making, and maximize the impact of marketing and sales campaigns.

Some examples:

  • A cleaning company uses AI to intelligently manage their leads and upsell current clients.
  • A stroller rental company builds an AI-powered solution to manage their inventory and give customers more options for customizing deliveries.
  • A vacation rental agency uses price optimization to get the best possible pricing on rentals for owners.
  • A landscaping company decides where to expand based on data gathered from predictive analytics tools.

These are all small but important decisions, and they’re made easier using insights gathered by artificial intelligence.

AI is too hard to learn

SMBs tend to have long-time employees in leadership positions with lower turnover in mid-level roles.

They often hesitate to push something that seems high-tech or confusing due to established relationships with employees.

These fears are large unfounded. Building enterprise AI tools is complicated.

Using them is less so, especially with custom tools created specifically for non-technicians.

Most enterprise AI software is designed to be user-friendly at an operator level, so the on-boarding process would likely be much less complicated than SMBs might expect.

Where there are problems, there are well-established training solutions.

The most popular AI tools have online classes at a variety of price points, from free YouTube tutorials to subscription-based professional development platforms.

Developers generally offer training and support packages for their software at reasonable rates.

With so many options even the most technophobic staffer can find a way to get on board with new tools, especially once they realize how much easier AI makes their job.

Staying In The Game With AI

Larger companies are already investing in artificial intelligence.

As they do, they’re gaining a lot of advantages traditionally enjoyed by SMBs, like personalized service and shorter response times to changing local market conditions.

Small to medium businesses have a choice. They can make the AI investment that will help them stay competitive or risk losing their customer base to larger, better-informed companies.

At the end of the day, that isn’t much of a choice at all.

Artificial intelligence doesn’t have to be a headache. Concepta can help you build an intelligent business intelligence solution that fits your needs- and your budget. Schedule your complimentary appointment today!

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How to Train Employees on New Technology

Originally published Jul. 20, 2016, updated Oct. 11, 2018.

The best software on Earth is a failure if the team can’t use it.

Support employees throughout the training process by offering technical assistance, providing a variety of reference formats, and fostering a culture of communication and collaboration.

After all the effort of finding the right enterprise software package, negotiating a sale, and supervising installation, the new program is finally up and running. It’s time to relax.

Well… it’s almost time to relax.

Before companies can start enjoying the benefits of their new software, they need to get over the biggest hurdle of integrating technology: training employees. This is a make or-break-moment.

The best program on Earth is a failure if the team can’t use it. In fact, over half of enterprise software initiatives don’t reach their full potential due to low adoption rates.

The problem is that employees tend to push back against learning new software. They’re already comfortable working around the flaws in the existing system, and they get frustrated with the disruption that comes with even good changes.

This sometimes leaves the impression that the old way was better.

Making the training process as painless as possible encourages employees to get behind new software. Read on for a few ways executives can smooth the path for them.

Provide Quality Technical Assistance

Offering technical assistance is the most influential step companies can take to help their teams learn new software.

This should include both initial software training and supplemental references for troubleshooting issues that come up in the early stages of implementation. The impact of technical assistance is undeniable.

The Primary Care Information Project (PCIP) and Weill Cornell Medical College conducted a study of how health practitioners implemented Electronic Health Records (EHR) and found that small practices without sufficient training resources struggled the most with their EHR systems.

Medical practices that received eight or more training and support visits had the highest levels of success.

When interviewing vendors, ask about their after-sale support. Plan to have a variety of resources and technical references that everyone can use for ongoing training.

Focus On What Matters

As much as 60% of software features are never used. This happens so often there’s a name for it: “shelf-ware”.

To some extent, shelf-ware is inevitable. Commercial software developers need to appeal to as many users as possible. They’re constantly adding new features in a quest to widen their customer base and stay relevant.

The resulting software has a host of shelf-ware most users will never touch.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to teach every esoteric function in the program during training. Focus on the 20-40% of commonly-used features and just touch on the rest.

Leverage Influential Users

In every group there are users who adapt quickly to new software. They’re comfortable with technology and like helping others who run into trouble.

Leverage their enthusiasm by designating them as transitional training leaders.

They can solve low-level problems for their co-workers and maintain any reference tools. It helps to give them a small bonus or other incentive, as well.

Address Problems Early

Communication is key when the training is finished and the software goes live.

Even the most experienced companies experience bottlenecks and setbacks when integrating new technology into their workflows. The only way to overcome these challenges is through communication.

Schedule meetings once every week or two where the whole team can share what’s working and where there could be improvement.

Check in with individual employees between progress meetings. Keep the conversation casual and talk to a variety of team members.

Managers, supervisors, support staff, and even outside vendors have unique perspectives that can help identify problem areas.

Once those issues are identified, schedule additional training on a group or using the transitional training leaders. Early intervention keeps frustration levels down, so employees aren’t tempted to go slide back into the old system.

Use Online Training Materials

Many vendors have extensive training materials on their sites, including videos, walk-throughs, information guides, and downloadable reports.

Self-paced training like this offers another avenue for employees to build their skills and gain confidence in the new software program. Share vendor resources where everyone who works with the software can find them at need.

It’s not always easy to convince employees to use new technology, but the payoff is worth it.

Support the team with quality training options, step in when there’s an issue, and foster an environment of collaborative training. When the employees have the right tools to learn, the project is on the best path to success.

How can your sales, marketing, and finance teams get rid of spreadsheets and become more efficient with their reporting? Download our eBook How to Implement Business Intelligence in Your Company to find out!

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Kingdom Strollers: How Technology Helped Make Strollers Big Business In Orlando

Kingdom-Strollers

When Kingdom Strollers started in 2010, it was a small family business operating out of a condo. It didn’t stay small for long. The steady flow of tourists to Central Florida created an opportunity to provide an often-overlooked service that makes vacations much more enjoyable for families: quality strollers and cribs delivered on demand to hotels and vacation homes.

By the third year owner Matthew Wilhite was overwhelmed with the tiny details of daily operations. It felt like he couldn’t go 30 seconds without some urgent situation blowing up his phone.

Things were made both better and worse when he secured one of three coveted spots as a Disney stroller provider: better because his business was growing fast and worse because it was now taking up the majority of his time.

At this point Wilhite made an unusual move: he made digital transformation a priority and began pushing high-level technology projects at a point when many small businesses are just becoming profitable.

Growing Pains

Updating businesses processes to cope with growing business is something most companies struggle with, and Kingdom Strollers was no different. As demand grew they ran into challenges operating at scale.

They took orders by phone, requiring additional calls every time a customer needed to make a change to their reservation. Inventory management was complicated since had to be updated manually after every call and equipment delivery. That made it hard for staff to know what was available, let alone prospective customers.

Delivery presented more challenges. Drivers planned their own routes and had to update orders manually as they returned to base. There was no easy way to change delivery times. Plus, customers couldn’t track their delivery status in real time.

On top of everything, Kingdom Strollers was spending too much time compiling and processing reports. Wilhite’s business was beginning to boom, and he needed a fast, accurate reporting mechanism to support that growth.

kingdom-strollers-appHow Kingdom Strollers Took Advantage of Technology

By partnering with Concepta, Kingdom Strollers found solutions to help them scale. They had a new website built complete with a customer service portal.

Now customers can access inventory lists, add additional services or products to their orders, change delivery times, and more at their convenience. With the inventory system linked in, the availability problem was solved as well.

A custom driver app provides more flexibility to both drivers and customers. Optimized delivery routes made drop offs and pickups more efficient and responsive to customer changes.

Drivers can scan in products for up to-the-minute order status, and they have a dynamic view of each order and its special requirements.

Everything is tied together with a customized reporting dashboard. Now Wilhite and his team can pull detailed reports across the business with a few clicks.

Results That Speak for Themselves

With Concepta’s digital solutions in place Kingdom Strollers has been able to continue providing the kind of customer experience that brings visitors back for more. Since putting the system into action they’ve seen an average of 40% revenue increase year over year.

The rise in demand pushed them to move from their rental warehouse to a privately-owned facility with more than double the space. Besides the lucrative Disney contract, Kingdom Strollers is also recommended by popular guide books like Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers.

Better yet, Wilhite can now make it through an entire dinner in peace.

You’ve seen what we did for them- now find out what we can do for you! Schedule your free consultation today!

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How to Turn Your Company into a Data Science-Driven Enterprise [WHITE PAPER]

Data Science Driven Enterprise white paper banner image

Interest in using artificial intelligence to enhance corporate decision making has been gaining momentum over the last several years, but it hasn’t been fully embraced.

Only one in three executives describe their organization as highly data-driven.

62% of senior business leaders turn to personal experience or advice from peers instead of data when planning, and over half have outright ignored information they didn’t understand.

These numbers highlight one glaring truth: the business world has a serious data problem.

Businesses who don’t effectively use their data will be losing $1.2 trillion to their competitors every year by 2020.

In order to stay competitive, companies need to find a way to leverage data into actionable strategies.

Artificial Intelligence is the key to maximizing data utilization.

That is why we’re excited to announce our latest white paper, How Businesses Can Use Data Science and AI to Gain a Competitive Edge!

Download a copy and read it for an in-depth analysis of how data science and AI technologies are being used by businesses to:

  • improve workflow
  • minimize waste
  • increase customer satisfaction
  • plan for the future

Now is the time to invest in analytics and big data solutions.

Let Concepta help you outsmart your competition and turn it into a data science-driven enterprise.

Download your copy now:

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How an Integrated Management System Improves Enterprise Visibility

integrated management system

In the best-run enterprises in each industry, the various departments tend to be closely aligned with one another in a complex web of activity.

Forrester specified integration as the first of five key best practices for more productive planning and execution.

Like the pieces of an intricate mechanism, accounting affects manufacturing planning, which impacts marketing, which defines the organization’s goals in business partner negotiations.

As your enterprise approaches maximum efficiency it leaves less and less room for project delays or surprises.

That is one of the primary reasons why you may have seen integrated business management solutions so high on CIO priority lists over the past five years.

Long-term planning for staying flexible in volatile markets demands a steady hand on financial controls from inventory valuation to currency normalization.

The best integrated management systems assure flawless data flow from ERP systems to CRM and everything in between. The goal is a virtual pane of glass with absolute visibility into every corner of the enterprise.

That is also how leading firms always seem to make the right strategic moves. They are not fortune tellers and they are not lucky: They just have better visibility into their own operations.

Pan-Enterprise Visibility

One of the beneficial outcomes of this intense concentration on pan-enterprise visibility is that providers of integrated business management solutions have crowded into a burgeoning market, driving down prices until practical for the mid-sized enterprise.

There is no longer a need for knowledge and data to pool inside spreadsheets somewhere deep in a forgotten network folder. There does not need to be confusion over which version is the most current.

With a single source of the latest data, servers can operate faster with more storage space available, since there are not countless versions of the same document sitting in email folders all over the enterprise.

That may also be why the departments most often leading the charge for greater pan-enterprise visibility are those responsible for governance, risk and compliance.

According to the 2015 GRC Maturity Survey, “90 percent of respondents stated the integrated approach to GRC has either met or exceeded expectations.”

The shared data that comes from integrated business management is the enemy of risk.

Free Data Flow

The top enterprises in each industry are able to free up time for innovation when they allow data to flow freely from department to department, whenever and wherever it is needed.

Sales teams can instantly answer questions about past orders, upcoming shipments and a related prospect’s stage in the customer journey.

Integrated business management solutions allow auditors to access payroll and reconcile their financials against posted accounts.

In the years ahead, enterprise data itself will be considered intellectual property and a competitive advantage.

The best data analysis tools put clear visualizations and intuitive decision support in the hands of everyone in your most pivotal roles. That is how enterprise teams, despite being geographically dispersed and tasked with conflicting priorities, can collaborate on realizing a singular vision.

You can learn more about data visualization here:
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Data as a Lighthouse

In ancient times, the lighthouse was the fixed point that guided ships through high risk and dangerous waters. In the economic storms of contemporary global market where local impacts are immediately felt around the world, centralized data is the new lighthouse.

Integrated business management solutions are how your enterprise can work with that data to establish visibility and certainty on where you need to go next.

For more information, contact Concepta today and…

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Concepta’s CEO on Orlando Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 List

humberto-farias-concepta

Humberto Farias, the CEO of tech companies Concepta and FanHero, was honored this week as one of Orlando Business Journal’s 40 Under 40.

Humberto studied at the University of Central Florida, and has over 17 years of experience in the tech universe. While he is busy running three growing companies and being one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Orlando, he also finds the time to raise three children with his wife Marcela.

Not only does Humberto do great work within his businesses, but he also does incredible work within his community.

Together with his team of developers, they have donated 100 meals to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Central Florida and participated in the IOA Corporate 5k.

He is also a committee member of the Valencia State College School of Business, Technology, & Interactive Design.

It doesn’t stop there. Humberto enjoys working with the community’s youth as a STEM Education Council member hoping to get them excited about a possible future in technology, engineering, science, and mathematics.

The Orlando Business Journal’s 40 under 40 award recognizes the top 40 men and women executives in Central Florida who are under the age of 40 and have achieved professional success. Furthermore, it also recognizes those who are extremely active within their community.

The Orlando Business Journal will hold an awards celebration reception to honor Humberto and the 39 other men and women who made it on to the list. The event will take place on Thursday, November 10, 2016.

For more information, contact us today.

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