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As AI Enters The SMB Community, Cloud Adoption Still Lags

Whether robots will take our jobs or take over the mundane tasks for humans to shift to more strategic operations, one thing is for sure: Automation is changing the workforce.

For small businesses, technology adoption often means more time for business owners and entrepreneurs to focus on strategic initiatives, instead of the repetitive, manual tasks on their to-do lists. But as the tools SMBs adopt become increasingly sophisticated, the exact nature of how these technologies will change the small business workforce is unclear.

A new report from Intuit, “Small Business in the Age of AI,” released in honor of National Small Business Week, examines entrepreneurs’ expectations and attitudes for artificial intelligence and how the technology might impact their ability to wield automation to grow their businesses. The survey of 550 small business owners and managers found, overall, that these professionals have a positive outlook regarding automation.

“It’s encouraging that small business owners view automation tech as an opportunity – not a threat – and are embracing these breakthrough technologies for the betterment of their businesses,” said Intuit’s chief product officer of the small business group, Alex Chriss, in a statement.

Still, fears related to artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to lurk in the background, potentially hampering these professionals from adopting these technologies and, perhaps, holding back their businesses as a result.

Below, PYMNTS outlines the key findings from Intuit’s report.

Five percent of small business owners view automation as a threat, a particularly low figure considering nearly half of U.S. jobs could be at risk due to computerization, according to Oxford University findings cited in Intuit’s report. This suggests that entrepreneurs are confident in automation’s ability to grow their businesses, instead of leading to job losses.

Thirty-one percent of SMBs say automation will promote job creation, rather than job cuts, Intuit found. Only 1 percent believe automation will lead to significant job losses, while 59 percent believe automation won’t make any meaningful difference in employee levels.

Sixty-six percent of entrepreneurs are using automation technology, most commonly for finance, accounting and billing (29 percent). Nearly the same amount (28 percent) said they’re using automation for marketing, while sales and customer service saw similarly high applications of automated tools.

Twenty-four percent of SMBs have adopted some kind of automated Big Data tool, making Big Data the number-one category of automation embraced by small businesses today. National language processing is in place at 17 percent of businesses surveyed, while 12 percent said they have adopted machine learning into their operations, and 11 percent have adopted artificial intelligence.

Seventy-nine percent of small businesses agree that automation frees up time, allowing them to be more productive in growing their business. Nearly the same figure (77 percent) said it supports enhanced customer service, while 74 percent agreed that automation boosts innovation.

Seventy-three percent of entrepreneurs believe automation will improve business efficiency in the next five years, and more than two-thirds agreed it will improve productivity. Sixty-two percent predict automation will support innovation, and 60 percent believe it will improve responsiveness to market changes.

Nearly 20 percent of entrepreneurs haven’t yet adopted the cloud, a figure that Intuit said highlights the long journey ahead for many small business owners, despite promising data about how much entrepreneurs have already embraced automated technologies. According to Intuit, cloud technology is the first step for SMBs to benefit from automation, and with so many yet to adopt the tool, the small business community has some work to do, the report found. Most commonly, small businesses surveyed said between 1 and 25 percent of their business operations are conducted using cloud technology; only 3 percent said 76 to 100 percent of their operations are done in the cloud.

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