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Small Business Transformations Put the AI in Main Street

Small businesses with big ambitions are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to drive growth. 

That’s because, with 2024’s National Small Business Week already on day two, the ways in which embracing next-generation innovations can help their businesses drive competitiveness, become more efficient and make better decisions is top of mind for America’s 33 million small businesses. 

While AI tools are still fairly new, their future possibilities and applications are nearly endless — with most firms only scratching the surface of AI’s potential impact across their operations. 

After all, the historically fragmented small business landscape is far from homogenous — a reality that has continually frustrated service providers, lenders and other firms looking to support at scale the businesses at the heart of our domestic economy. But that varied nature also represents a backdrop where the agility of AI can shine and have an impact. 

Enhancing customer service, streamlining productivity, strengthening data intelligence and real-time analysis, democratizing access to working capital and jumpstarting marketing and content creation are all ways in which AI has already started to impact the growth prospects of small businesses. 

Read more: The State of Main Street Heading Into Small Business Week 

Small Business AI Tools Are Redefining Longstanding Processes 

While the biggest names in AI, such as MetaMicrosoftGoogleAmazonOpenAI and more, are increasingly targeting enterprise organizations with their products; many are bringing to market AI solutions geared toward smaller firms as well. 

As reported here, Microsoft last week (April 23) introduced its smallest AI model yet, aimed at businesses with limited resources.

“Small language models have a lower probability of hallucinations, require less data (and less preprocessing), and are easier to integrate into enterprise legacy workflows,” Narayana Pappu, CEO at Zendata, a provider of data security and privacy compliance solutions, told PYMNTS. “Most companies keep 90% of their data private and don’t have enough resources to train large language models.”

Small businesses can implement these AI solutions to automate things like routine customer service activities, reducing repetitive and time-consuming tasks so employees can redirect their work to more complex and nuanced tasks. 

On the Google front, the tech giant is working to transform business tasks into more intelligent, automated processes. After all, Google’s cloud-based business software is one of the more popular workplace suites around, and on April 9, the company announced several new embedded AI features which offered a glimpse into a future where AI plays a central role in business strategy and workflows. 

As Google noted, “70% of business users who use ‘Help me write’ in Docs or Gmail end up taking Gemini’s suggestions, and more than 75% of users who create images in Slides are inserting them into their presentations.”

AI tools can help with automating content creation and streamlining administrative work like data entry, file organization, appointment scheduling, document management and expense tracking. 

They can also give predictive analytics a shot in the arm by analyzing historical sales data, market trends and external factors to forecast demand. This enables businesses to optimize inventory levels, minimize stockouts and reduce carrying costs — all critical benefits for firms without a lot of wiggle room in their coffers. 

Read moreTech Experts Share What to Ask When Adding AI to Business

Leveraging AI to Drive Growth and Competitiveness

By strategically leveraging AI technologies, small businesses can unlock new growth opportunities, improve operational efficiency and stay ahead in an increasingly competitive landscape. 

Traditional data analysis might involve many manual hours and dead ends, but with small-business AI, firms can tap into the conversational interface of AI systems to surface insights in real time, with a minimal learning curve due to the intuitive way the AI works and responds. 

Amazon, for example, has launched AI applications for businesses that include AI-powered shopping assistants, enhanced voice assistants like Alexa, and new advertising solutions.

“[AI] is something that every knowledge worker, everyone who works on a computer, really, can get some value out of,” Eddie Zhou, head of AI at Glean, told PYMNTS in March during a conversation for the “AI Effect” series.

On the financial front, PYMNTS has covered how AI is helping firms automate their accounting processes and make their finance teams more efficient, while at the same time helping democratize much-needed access to working capital solutions for small businesses that have been neglected by traditional bank lending products. 

The PYMNTS Intelligence report, “Understanding the Future of Generative Al,” found that enterprise AI systems could impact 40% of all working hours, and the generative AI industry is expected to grow to $1.3 trillion by 2032. It is projected to give back workers and employees their productivity by optimizing legacy processes.