Can Artificial Intelligence Lead to Real Profits?

How do you feel about integrating Artificial Intelligence into your business? Is AI something that is “nice to have” or is it essential to your business? 

It wasn’t long ago that businesses large and small depended on computers to do the work. When we think about AI, we may dismiss the idea that AI in your business is years away. The truth is that AI is already having an impact in the work that we currently do – from eliminating manual inputting of data and producing reports to more timely and accurate sales reporting resulting in daily demand forecasting.  Businesses today face supply chain challenges, increasing costs in every aspect of your business from payroll and advertising to communicating with suppliers and updating your accounting systems. 

For small businesses today, the question is not whether to implement AI into your business processes, but rather how to start.!  It is often difficult to change an existing business process even though we think that we have defined every step of that process. Imagine the apprehension of attempting to “turn over” the process to something that you don’t understand and would be skeptical of the output. Before making any changes, research the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence. Understanding the capabilities of AI will help create an implementation plan. Start with something “easy” so that you build confidence in your approach while allowing your implementation team to understand that errors will occur and that a “process failure” is not a failure of the team but an opportunity to learn.

While the team is building confidence, spend time identifying one or two business processes that if changed from the current data entry process will result in actionable data that provide trends. Use the data to help achieve your annual business plans. Will the use of AI improve your profitability? Certainly! That said, don’t use AI to lower costs, rather use AI to improve business processes that will result in lower costs.

In my career, I learned the hard way that in order to make significant changes throughout our business, my message changed from fixing the problems to fixing the process, and it was probably the most difficult decision that I made to this point in my career. I was “giving up control” to people who wanted me to make decisions for them. Change is difficult when those undergoing the change have a fear of failure.

The truth is that people don’t fail, it’s the business processes that fail. Over time, we celebrated “failures” as opportunities to learn. And learn we did. In two years, we were recognized as one of America’s 10 Best Plants. AI would have made the transition to changing business processes significantly quicker and easier. Cost of Goods Sold decreased and profit margins increased.

AI is a game-changing tool to help any business. Learn as much as you can about AI implementations, identify one or two mostly manual entry processes, form an implementation team,  and spend a few meetings outlining the scope of the work to be undertaken. Above all, be honest in describing the desired outcome of the changes and spend time teaching team building skills. 

Joe Roy is president and CEO of the Coastal Entrepreneurship & Innovation Institute in Palm Coast.