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SMB Artificial Intelligence in 2024

What is SMB Artificial Intelligence?

Small and Mid-Sized Business, aka SMB, are bombarded with news about Artificial Intelligence (AI). It seems like everything is powered by AI. We hear about Generative Artificial Intelligence changing our world; however, Generative AI is still hypothetical! According to Dr, Alan D Thompson at Life Architect.ai, as of January 2024 we were only 65% towards achievement of true Generative AI

All Artificial Intelligence is not Intelligent!

There are many definitions of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and many claims about AI are just plain false. According to Oxford Dictionary, AI is defined as:

The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

With a broad definition, you can call almost any process automation intelligent. However, most experts require some form of “machine learning” to consider automation intelligent. Machine learning is a component of AI which a computer mimics intelligent human behavior to solve problems.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Robotic Process Automation is technology that mimics human actions and repeats them. Think of RPA like advanced Excel macros. A program that can perform a task based upon parameters. Over the years we have automated tasks with workflows and integrations, but never called it artificial intelligence.

A good example is materials requirement planning (MRP) with associated actions. For years the computer could crank out a report that calculated how much inventory you need based upon stock levels, sales orders, and amounts on open purchase orders. These MRP programs became more sophisticated and added regression analysis and projected quantities to provide greater accuracy. In larger more sophisticated systems, the MRP can make recommendations and/or create purchase orders automatically.

RPA can greatly improve productivity, efficiency and effectiveness. However, RPA is missing the key component of learning to qualify as intelligence. Robotic automation just performs programmed tasks.

Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI)

Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) differ from RPA through learning algorithms associated with the specific task(s) being performed. Narrow AI is the most common form of AI that we encounter today. ANI programs perform singular tasks or a set of closely related tasks. For example, facial recognition, language translation, or playing chess.

ANI is the current state of Artificial Intelligence where the computer can improve its performance based upon repeating tasks and feedback on their accuracy. Although ANI is known as “Weak AI”, it performs specific tasks with proficiency superior to humans.

Artificial Generative Intelligence (AGI)

With Artificial Generative Intelligence (AGI), the computer will takes a step ahead. AGI It is still a hypothetical form of artificial intelligence in which a machine can learn and think like a human. For this to be possible, AGI would need some additional awareness so it could solve problems, adapt to its surroundings and perform a broader range of tasks.

Despite all the claims of Generative AI for your business, all the experts say we have not yet achieved Generative AI in computing. Humans teach “Self driving” cars how to recognize humans, are not self aware, and can only adapt to surroundings as programmed. Back in 2011 Shane Legg, founder of DeepMind (now owned by Google) predicted AGI would be achieved in 2028 and reiterated his prediction in a recent Ted Talk.

Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI)

Science Fiction has predicted a time where computer intelligence overtakes human intelligence and becomes self aware. Although still theoretical, ASI is predicable and expected.

Current State of AI for the SMB

Today we use Weak AI when we use Microsoft Copilot and similar tools like Alexa and Siri. Using Large Language Models the computer can recognize our voices as an input device and “discern” which programmed tasks they are supposed to perform.

Using AI, developers are improving their applications quickly. This development acceleration will dramatically improve the way we work

AI in ERP

Most of what is called AI today is Robotic Process Automation.

  • Advanced Materials Requirement Planning tools are algorithms infused with regression analysis.
  • Upsell Agents in ecommerce and ERP are algorithms looking for similarities with statistics.
  • Interfacing with shipping software for rates and documenting tracking information.
  • Automate the processing intercompany transactions.
  • AP automation with optical character recognition does not think!

To qualify as Artificial Intelligence there must be a machine learning component. Acumatica Oracle, Sage, Salesforce, SAP and/or their partners have built limited artificial intelligence into their products. For AI to be accepted into the business world, accuracy must improve. Publishers are asking clients to opt into their data collection programs to improve accuracy and increase trust in AI. Recently, Karl Fahrbach, Chief Partner Officer at SAP emphasized how business AI adoption increases with its own private and industry data.

SMB Artificial Intelligence is Coming Fast!

Ginni Rometty, the first female CEO of IBM is famously quoted saying:

Some people call this artificial intelligence, but the reality is this technology will enhance us. So instead of artificial intelligence, I think we’ll augment our intelligence

Very few programmers who have used AI to help them with coding say, “please take this tool away from me.”  Rather, they find the AI is making them more efficient by writing some base code based upon prompts. The better their prompts, the better their base code!

Today’s Action Plan

Contrary to popular hype, implementing generative AI is not your next step! You do not have to change to cloud ERP tomorrow. The competition is not miles ahead of you in the race. However, there are steps you can take to improve operations with modern technology.

  • Digital Transformation – We define digital transformation as process improvement with a cloud first strategy. Cloud does not mean “all-in” on the cloud, but recognizes the economies of scale and compute power only available to SMB’s in the cloud. Digital Transformation is unique for every company. If you don’t have a business strategy for your company, schedule a Consult with one of our executives. If you have a strategy, now is the time for a Business Blueprint that will identify your action areas.
  • Low Code / No Code – Automation tools are available for most major ERP’s that can automate repetitive task without programming. Look for a tool that is certified for your business management software and has standard integrations with your eCommerce, EDI or other operational systems.
  • Embrace eCommerce – Ecommerce is not just for distributors. Buyers search for you on the web. Customers embrace or even demand self-service. Determine how you can better leverage ecommerce for your business.
  • Experiment with AI – Even if you are not a technology company, there are ways to play with AI. For example, get a trial for Microsoft co-pilot with the office suite. Use ChatGPT to write blog articles for your web page. Play with AI to write your next proposal.

Tomorrow’s Action Plan

As you experiment with AI, you will begin to see more and more uses for computer automation of repetitive tasks. as the AI tools progress, they will become more affordable and easier to use. Now is the time to prepare yourself for the anticipate wave of process improvement from AI.

  • Update or Upgrade your ERP – Maintaining your ERP at current levels will not only protect your company from cyber attack, but prepare it for integrations. Legacy ERP systems are updating to enable external communication with cloud services and modern ERPs are built for automation. Learn what your publisher is doing to prepare your ERP for AI so you can plan for tomorrow.
  • Anticipate Staffing Changes – Simple repetitive tasks will be automated. If not by you, by your competitor. How can your people take their experience to improve your operations with better data provided by the computer?
  • Anticipate Customer Shifts – How will AI affect your customers and their needs? Will their business increase or decrease? Will they expect or need different products or services as a result of changes to their industry? If nothing else, the conversation with them will improve your relationship and may provide insights for improving services today!
  • Expect Chatbots – Today’s automated attendants are annoying. We don’t want our customers screaming AGENT into the phone. However, as large language models improve, the computer is able to interpret customer intent. We anticipate chatbots for ERP will be the first AI tool generally available for the SMBs in late 2024 or early 2025.

It is never too early, and it is not too late to start a digital transformation program. Schedule a no obligation Digital Transformation Consultation with one of our executives.

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