From Amazon to the mom-and-pop shop next door, artificial intelligence is creating new opportunities for businesses

What do you think of when you hear the words “artificial intelligence” or “machine learning”? Does an image of self-driving cars, evil super-computers, or killer robots come to mind? The reality is, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have implications for small- and medium-sized businesses. And while those implications aren’t exactly like the movies, they are just as dramatic.

Imagine if you could spend mere minutes on repetitive bookkeeping and data-entry tasks instead of the time you're taking now. What if you could use all your bookkeeping data to quickly spot trends and patterns that you could act on to increase your sales?

This power is already a reality, and we can thank AI and machine learning not only for making it possible but, even more importantly, for putting it within reach of businesses of any size.

AI is already part of life

Although they may sound similar, AI and machine learning are different, but complementary. AI is simply technology that can learn, analyse and solve problems on its own--no human required. AI gets better at specific tasks, such as recognizing patterns in masses of data, through a process called machine learning. In other words, AI uses machine learning to improve itself.

You’re already using and communicating with machine learning-powered AI every day. Whenever you watch a show on Netflix, buy a product on Amazon, or search with Google, these platforms use that information to further personalize your experience. Notice how Netflix and Amazon offer suggestions related to what you previously showed an interest in? Or how ads for a product you searched for suddenly start appearing on other websites you visit? That’s AI doing its work.

Think of it as accessible intelligence

The good news is, you don’t have to be Netflix, Amazon, or Google to benefit from AI. One of the most universal advantages AI provides is the ability to automate repetitive tasks. In fact, 61 percent of small- and medium-sized Canadian businesses are already using some form of automation in their operations, according to a recent study by Intuit Canada1.

Machines are simply better at handling repetitive, time-consuming functions that are done the same way every time. After all, machines never get bored or make proof-reading mistakes. Similarly, consolidating and categorizing data from multiple sources, which humans generally find tedious, is ideally suited to automation. And once repetitive data-entry tasks are automated by AI, businesses will suddenly find themselves with far more time to concentrate on, well, their business. That’s just the beginning.

AI makes everyone smarter

AI empowers businesses by delivering actionable insights faster. Thanks to machine learning, AI does a much better job of pulling patterns out of big masses of data that would overwhelm a human. Businesses can then analyze those patterns to make better, more strategic decisions.

“A business may want to figure out who to send offers to from a customer list, assess credit risk, or identify top customers,” says Alik Sokolov, a lead data scientist at Omnia Deloitte Canada’s AI practice. “If you have enough information on what happened in the past, such as who defaulted on a loan, the ingredients are right for machine learning.”

No wonder almost 84 percent of business executives see AI as a way to gain or sustain a competitive advantage2.

Yet, surprisingly, while businesses generally recognize the advantages that AI and machine learning can offer, few have acted deliberately. To date, less than 39 percent of businesses have an AI strategy in place3 That’s cause for concern. Businesses that don’t embrace AI are in danger of being quickly outpaced by competitors that are able to make strategic decisions faster and serve more customers in a more personalized way.

AI lives in the cloud

Fully realizing AI’s advantages doesn’t have to be difficult. The best way forward is through the cloud. Cloud-based financial automation platforms, such as Univation, consolidate all accounting and bookkeeping functions and allow businesses to take advantage of AI and machine learning without the need for costly infrastructure.

“It’s best to start from the use case,” advises Sokolov. “Don’t be a hammer looking for a nail. Ask, what are my biggest problems, and how could AI and machine learning help?”

For example, is your business faced with repetitive, time-consuming functions that would be better performed by AI? Do you have a lot of customer data, but struggle to identify and extract valuable insights from it? An AI platform that comes with real-time analytics tools and the services of advisors, like Univation, can automate your bookkeeping and give you support to make better decisions.

An AI platform like Univation can also help businesses spot patterns within performance or financial data across multiple locations--something that’s of particular interest to, for instance, franchisers or professional corporations. A Deloitte advisor can use this data to pull out insights in real time, contributing to additional growth.

Finally, look for cloud-based applications that allow you to customize, and that will scale as your business grows. Univation has partnered with QuickBooks to consistently deliver insights to businesses at every stage of growth. After all, what good is AI if you can’t use it to stay on top of your finances?

No matter what financial platform you choose, embrace the potential offered by AI. The intelligence may be artificial, but the benefits are very real.





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