Finding an AI Vendor: A Small Business Owner’s Guide – Small Business Trends

Finding an AI Vendor: A Small Business Owner’s Guide – Small Business Trends

Artificial intelligence (AI) has moved from the domain of data scientists and researchers to entrepreneurs and consumers. This has created great opportunities for companies providing or looking to provide AI related services and those consuming it, whether it be other businesses or individuals.

Why jump on the AI bandwagon? By many accounts, the technology is slated to improve global GDP by trillions of dollars. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, AI has the potential to contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy and boost local economies up to 26 percent by 2030. In its report, PwC also classified 300 AI use cases for the technology across virtually all industries.

This optimism is driven by what AI is capable of doing, which is to improve productivity and automate tasks and roles. With new levels of efficiency, companies can introduce more variety, personalization and affordability, which PwC says will drive consumer demand. So how do you get from here to there?

As a Business Consumer

As a business, you have to assume your competition already has some form of AI as part of its operation, and it is up and running. The question is, do you want a turnkey solution or build a custom platform? The choice you make will depend on your need and budget.

Fortunately, the market now has service providers with turnkey solutions designed to integrate with existing applications already used for business functions. Whether it is customer relationship management, digital commerce, operations, productivity or security — you have options.

If you have the team to build on machine-learning-as-a-service (MLaaS) platforms like Microsoft, you can use these services to optimize the data you have within their ecosystem. This approach provides the best of both worlds because it won’t cost as much as custom solutions, but you will be able to tailor some functions to address your specific needs. Again, this makes sense if you have the talent in-house or you can afford the cost of building on the MLaaS platform with an outside hire.

Even if you are a small business, your needs may be beyond the scope of turnkey solutions. This will require securing the services of an AI development company. The process is complex, time consuming, and expensive. It will require the AI firm to identify your business challenges, go through the whole of your organization, and examine your technology, workflow and more. It then builds a custom AI solution to optimize your company across the board.

As a Service Provider

Artificial intelligence applications can include cognitive computing, machine and deep learning, predictive APIs, natural language processing, image and speech recognition, and much more. As a service provider, you can opt to add these features to optimize the current crop of services you offer in cloud and data storage for healthcare, finance, manufacturing and other industries.

With the right partnership, you can integrate AI services into your products. Microsoft helps its partners layer in sophisticated AI capabilities by guiding them with resources for developing AI strategies, acquiring new skills and marketing the new services.

Providing AI enabled solutions is a must for service providers now and in the future. International Data Corporation (IDC) says 75 percent of developer teams will include cognitive and AI functionality in one or more applications in 2018. And it predicts 40 percent of all digital transformation initiatives and 100 percent of all effective IoT efforts will be supported by cognitive/AI capabilities.

Choosing the Right Company

Whichever option you select, it is important to clearly identify the problems you want AI to resolve. The number of vendors is growing for all segments, so due diligence is key to ensure you get the right fit.

When a new technology gets as much hype as AI, it can get very difficult to know what is real as vendors embellish the services they can provide. For this reason, Gartner recommends asking the following questions when vetting vendors:

  1. What AI method is being proposing for the solution?
  2.  How robust or brittle will the implementation be in terms of the resources needed to deploy and manage it?
  3. How much training data is needed to “prime” the solution, and how often will it need to be retrained?

Another point to remember is that just because a company claims its solution is AI doesn’t mean it is. Gartner says the company might be using classic machine learning (ML) solutions instead of newer technologies such as deep learning.

Writing on the Y Combinator blog, entrepreneur Ivan Novikov recommends five other questions small business owners should ask potential vendors.

  1. Can the company give you a stand-alone demo?
  2. Can you use your own data?
  3. What are their data sources and sizes?
  4. What are the details of their algorithm?
  5. Do they have reference customers you could interview?

Gartner points out the process should be thorough because introducing an AI solution as part of your organization will introduce certain risks, complexities and costs.

But if properly implemented, small businesses can reap tremendous rewards from use of AI to gain a competitive advantage in a rapidly changing market. For more on providing cloud solutions including AI, contact Meylah.

Photo via Shutterstock

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