Remember the movie Hidden Figures?
Set in the 1960s, it is based on the true story of three black women who worked at NASA in that era. One of them was Dorothy Vaughan. As a human computer at NASA's Langley Research Center, Dorothy had a brilliant mind for mathematics. And so did all the women in the West Computing Group where she worked.
However, NASA was not planning on using human computers indefinitely. Dorothy sees that the company had acquired the IBM 7090 Data Processing System which has the capacity of computing 24,000 multiplications per second. Upon hearing this, one of Dorothy’s coworkers exclaims, “They’ll never get that to work”.
“It’ll run eventually” Dorothy replies “and when it does, we have to know how to program it. Unless you would rather be out of a job.” To which all the ladies respond, “No, ma’am”. So, she starts training herself and the women who were working under her on how to use a programming language named Fortran.
Later in the movie, Dorothy is told that NASA will soon be dissolving the computing groups. But as for her, she was to be given a reassignment from working as a human computer to operating the IBM machine.
That is when Dorothy says the following memorable words: “I am not accepting reassignment unless I bring my ladies with me. We’re going to need a lot of manpower to program that beast. I can’t do it alone. My gals are ready. They can do the work.”
Her demand is accepted. So, back at the West Computing Group she announces, “Ladies, we’ve been reassigned. Leave your calculators. You won’t need them where we’re going.” And off they march to program the IBM machine, their confident walk accompanied by their excited chatter. With triumphant music playing in the background, this becomes one of the best scenes in the movie.
The story of Dorothy Vaughan nicely illustrates the situation most employers today find themselves in as the AI revolution is taking the world by storm. Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the world of work, creating new opportunities and challenges for businesses of all sizes.
And employers, including small business owners have a choice: they can either do nothing and get left behind or they can be like Dorothy – teach themselves and their employees how to “program that beast” so that all can have that “triumphant walk” where no one is left behind.
So, as a small business owner, how can you ride the AI wave instead of letting it crash on and drown you? How can you leverage AI to improve your products, services, processes, and customer experience? How will AI affect your workforce, your competitive advantage, and your future growth?
In this blog post, we will explore some of the ways that small business owners can equip themselves and their employees to thrive in an AI-powered economy. We will also share some tips and resources to help you get started on your AI journey.
1. Understand the basics of AI and its applications.
AI is a broad term that encompasses various technologies that enable machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.
As a small business owner, familiarizing yourself with the basics of AI and its applications in your field is vital in order to keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape. You can do this by reading articles, watching videos, listening to podcasts, taking online courses, or attending webinars and events.
You can begin by reading our blog series on AI:
- Why You Need to Learn about AI
- What Is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
- The History of AI: A Brief Overview
- How to Use Generative AI to Improve Customer Service in Small Businesses
- Ask ChatGPT: How to Use Generative AI to Create Content
- The Basics of Prompt Engineering
- Conversation with Pi: Observations and Lessons
You can also consult with experts or peers who have experience with AI or join online communities and networks that focus on AI topics.
By understanding the basics of AI and its applications, you will be able to identify the opportunities and challenges that AI presents for your business. You will also be able to communicate effectively with your employees, customers, partners, and suppliers about AI-related issues.
2. Assess your current situation and identify your goals.
Before you decide to adopt or implement AI in your business, it is crucial that you assess your current situation and identify your goals. You can start by asking yourself questions such as:
- What are the main problems or pain points that you want to solve or improve with AI?
- What are the benefits or outcomes that you expect from using AI?
- What are the costs or risks involved in using AI?
- What are the skills or resources that you need to use AI?
- What are the ethical or legal implications of using AI?
By answering these questions, you will be able to define your scope and priorities for using AI in your business. You will also be able to set realistic and measurable objectives and indicators to track your progress and evaluate your results.
3. Choose the right AI solution for your needs.
Once you have defined your goals and objectives for using AI in your business, the next step is to choose the right AI solution for your needs. There are different types of AI solutions available in the market, such as:
- Off-the-shelf solutions: These are ready-made products or services that you can buy or subscribe to. They are usually cheaper and easier to use than other types of solutions, but they may not meet all your specific requirements or preferences.
- Customized solutions: These are products or services that are tailored to your specific needs or preferences by a third-party provider or developer. They are usually more expensive and complex than off-the-shelf solutions, but they offer more flexibility and functionality than other types of solutions.
- In-house solutions: These are products or services that are developed by yourself or your own team using existing tools or platforms. They are usually the most expensive and difficult type of solution to create and maintain, but they offer the most control and ownership over the solution.
As a small business owner, take time to weigh the pros and cons of each type of solution and choose the one that best suits your budget, timeline, capabilities, and expectations. You may also need to consider factors such as:
- The quality and reliability of the solution
- The compatibility and interoperability of the solution with your existing systems and processes
- The scalability and adaptability of the solution to changing needs and conditions
- The security and privacy of the solution
- The support and maintenance of the solution
You can also compare different solutions based on their features, reviews, ratings, testimonials, case studies, demos, trials, or references.
4. Train yourself and your employees on how to use AI effectively.
After you have chosen an AI solution for your business, it is now time to train yourself and your employees on how to use it effectively. Depending on the type and complexity of the solution, you may need to provide different levels of training. For example:
- Basic training: This is for everyone who needs to understand the basics of AI and its applications in your business. It covers topics such as what is AI, how it works, why it is important, what are its benefits and risks, what are its ethical and legal implications, and how to use it responsibly and respectfully.
- Intermediate training: This is for everyone who needs to use or operate the AI solution in your business. It covers topics such as how to access, configure, manage, monitor, troubleshoot, and optimize the AI solution, as well as how to interpret, analyze, and act on the outputs or insights generated by the AI solution.
- Advanced training: This is for everyone who needs to develop, customize, or improve the AI solution in your business. It covers topics such as how to design, build, test, deploy, and update the AI solution, as well as how to use advanced tools or techniques to enhance the performance or functionality of the AI solution.
You can provide training in various formats and methods, such as online courses, webinars, workshops, tutorials, guides, manuals, videos, podcasts, or quizzes. You can also use gamification, simulation, or feedback mechanisms to make the training more engaging and effective.
Moreover, a bit of a cultural shift is necessary. Encourage continuous learning and improvement among yourself and your employees by providing regular updates, feedback, support, and incentives for using AI in your business.
5. Evaluate and improve your AI solution and strategy.
Finally, it is essential that you evaluate and improve your AI solution and strategy on a regular basis. Measure and monitor the results and impacts of using AI in your business against your predefined objectives and indicators.
Also, collect and analyze feedback and data from your employees, customers, partners, and suppliers on their experiences and satisfaction with using AI in your business.
Based on your evaluation and analysis, you can identify the strengths and weaknesses of your AI solution and strategy. You can also identify the opportunities and threats that may arise from using AI in your business. You should then make adjustments or improvements to your AI solution and strategy accordingly.
Lastly, keep yourself updated on the latest trends and developments in AI and its applications in your field. By evaluating and improving your AI solution and strategy regularly, you will be able to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of using AI in your business. You will also be able to stay ahead of the competition and adapt to the changing needs and expectations of your customers.
AI is a powerful technology that can help small business owners improve their products, services, processes, and customer experience. However, using AI also requires careful planning, preparation, implementation, and evaluation. By following the steps outlined in this blog post, you will be able to prepare yourself and your employees for an AI-powered economy.
Here at Intelligent Work, we offer a digital advisory service that is tailored to your needs. We can make a holistic diagnosis of your business to help you see your opportunities for growth so that you can harness the benefits of digital adoption and AI. Find out more about our services or schedule a free consultation to get more information.