How to Use AI for Decision Making in Your Small Business

To the average person, artificial intelligence (AI) seems like the tool of billionaires and mega-corporations. It exists but it doesn’t seem very accessible in terms of public availability or cost. And if you’re thinking of AI as a communicative, robotic entity with human-like intelligence, you’re right—this type of technology isn’t truly available.

But AI is plentiful and useful in a wide variety of different forms today, many of which are valuable even to small business owners. In fact, you may already be using some tools you don’t realize contain elements of AI—AI is just the term for the simulation of human thought processes, and can be applied to anything that uses a sufficiently sophisticated algorithm to analyze data or “learn” over time.

One of the best ways to leverage AI is to make better decisions, like choosing to repair or replace faulty machinery, or choosing to target a different demographic. But what’s the best way to incorporate AI in your decision making?

The Benefits of AI

Let’s start by focusing on what AI tends to do well:

  • Handling big swaths of data. AI usually employs powerful computing resources to process vast quantities of data at once. Human data analysts may be brilliant, but at a certain data volume, they begin to struggle. If you’re trying to make big calculations with terabytes of data, you’ll need an algorithm on your side.
  • Predicting the future. For now, AI is fundamentally unable to tell your fortune, but it is incredibly good at predicting the future based on previous data inputs. Over the past few years, especially, predictive analytics algorithms have become refined. With the help of a good algorithm and a robust data set, you can predict everything from machine performance to customer behavior.
  • Detecting anomalies. Sometimes, it’s hard for human beings to notice small outliers, but AI algorithms can detect these with precision. These tiny red flags may not always signal something wrong or aberrant, but they’re always worth investigating before making a major decision—and AI will point you in the right direction.
  • Identifying correlations. AI can also help you see correlations between otherwise seemingly unrelated variables. With the help of AI, you may uncover what’s really influencing the purchasing activity of your customers, or how your competitors are truly affecting your business.

The Limitations of AI

There are some limitations of AI as well, however:

  • Creative suggestions. While there are plenty of researchers working to try and make AI “creative,” for now, AI is unskilled at “thinking outside the box.” It may be able to explain the relationship between two data sets, but it’s not able to connect them in an ingenious way. That’s where you, the innovative-thinking entrepreneur, come into play. It’s your job to finish connecting the dots, or finding a way to embrace the AI’s suggestions in a novel way.
  • Actionability. AI also isn’t always able to make a firm recommendation for what to do with the data. In other words, it can give you a conclusion, but it can’t give you “next steps” to follow to make that conclusion worthwhile. Again, this is where the power of your human brain comes in; it’s on you to figure out a way to apply your new findings intelligently.
  • Human bias. Even though the AI is doing the heavy lifting, it’s possible for your human biases to compromise the results. For example, you may run simulations or process data in a way that eliminates or ignores certain variables, or you may specifically investigate things you’ve already made assumptions about, leading to confirmation bias.

Key Tips for Success

If you want to incorporate AI into your business, consider the following tips:

  • Choose the right tools. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of AI-powered analytics tools available on the market today. Your choice can have a massive impact on your bottom-line results. Is this tool easy to use? Does it incorporate data the right way? Is it affordable?
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself. There’s such a thing as too much AI. Don’t overbuy or overload yourself with tools.
  • Ask the right questions. AI can only answer the questions you ask it, so your first priority should be learning to ask the right questions—with as little bias as possible.
  • Trust yourself. Inevitably, you’ll come to a point where your instincts come in conflict with the AI’s predictions. In some cases, you simply have to trust yourself.

You don’t have to use AI tools to make decisions in your business, but if you don’t, you may begin to fall behind your competitors. Start looking for ways to enhance your decisions with more data and sophisticated algorithms; you may be surprised at how you view your business landscape differently.

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