AI Is Coming To The SMB – Don’t Get Left Behind

I’ve been thinking recently about how AI will start its encroachment into small and medium business. Whether we like it or not, AI is rapidly moving into large business as they try to take advantage of what AI can offer in the way of superior decision making, better UI / UX, user recommendations, price setting and capacity planning to name a few. Not only are the decisions coming from these AI processes superior than the ones humans make, they are faster, in real time, and done 24/7. AI and deep learning algorithms work best with data and a lot of it. As more data is captured, the utility of these algorithms can quickly exceed that of their human counterparts. Small and medium businesses are no stranger to accumulating huge stockpiles of data over years of doing business. Typically, within business platforms such as ERP systems, the older this data gets, the more unlikely it will ever be used in business decisions. However, this data is a gold mine when we start talking about deep learning algorithms.

It seems to me the natural progression of this is that we will see the big ERP vendors take advantage of the rise of AI by applying their AI IP to their customers data. This will be aided in part by their customers using these vendors’ cloud products, where massive amounts of data spanning across thousands of customers are available to their applications. Vendors will have to tackle some privacy issues in putting their customers’ minds at ease on how their data is parsed, but I don’t think this will be an issue in stopping this huge market opportunity.

Here is a small list of areas where I see AI and deep learning making its first appearance in ERP:

  • Predicting future cash flows of the company
  • Manual processes automation
  • Any repetitive processes automation
  • Liquidity management (very important for the SME)
  • Searching for something; assistance
  • Scheduling a meeting in the company – “I want a one hour meeting with Anna next week”

These systems will work automatically in many cases and will simply alert the user to some finding or action that may need to be taken. There may be some initial false positives, but once in place, the speed and accuracy of these tools will move at a blistering pace.

Another consideration is the extent of the disruption this will cause, as businesses adopt these platforms to outcompete rivals by smarter use of AI and deep learning. I feel the advantage will be bestowed on those companies using cloud-based ERP from some of the big vendors like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft, who will have more data available to these algorithms when they come online. At some not-too-distant date, AI will be rolled out in one of the frequent software updates and suddenly businesses will be taking advantage of their power. Businesses that adopt ERP when AI takes effect will simply not have enough legacy data to take full advantage of their benefits. Perhaps AI will become a commodity and it may come down to a game of ‘data wars’ where companies with more data win.

Time will tell how this story plays out. Until then, this reality needs to be considered when businesses make decisions today in assessing their IT roadmap and selecting applications and platforms to run their business on leading into this new era.