SCORE

There are always topics that buzz through the business community. Some are like fads, here today, gone tomorrow, while others are indicators of things to come.

Last year, businesses of all sizes were constantly hearing about artificial intelligence (AI) and business disruption.

Will we still be talking about them in 2018? Will they matter to your small business?

Artificial Intelligence

While you’re reading this, I’ll be at CES 2018 and will be able to tell you more about AI when I get back. But, meanwhile, many are saying 2018 is the year businesses of all sizes will embrace AI.

In fact, Abinash Tripathy, founder and CSO of Helpshift, predicts this year “AI will transition from mainly supporting the routine consumer experience to supporting the brand experience.” Tripathy adds:

  • We’re getting used to Siri and Alexa, but now we’re going to see it in transactional and technical parts of conducting business.
  • B2Cs selling commodity products that are the first to deploy chatbots and AI stand to gain market share by creating new and highly personalized experiences for their customers. The most forward-thinking B2B brands will also learn from B2C’s use of AI.
  • Our research shows 52 percent of Americans gave customer service a C grade, but we expect that to rise to a B (or at least C+) by the end of the year as chatbots make customer service more responsive and more personalized.
  • In fact, 55 percent of all Americans—and 65 percent of millennials—want chatbots involved in the customer service process. This is expected to rise to 65 percent of all Americans and 75 percent of millennials.

Research firm Gartner says by 2022 about 20 percent of workers engaged in mostly non-routine tasks will rely on AI to do their jobs. “Using AI to auto-generate a weekly status report or pick the top five emails in your inbox doesn’t have the same wow factor as, say, curing a disease would, which is why these near-term, practical uses go unnoticed,” says Craig Roth, research vice president at Gartner. “Companies are just beginning to seize the opportunity to improve non-routine work through AI by applying it to general-purpose tools. Once knowledge workers incorporate AI into their work processes as a virtual secretary or intern, robo-employees will become a competitive necessity.”

AI and robotics will also impact the retail industry.

Gartner says, “Retailers will use intelligent process automation to identify, optimize and automate labor-intensive and repetitive activities that are currently performed by humans, reducing labor costs through efficiency from headquarters to distribution centers and stores. Many retailers are already expanding technology use to improve the in-store check-out process.”

But robots will not be replacing your salespeople anytime soon. The research suggests many consumers prefer to interact with knowledgeable sales associates when shopping. Gartner says, “Though they will reduce labor used for check-out and other operational activities, retailers will find it difficult to eliminate traditional sales advisers.”

There’s more about AI in the Gartner Special Report Applying Artificial Intelligence to Drive Business Transformation.

Business Disruption

In the last few years, it seems many businesses were judged as lacking if they weren’t considered industry “disruptors.” And so tons of businesses focused on disrupting, and forgot about focusing on the reason they were in business to begin with.

Steve Blank is a serial entrepreneur, author, professor, VC, father of the lean business movement, and more. I consider him an entrepreneurial seer. He believes businesses cannot be disruptive all the time. It’s vital to keep doing what you’re doing to bring in revenues. And then, Blank advises, create “an innovation pipeline—a culture of experimentation.” Only about 10 percent of what you try to create will actually work, so if you want to accomplish two big things in 2018, you need to experiment with at least 20.

If you’re not failing, Blank believes, you’re not experimenting enough. The key, he says, bucking the now ubiquitous advice to “fail fast,” is to “learn fast” instead. To succeed, you need to fail at the “right times and places” and to fail during the experimentation phase “not during execution.”

If this all seems overwhelming, you can get help—for free—from a SCORE mentor. They can help you wade through these and other issues, and figure out what’s best for your small business.