Thanks to recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI), we’re entering a business era that is more exciting, and evolving more rapidly, than arguably any that have gone before. These developments are not only shaping the tools and platforms we use, but the way our job roles are evolving.
For small business owners it’s particularly relevant. These people are passionate about their product, service or company but didn’t necessarily start the business because they were great at managing the books or keeping track of all the admin that comes along with it. Enter AI.
It can be a scary process for some, introducing AI into the business or using it in a way, most of us could never have imagined 10 years ago. However, it is absolutely crucial that we drive this huge potential to help businesses thrive. So, how do we do it?
We need to stay human
It feels like AI is suddenly everywhere – from driverless cars to virtual assistants on smartphones, to recommendations on sites such as amazon.com. A lot of machine learning is already ingrained in our lives – like when Spotify recommends new music to you, or Google Maps reroutes you due to heavy traffic, or when you upload a photo to Facebook and its facial recognition software identifies your friends and asks whether you’d like to tag them.
All of these are good examples of machine learning having a tangible human impact on our lives, without being particularly intrusive. It feels organic and natural, and many consumers may not have even considered that these helpful processes are driven by machine learning. The developers of these technologies clearly were meeting a human need, and that’s really important to keep in mind.
AI can’t walk the factory floor and engage with the team nor can it host meetings between two businesses looking to broker a deal. Staying connected will be crucial.
The same goes for business. Behind all of the technology advancements we’re seeing, the most useful ones are those that integrate seamlessly into current practices and meet a business need.
The driving force behind pursuing AI in business administration should be to automate repetitive tasks that take up time, and are in areas prone to inaccuracy. This makes business owners’ and administrators’ lives easier. We know small business owners, in particular, spend a lot of their own time after hours working on the administrative side of the business – the invoicing, the accounts, the bank reconciliations. Business should stay within business hours, where possible, and time spent on administrative tasks should be kept to a minimum.
Machine learning systems that provide invoice and bill code recommendations are a good example of AI in business administration. These systems improve the accuracy and speed of day to day tasks like raising invoices and bills.
Likewise, with more and more business advisors utilising cloud software with AI functions, they too have more time to support clients and provide genuine advice, rather than having time taken up on manual processes that should be automated.
We need to stay connected
These advancements in automation are certainly changing the way businesses operate. There is no doubt that industries focused on collecting and processing data will change drastically in the near future. We’re seeing it across the world. Businesses that embrace this disruption have more capacity to improve their products and services and, in turn, see their growth increase.
But it’s how we connect and engage with each other and the technology that will really make a difference. It’s not enough to introduce AI and forget about the human element of business. That is why we are confident that we aren't walking into a scenario where robots take over - AI can’t walk the factory floor and engage with the team nor can it host meetings between two businesses looking to broker a deal. Staying connected will be crucial.
It’s clear that automation and machine learning is revolutionising businesses. The next step is for businesses to identify and embrace technology in order to be more efficient. After all, when businesses thrive, jobs are created, economies become more resilient, communities prosper - and isn't that what we are all trying to achieve for NZ Inc?
Craig Hudson is New Zealand country manager at Xero.
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