Artificial Intelligence – a reality for small businesses?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionising how we live. The impact of the technology is so far reaching that this one blog can’t cover every aspect of it, so here we cover its beginnings, every day uses and look at how small businesses could use AI.

The Oxford Dictionary describes AI as:

the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

According to, the beginnings of modern AI can be traced to classical philosophers' attempts to describe human thinking as a symbolic system. But the field of AI wasn't formally founded until 1956, when at a conference at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was coined.

AI in everyday life

Decades of development have evolved AI from a concept to a sophisticated tool that helps improve our everyday lives through:

  • Virtual voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana or Bixby

  • Web connected gadgets such as smart watches, smart thermostat and lighting systems such as Nest and Hive

  • Facial recognition technology

  • Sophisticated mapping systems such as Google or Apple Maps

  • Predictive text

  • Chat bots

  • Parking aids/self-driving cars

Spotlight on AI in healthcare

AI has made a huge impact in all sorts of industries, but particularly in healthcare. The UK Government has said it wants AI and data to “transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030”. Already in place is Google’s DeepMind firm who have been working with Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust since 2016 to help clinicians improve the way serious eye conditions are diagnosed and treated. DeepMind has developed AI technology that’s able to automatically identify sight-threatening eye conditions within seconds, and rank patients in order of urgency for treatment. The company says its system has matched the accuracy of eye doctors with 20 years’ experience.

HeartFlow Analysis is another example of AI based tech which has been rolled out in the NHS and aids the diagnosis of coronary heart disease. Using data captured by a CT scan, it generates a 3D model of a patient's heart, and applies deep learning techniques to predict the impact and disruption of any blockages.

This system is much less invasive and significantly cheaper than the standard angiogram procedure.

Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge is the first hospital in the world to use InnerEye, an AI deep-learning tool from Microsoft Research Cambridge that accelerates the treatment of cancer patients. The technology computes hospital data to accurately identify tumours on patient scans, cutting CT processing times and treatment planning by up to 90%.

The toolkit could potentially reduce the waiting time for cancer treatment that has built up over the pandemic without compromising on the quality of care. Microsoft has also made the InnerEye software opensource and freely available in order to democratise care and ensure that as many people as possible can benefit from the tool.


Is AI something which could work for small businesses?

AI can work in businesses of all shapes and sizes - we’ve identified three areas where it could make a particular impact for small businesses:


1. Easing the load on call centres

When there is extra demand placed on your call centre, or you have staff on leave, a web-based chat bot is a way to serve customers via your website. Answering questions in a short amount of time, chatbots use AI techniques such as natural language understanding and pattern recognition to store and distinguish between the context of the information provided and continually learn from every encounter which means they elicit a suitable response for future replies.

2. Improving CRM

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are designed to gather customer data across communication channels such as email, phone and social with the purpose of helping improve and even automate the sales process. Platforms such as Salesforce have begun implementing AI that helps small business owners analyse customer feedback from those communication channels and then automatically adjust marketing and lead generation activities based on that information.

3. Keeping an eye on competitors

Several AI tools have been created to deliver competitor intelligence, enabling businesses of all sizes to keep tabs on everything their competitors do online, gathering the data and then distilling it into easy-to-read reports. Competitor analysis tool Crayon, automatically captures competitors’ movements in real time and allows the customer to tap into more than one hundred different data types across millions of competitive intelligence sources to stay on top of product updates, messaging pivots, executive team changes, and more. Not something that could be achieved by human effort in the same time frame!


The future

AI is something which will continue to evolve year after year, gradually transforming our work and home lives. For organisations in all sectors and of all sizes, it’s worth keeping tabs on how AI technology is developing and seeing whether it generates something worth considering for your business in the future.


Need help? If you have a business challenge, we could help you solve it through technology.

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October 2021