AI technology is not unreachable for SMEs

Economy December 18, 2018 01:00


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ARTIFICIAL Intelligence (AI) has become a business and marketing buzzword, helping enhance the value of many corporations.

According to Gartner Consulting, the aggregate business value derived from AI will rise from US$1.2 trillion (Bt39.3 trillion) in 2018 to more than $3.9 trillion (Bt 127.9 trillion) in 2022. 

Despite common understanding about AI, its actual adoption is concentrated not only in the high-tech sector, but also in other businesses such as construction, trading and even agriculture, which have accelerated its adoption to acquire more effective business solutions.

For example, sugar and energy giant Mitr Phol has employed AI throughout its processes ranging from planting, harvesting, packaging and commercialising – all leading to better inventory management that has saved the company Bt12 million since adoption.

Albeit increasing in popularity, AI remains concentrated mainly in large corporates. For instance, a combined AI investment by a few large financial institutions amounted to over Bt10 billion in the past three years. 

Why do smaller corporates rarely invest and develop their own AI, but instead wait for technological transfers from large corporates? Is it even necessary for them to develop AI by themselves?

First of all, AI development requires a vast investment of both capital and human resources. Firms have to invest in processing and data storage servers, network infrastructure, and management and monitoring systems. This requires a lot of experts such as data scientists and data engineers, who can be very expensive since they are currently in high demand.

Even if firms want to increase core compulsory skills through training, the process remains very costly and time-consuming. With such a large investment, firms with a smaller market share may not be able to achieve economies of scale, rendering their cost per unit extremely high. In addition, the results from AI development may take quite a long time to become apparent, which is not suitable for inchoate fast-growing firms.

Regardless of all the obstacles, small firms can still take advantage of AI technology.

A little bit of automation and data processing can tremendously help enhance SMEs’ efficiency. AI is not limited to a large investment and advanced technology like self-driving cars or automatic flight drones. There are affordable and accessible “off-the-shelf” AI options offered by tech juggernauts like Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

Thanks to the competitive environment, there are more than 1,000 newly generated AI features each year that SMEs can utilise to eliminate tedious routine work and enhance their competitiveness. Just applying through email at a relatively low expense, SMEs can begin the services immediately even when they are not at all familiar with AI. 

For example, traditional merchants can employ Google Cloud speech-to-text to mechanically transform customers’ voice order request into order receipts, together with Amazon Polly to robotically chat with customers via phone.

To enhance customer satisfaction, they could use the facial-recognition feature in Microsoft Face to measure satisfaction levels and then use Amazon Forecast to analyse that data to come up with customer preferences. They can also utilise Microsoft Computer Vision for object recognition in inventory management.

Those services are ready-to-use and easy to implement with an affordable price tag. You can even use them for free for small volumes.

SMEs do not need the same technology as big corporates. They just need to apply the right technology to the right tasks to elevate business growth. 

It is not about the development of AI, however; it is about acquiring the knowledge on how to use AI that should be the main focus for SMEs.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily of TMB Bank or its executives.