How four small businesses are getting a bang for their AI buck

Companies with less spending power have been relatively slow to adopt AI, but SMEs around the world are demonstrating how it can be genuinely transformative, even on a modest budget

How Smes Are Using Ai

Many British SMEs have been slow to adopt AI technologies. A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 48% of 700 small- to medium-sized businesses have no plans to use AI, rising to 58% for customer-facing businesses.

Reasons for the relatively slow uptake among SMEs include concerns about costs, reliability, privacy and scam risks and a general lack of understanding about the technology. But across the world, SMEs have found ways to successfully use AI solutions to enhance their operations. 

Away from the industries that spend big on AI, such as financial services, healthcare and telecommunications, SMEs across different sectors and markets, such as these four examples, are quietly transforming their businesses without eliminating the human factor.

GetTransfer on developing its own AI solutions

GetTransfer, a service that matches airport passengers with rides, has expanded globally from its Hong Kong base, with AI playing an important role. Company founder Alexander Pershikov says its driver bidding system was initially based on machine learning and has “transitioned seamlessly” to AI. Now, the company uses AI tools for a range of applications.

“AI enables us to analyse and categorise emails based on their intent, automate software testing with digital assistants and streamline various processes, such as creating service-level agreements and managing them – these AI and machine learning processes eliminate a significant number of person-hours, save costs and expedite product launches,” Pershikov explains.

While many companies opt to use external partners to ease their AI transition, GetTransfer team members have developed their own solutions.

“Our advanced AI is designed to help drivers determine the optimal price for their services, and helps clients find a better driver for a better price,” says Pershikov. “Truth be told, developing our own proprietary AI solutions has been a focus of our team for quite some time now.”

He advocates a team effort combined with strong leadership for this digital transformation process. “As the head of your company, you should clearly communicate the benefits of AI and address any concerns among employees,” says Pershikov, adding that resource allocation and ethical implications are key considerations.

“Leaders must make decisions about the allocation of resources, including time, money and personnel, to support AI initiatives – they need to balance the investment in AI technology with other competing priorities and ensure that it is justified by the potential return on investment,” he continues. “And leaders must address the ethical implications of implementing AI technology, including potential biases, job displacement and data privacy concerns as they have the responsibility to ensure that AI is deployed ethically and responsibly within their organisation.”

Personalising product recommendations with FC Beauty

In the UAE, Alefiyah Johar co-founded FC Beauty, a skincare company that has become part of a 55-year-old group of Dubai-based companies, which sell to customers worldwide. FC Beauty started its AI journey by personalising product recommendations for customers, providing customer assistance via chatbots and analysing customer needs from social media engagement. 

Now the company has incorporated AI predictive analytics for inventory management, Johar explains: “This helps us forecast demand for our products, optimise inventory levels, prevent stock outages and ensures that we have the right products available at the right time to meet customer demand.”

In contrast to GetTransfer’s internal development of AI solutions, FC Beauty collaborates extensively with external partners. 

“By involving external experts in AI development and implementation, we can leverage the most current technologies and industry best practices, achieving cost-effective solutions,” she says. “Their guidance and support play a crucial role in mitigating risks – this approach significantly contributes to the seamless integration of AI into our business processes while proactively addressing potential risks.”

For Johar, the top three responsibilities for leaders are prioritising addressing ethical implications so her team employs AI technology “responsibly and transparently”, emphasising data-driven decision-making as part of company culture and aligning AI initiatives with strategic goals for “tangible business value.”

PhoenixFire Design’s AI ‘efficiency bump’

Businesses that need to create content can benefit from AI applications, although as John Fuller, founder of graphic design firm Phoenixfire Design and Consulting, stresses, using affordable, accessible tools, such as ChatGPT and Google Bard, should not replace humans. Instead, he says using AI in a creative context enhances efficiency. 

In the case of Phoenixfire, Fuller says the company doesn’t approach any content it has generated by AI as complete: “Either it is a first draft, something that needs to be hand-verified or edited or modified to fit our needs.”

“Generative AI is bringing the projects we use it for to a level of about 80% complete instead of starting at a blank page,” Fuller explains. “We got a huge bump in efficiency once we worked out the prompt engineering – the way you ask questions drastically changes the results you get back.”

Fuller has been keeping AI costs to a minimum with ChaptGPT and Google Bard, which has been used in-house without involving external collaborators. However, he is open to partnerships in the future, explaining that the company’s approach will change as more people start using AI applications: “We tend towards early adoptions of new technologies, so currently we are learning the tools internally.”

How Allcasting is using AI to improve diversity

In addition to content creation applications, AI is making its mark in other creative industries, despite some fears it will replace jobs. The recently resolved Hollywood actors’ strike was largely over concerns that the voices and images of actors would be replaced using AI tools. However, Kate Taurina, head of the casting directors’ department at Allcasting, a company that connects performance artists and models to auditions, says that thanks to AI “the future of talent casting has already come”.

Allcasting uses AI-powered platforms for virtual auditions and talent discovery, reshaping the way new talent is found, auditioned and cast: “We are working with the new, AI-powered search systems that allow us to promote diversity and inclusivity in the talent industry.” 

This will make it easier for casting directors to find the right talent for their projects and ensure they are casting actors who are representative of the diverse world we live in, and for talents, this translates into faster and more optimised casting options and jobs that are better fit to their profiles,” she says, adding that Allcasting is currently considering potential collaborations with external partners to further leverage AI’s potential. 

For SMEs, keeping up with the pace of change means that investment in AI technology needs to be smart and strategic, as summed up by Taurina: “It is best to consider resource allocation – decisions on employees, timeframes, implementation, infrastructure and budgets should be discussed prior to investing in AI tools – AI gives the best results when coupled with a human touch.”