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Can AI help your startup cut costs and improve efficiency?

Mar 18, 2018 | Entrepreneurship

Is artificial intelligence (AI) the answer?

You will no doubt have read how the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple are making a huge push with AI in their new products. But what does this mean for the workforce? Will it be a good thing, freeing humans from the mundane jobs and enabling them to explore their creative talents, or will it just put half the population out of work?

And as the owner of a startup, what does it mean for your business specifically?

The reality is that you don’t have to be a multinational corporation or a technology expert to integrate AI into your startup. AI is already among us, offering tangible benefits that you can embrace right now.

What AI can offer you now

AI is the ability of a machine to understand the requirements of a task in a way that replicates human intelligence, such as visual and audio recognition and interpretation.

AI is the ability of a machine to understand the requirements of a task in a way that replicates human intelligence, such as visual and audio recognition and interpretation.

The UAE is the first nation in the world to launch a government strategy on AI. The technology is already here and making waves for businesses in the region, mostly through the automation of basic tasks, learning from human input and delivering outputs from which humans can learn.

So let’s look at some key areas:

1. Speed up admin:

The sort of low-level cognitive tasks that form a large chunk of the business administration process are rapidly being automated. Google’s Gmail is a familiar example of ‘assisted intelligence’, helping the human worker by sorting emails into the most important, the promotional, the social and the junk, using ‘smart labels‘. With the average worker receiving 125 emails a day, this form of machine learning is a small but highly efficient way to filter what is important and what isn’t.

Going a few steps further, there are now AI personal assistants, such as x.ai, that will schedule or cancel meetings, send invites and provide reminders, based on a person’s calendar. All that is required is for ‘Amy’ or ‘Andrew’ to be copied into an email chain and the AI assistant takes over from there. From a startup point of view it can save the cost of a PA, or enable one PA to do the work of several.

2. Improve customer support:

This is a key component of any business, whether a startup or not. Yet it can deteriorate rapidly if those menial, repetitive and time-consuming tasks are allowed to back up. To make customer support more efficient, a startup can make use of AI software and chatbots. Digital Genius, for example, is a chatbot that utilises deep learning to provide a personalised customer experience. By analysing metadata, it can learn and adapt to provide the best automated answers to customer queries, or route them to the right human team member. All the time this frees employees to deal with more complex tasks.


3. Make marketing intelligent:

When you’re just starting out, the cost of marketing can come as a surprise. There are more layers to it than meet the eye. You have to choose your marketing channel, understand your target audience, choose placement of adverts, work with creatives and budget for pricing. AI can help with systems like InstaScaler, an automated advertising platform. It analyses website content and traffic to find your target audience and direct them to your website. It can even generate a range of banner ads quickly and on demand, which can then be adapted to multiple countries.

4. Automate sales:

Bots aren’t just helping to manage customers, they can sell to them too. An example, is a friendly online sales assistant developed by Conversica. This virtual assistant engages with customers, maintains contact with likely leads, schedules appointments with human sales reps and even cross sells. The company claims that its engagement rate is as high as 35%.

5. Get to know your customers:

Building insights into what is selling or which marketing campaign is working is vital to business survival and return on investment. AI can offer significant savings here, by analysing huge data streams far quicker than any human could. It can help analyse customer behaviour to understand what customers want or intend to buy next. Intel Saffron uses human-like reasoning to analyse data and find hidden patterns that inform decisions, improve the accuracy of predictions and even learn faster from less data. While perhaps an option more geared towards larger companies, it does highlight what will soon be available to the mainstream. Already companies like Inmoment are using AI to analyse customer feedback, especially unstructured comments, to greatly enhance customer knowledge.

6. Understand your competition:

For a startup, finding a place in a crowded market, or even opening up a new market, is one of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks. AI can help you rise to the challenge. Crayon, for example, uses machine learning to provide insights into your competitors’ digital footprints. It tracks websites, social media and news stories to unearth critical aspects of named competitors’ strategies. It even offers some of its tool for free.

7. Boost privacy and data protection:

We are creating more and more data and finding more and more ways to collect it all. This is especially the case when it comes to our customers, and the onus on businesses to protect all this information is very strong. AI is likely to become an essential tool for this, and some bigger businesses are already starting to take advantage of fledgling technologies. Most smartphones already have some form of facial or fingerprint recognition instead of a password access, and as biometrics become even more refined, we can expect this to become widespread. Startups dealing with large quantities of personal data should consider how AI could help them cope with this.

AI is likely to become an essential tool for this, and some bigger businesses are already starting to take advantage of fledgling technologies.

8. Streamline item delivery:

Flexible delivery and returns are key aspects of product fulfilment and logistics, closely tied in with customer satisfaction. Smart drive and navigation technology, currently being developed by the major players such as Google, is a real example of AI that adapts by itself without the need for human input. Imagine the possibilities of such technology when delivering your products to customers. AI robots would be able to monitor customer requests, adapt to their schedule and send a parcel out to a customer the moment they request it. Amazon Prime’s air delivery service is just the start when it comes to this future technology. 

AI, the UAE, and your business

The UAE Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031 makes some bold claims about the expected impact of AI. These include boosting the UAE’s GDP by 35% and reducing government costs by 50%. So when considering how to integrate AI into your business processes, make sure you align any AI initiatives with your core strategic goals. Think about the skills and resources you’ll need – whether a chatbot will be a better and cheaper option than hiring another member of staff, for example. Then think about how your customers might react to such a decision.

Ultimately, AI is here to stay and the biggest challenge for any startup owner is going to be ensuring they are using it to serve their customers and build their business.


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