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Harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution

18th June 2019

If you are like me, terms like ‘ artificial intelligence’ and ‘ the data revolution’ make you think science fiction. On a pessimistic day, they conjure up images of dystopian societies like Blade Runner or The Matrix. Data is the enemy, AI rules the world, humans are disempowered and cease to have relevance. Even Disney’s Wall-E shows a rather gloomy future when we have handed over to the machines. 

Image of treesPerhaps 500 years in the future that might be the case but, right now, the emerging technologies aren’t endowed with conscious thought or evil intent (that is still the domain of humanity).

The data revolution for a small business, then, gives some real opportunities and some significant challenges:

  • The responsible gathering and use of data here in the UK it has become the custom to refer to the challenges here as “GDPR” as if this is the collective term for all data management requirements. Actually, the challenge isn’t one of legislation -  it is about how you treat the data you are trusted with from your customers and suppliers.
  • Having the data you need to run your business and grow it. With automation and ease of storage, it is becoming easier and easier to collect data. But just because you can, does it mean you should? What numbers do you need to know to be able to tell if the business is doing well? Are you measuring he things that will take you towards your business goals? (Have you even defined those results in the first place?) And, if you don’t already have the data you need, how will you get it?
  • Using the data you have to great effect Data is only useful if you organise it and use it well. Then it becomes information. Often we have Management Information Tools built in to other software. That’s great but only if it is tailored to your needs and the goals you want to set. When you link the two, it can be really powerful. You can see trends and patterns. You can know how your products and services are affected by seasons, and how marketing activities change things. That is when you are able to really improvise your business because you are able to see what is working.
  • Making the most of the tools that you need. The digital landscape is changing all the time and changes in legislation are driving it even faster. Making Tax Digital may feel like a burden when you are used to a ‘simple’ spreadsheet but the cloud accounting tools that are needed can also make life easier for you in a range of other ways. Just being reminded that invoices are overdue can really help you chase payment and improve your cash flow.

If the data revolution seems a leap, Artificially intelligence seems even more so – and an expensive luxury for a small business. But, just for a moment, set aside the idea of androids and the like and think instead about simple rule-based automation. It’s not a ‘thinking machine’ but, for example, automating a sales funnel falls into this category. Or, think about how Google prioritises search results (aka ‘The algorithm’). Or even the way Amazon manages its stock control. These are all examples of simple AI that has a bearing on how you do business today.

Image of treesAs a growing business, now is the time to get informed on what is coming next and to build it into your longer terms strategy. If the business is already positioned for some of those future developments, they will be far more cost effective to implement when they become affordable. That gives you an edge over the competition who may have been caught napping.

 What can you be doing now?

  1. Have a plan that sets out your goals for you and and for your business. Where do you want to be in three to five years, and what do you want your life to be like then.
  2. Understand what you need to measure to achieve those goals and start recording and reviewing that information.
  3. Using that information, start to see where things are working well (and where not) and use this to improve your systems. Use the data to inform your decisions and to recognise progress.
  4. Review your business services to make sure they are ready for the automation that will become available to you in the future.

And, if you need help to prepare for this brave new world, Grant-Jones Accountancy offers all these services as part of its Business Growth Services. For a free initial review and to learn more, contact us now.

 

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