By John Swanciger

The evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) is creating new opportunities for small businesses across industries to increase productivity and keep up with popular technology. According to industry projections, small businesses will increasingly adopt AI solutions, beginning with third-party apps and eventually progressing to proprietary tools.

While AI may seem daunting, there are easy ways for small business owners to begin harnessing the power of AI-enabled tools and software. By focusing first on more basic solutions like Amazon Alexa, small business owners can improve their organizational strategies and ease accounting burdens, to name a few.

  1. Embrace AI-driven organizational solutions. AI applications can be used to improve everything from employee training and new skill development to scheduling business meetings and responding to simple customer requests. With knowledge-based tools and software focusing on administrative tasks, small business owners and their employees are able to spend their time on more complex jobs like defining strategy and setting goals.
  2. Utilize AI accounting solutions. Accounting can be cumbersome, especially for small businesses with only a few employees. That’s where automated tasks like expense reporting can come in handy. According to Accenture, 80 percent of accounting and finance tasks will be delivered by cross-functional teams (AI and humans working together) by 2020. Some AI accounting platforms already exist, such as the SMACC program (AI-enabled finance management). These tools can prepare invoices, set reminders for payments, and perform other accounting tasks. They can also track core business functions to improve budgeting strategies. By automating this process, small business owners can greatly reduce the demand on their time, ultimately turning an hours-per-week responsibility into something that takes just minutes per day.
  3. Take advantage of relevant Alexa skills. New AI personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home are popular in private homes, but they’re also useful in business settings. Amazon’s Alexa has an expanding base of skills that are directly relevant to small businesses. For example, the Harvard Business Review Management skill provides “quick, practical management advice.” Another example is the Marketing Rich skill, which delivers “tips on how to market a small business with website SEO, social media, and email marketing.” And for business owners looking for marketing and sales advice, the Manta Small Business Flash Briefing offers simple, actionable tips, daily. These Alexa skills are an easy way for small businesses to apply AI solutions to their ongoing business management, and offer a great resource for business owners looking to make that initial leap to harnessing the power of AI.

By helping to automate tasks like organization and accounting, AI can help small business owners focus on big picture plans and overall operations. If small business owners start to feel overwhelmed by artificial intelligence, start simple with an AI assistant like Amazon’s Alexa. Once that feels comfortable, more technical forms of AI like cognitive computing and machine learning won’t be nearly as intimidating.

John Swanciger is the CEO of Manta, @Manta, one of the largest online resources dedicated to small business.