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Monday, June 03, 2019

AI for Small Business

HBR's take.   A little too wordy for my taste.   These kinds  of things would work for small business if they are well packaged,  easy to set into precise personal context,  easy to interact with (assistant style) to indicate variants on basic context.  Warnings as to risk and causes.   Alerting to indicate alternative ideas and how well its operating after setting into operation.   Includes good explanations of results.

How AI Could Help Small Businesses
By Karen Mills in HBR

On a Thursday morning at 5:30 AM, Alex sipped her latte, her elbows atop the service counter. Each day at this time, the sunlight through the front window blanketed her coffee shop and she enjoyed a few moments of peace and quiet before the morning rush began. With 30 minutes to spare before she corralled her baristas for their morning pep talk (and shot of espresso), she unlocked her iPad and pulled up her most valuable assistant: her small business dashboard. In seconds, Alex’s supply advisor scoured her accounts, sales and expense histories, local weather forecasts, event information, and past tourism data, and told her she would need five new sets of filters and 1,000 plastic cups for the coming week. She ordered them from Amazon with a single touch.

Alex also knew the shop needed a new espresso machine, but she had been putting it off for over a month. With the savings in her account, she could either order the new machine now or make a payment on the term loan she had taken out two years ago to start the business. If she continued to put off a replacement, the machine could break at any moment, and espresso was the second-best selling item on the menu (after iced coffee). On the other hand, she was almost done paying off her loan, and procrastinating another month would add interest.

Alex asked her robo-adviser for advice. “You can do both,” it reported. “Given your expected sales for the month, it looks like you’ll be able to use your savings to pay down the loan and put the espresso machine on your credit card, which has available credit of $3,500. When the credit card payment comes due in 30 days, you will have the cash to pay it off, based on current sales projections.” With one tap, Alex purchased the espresso machine. After the morning pet talk with her staff, she opened the doors for the day, confident in where her small business was headed.

At the end of the day, as Alex was closing up, her bot reminded her that it was June 1, and that quarterly taxes would soon be due. She momentarily worried that she had overlooked her tax payments when buying the new espresso machine, but then the bot said, “Don’t worry. Your estimated tax payments have already been accounted for in your cash projections for June.” Finally, with a few more taps and swipes, Friday’s payroll was set, healthcare deductions were taken from her employees’ paychecks, and taxes were ready to file.

Alex’s story is fictional, but it points toward the potential for technology and specifically artificial intelligence to assist entrepreneurs and improve the small businesses they run. Make no mistake: these technologies are already changing business, and so far they seem to be providing an advantage to large companies. The question is whether they can be designed and adopted to help small businesses, not just giant companies – and on that front I am hopeful.

As technology opens the doors to vast troves of data, opportunities are emerging to create new insights on a small business’s health and prospects. Insights from this data have the potential to resolve two defining issues that have faced lenders and borrowers in the sector: heterogeneity—the fact that all small businesses are different, making it difficult to extrapolate from one example to the next—and information opacity, the fact that it is hard to know what is really going on inside a small business.  .... " 

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