Australian SMEs at Risk of Being Left Behind on AI

Fewer than one-in-five Australian SMEs are using GenAI, despite the low cost and barrier to entry. IT pros can help SMEs implement AI now.

2023 has been the year of generative AI, and it’s just getting started. It’s likely we haven’t even predicted the full impact that tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard will have. As a report by McKinsey made clear earlier this year: “The expected business disruption from gen AI is significant, and respondents predict meaningful changes to their workforces. They anticipate workforce cuts in certain areas and large reskilling efforts to address shifting talent needs.”

Yet despite this, and at risk of sticking to old ways of doing business that will ultimately put them at risk, Australian small and midsize businesses are struggling to embrace the opportunity of AI. New research by MYOB shows that only 19% of Australian SMEs are currently utilising AI in their operations. Only another 21% of SMEs have plans to adopt AI in the near future, which means that 60% are either unsure how to get involved in AI or simply unaware of it as a business opportunity.

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What SMEs that overlook AI miss out on

A report earlier this year by banking fintech, Zeller, found that 85% of small business owners are seeking cost-cutting measures and believe that there is “an urgent need for creative solutions to help support growth.” Meanwhile, GetApp research found that 53% of SMEs were increasing their social media budget, with 50% of that increase going into content creation (Figure A).

Graph showing areas where Australian SMEs are increasing their social media budgets.
Figure A: Areas where Australian SMEs are increasing their social media budgets. Image: GetApp

These are all areas where AI can significantly assist SMEs, yet because so few are working with AI, many are missing out on the opportunity and consequently leaving themselves with more manual and labour-intensive work to do.

According to the research by MYOB, those SMEs that are leveraging AI are using it for the following tasks:

  • Social media and social marketing content (49%).
  • Copywriting for marketing materials and press releases (34%).
  • Copywriting for technical documents (25%).
  • Market, trend and risk analysis (25%).

In short, generative tools, which can create text and art assets quickly, are an opportunity for SMEs to cut costs and time spent in generating content — particularly creative assets.

SEE: Learn how to write effective prompts for AI art generators.

Those that do embrace AI to reduce time and expenditure on these things, the MYOB research says, are able to redirect the time to growing the business (44%), innovating (24%) and developing new products and services (24%).

Essentially, those businesses will be in a better position to prepare their businesses to move with agility and tackle market dynamics.

Why some SMEs are struggling

As noted by an OECD report on the challenges SMEs are currently facing: “many small firms continue to lack the skills needed to fully leverage on the potential of digital technologies.” The same report found that SMEs have accelerated their uptake of digital tools and participation, including with social media and cloud services, but seem unaware of how they can jump into AI.

For those IT pros who are working in small business, or are managed services providers for an SME, this situation is an opportunity to support the business in making a critical leap that could mean the difference between an ultimately successful and growth-oriented SME and one that struggles through the disruption.

How SMEs can get involved with generative AI

Taking advantage of generative AI is neither technically complex nor resource-intensive. However, it does require two things that are in short supply for most SMEs: the right skills and training within the organisation to execute on an AI strategy, and an understanding of where AI will deliver the best results.

To assist with this, IT pros can drive a simple, three-step strategy towards AI.

Better understand where the potential for generative AI is

An internal IT pro or MSP can play a crucial role in helping SMEs understand the potential of generative AI and how it can be applied to their specific business context. This would involve a thorough assessment of the SME’s operations, identifying areas where AI can add the most value the quickest and developing a strategic roadmap for AI adoption.

Build the systems to support the AI

IT pros or MSPs can provide the technical expertise needed to implement and manage AI systems. This includes selecting the right AI technologies, setting up the necessary hardware and software infrastructure, ensuring data security and privacy and troubleshooting any technical issues that may arise.

SEE: The debate around AI ethics in Australia is falling behind.

They can also help SMEs navigate the complex landscape of AI vendors and products and choose solutions that best meet their needs and budget. Most SMEs will have limited or non-existent budgets for AI systems, so in many cases, the goal will be to identify where the free AI tools available will add the most value.

Ensure the systems and data points are kept updated

An IT pro or MSP can offer ongoing support and maintenance for AI systems. This is particularly important as AI can make mistakes and needs to be monitored to ensure that the results are delivering value to the SME. This means ensuring that the analytics systems are robust and that there are insights generated within them to help the SME owner make informed decisions about the ongoing use of AI.

AI is not an area SMEs can afford to fall behind on

SMEs are typically laggards with IT innovation, assuming it will either be too expensive or technically complex to implement until after it has filtered through the enterprise and mid-market. AI is different, however.

The typical SME might not be able to have a team of data scientists creating complex AI models, but they can start leveraging tools to help them run a more efficient and productive business. For any IT pro working in this space, 2024 will be dominated by looking for ways to articulate this value to the business owners and then getting them to bridge the gap and embrace the opportunity.

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.