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The Small Business AI-Readiness Guide

If you’re a small business owner or manager looking to embrace AI technology tools in 2024, you’re in good company. Scotiabank’s annual small business report,  Path to Impact , revealed that nearly half of Canadian small businesses believe the integration of AI technology will help grow their business and 44% said they’re interested in adopting it. Similarly, in a recently released  Small Business State of Mind Report , 80% of respondents said they were interested in learning more about how to apply AI to their business. However, in the same report, 67% of respondents admitted they knew little to nothing about AI and only 10% had a good understanding of how to use AI for work.

For those SMBs looking to reap the benefits of AI but aren’t sure where to start, read on for some helpful tips and advice to get started.

What is AI?

AI is not one single technology, but instead a collection of different technologies found in the apps, devices and search engines most small businesses are already using. AI can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence like speech recognition, decision-making, and language translation.

Your organization may already be using AI for tasks like building customer-service chatbots or crafting product descriptions, but AI has a multitude of uses. It can certainly help to speed up a process you’re already doing, but it could also help you reimagine how essential tasks are done to make them more efficient.

The Small Business AI-Readiness Guide

How can AI help grow my business?

With the pace of work on a constant  incline  and employees reporting high levels of stress and burnout, AI offers the potential to hit pause on that endless treadmill and allow companies of all sizes to refocus on the work that matters instead of the mundane, repetitive tasks that eat up time.

In the latest Work Trend Index report from Microsoft, which surveys employees and business leaders across the globe, the data found that nearly  2 in 3 employees  struggle with having the time and energy to do their job and those people are 3.5x more likely to struggle with innovation and strategic thinking. Small business owners too  report  that they are too focused on daily tasks to focus on innovation.

When we’re dedicating much or even most of our time to low-impact tasks, we aren’t putting enough time into the high-impact tasks that help SMBs grow. In today’s economy, that can mean the difference between companies that thrive and companies that struggle. By adopting AI tools that speed up workflow and reduce the mental load of menial tasks, we can refocus on the things that matter.

How do I get started?

The first step is to identify opportunities where AI can help create efficiencies for you and your team. Identify key pain points, untapped possibilities and key performance indicators, then identify those AI solutions that will drive your goals forward.  The Microsoft Small Business Resource Centre  is a great place to start building your understanding of the types of AI solutions available to you and your team and what’s on the horizon.

How can I help my team to safely engage with AI?

Like any new technology, training and onboarding is an important consideration when introducing AI at work. AI has incredible potential to change the course of your business, but only if your team knows how to use it effectively and ethically.

Here are some important considerations when introducing AI tools at work:

  • Develop clear guidelines  for interacting with and using AI in your business based on your companies’ values and needs


  • Establish a human-centered process:  AI is meant to augment our work and will always need human input and oversight.


  • Implement continuous learning : Training isn’t a one-time thing. AI technology is constantly advancing and improving and filling skill gaps will be key to using these technologies successfully.

To learn more about the free skilling and coursework opportunities available to your business, visit  AI Skills Initiative.

As businesses who hold the most growth potential, SMBs are poised to reap the greatest benefits from AI. Today’s AI tools can help businesses automate business operations to grow, cut costs and


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