Top 5 Best Practices for Operationalizing AI


By Emily Newton,


Many people who own or operate small businesses become interested in using artificial intelligence (AI) but aren’t sure how to get started. These five best practices can help you operationalize AI for optimal results if you fall into that category.

1. Define the AI Use Case


Sometimes, a business owner primarily feels compelled to adopt AI after realizing numerous competitors have already done so. That’s understandable, but it’s ideal to identify the specific ways AI could help within an organization, including where room for improvement exists.


 Matt Dickson is the senior vice president of Stericycle Communication Solutions. He advises, “Every company should establish an AI plan, even if that plan is not implemented immediately. The first step is to have a detailed and realistic understanding of what problems AI can solve today and how it can be used to address tangible problems in a business. All too often, businesses approach AI as a solution in search of a problem when instead they should have a defined problem for AI to solve.”


Consider thinking of the most time-consuming or error-prone processes in your company. Could AI improve outcomes or reduce frustration in those cases? If so, those may be good starting points.

2. Understand the Importance of Reliable Data


There are numerous beneficial ways to rely on artificial intelligence in a small business. However, before deciding to operationalize AI, you must see the connection between data accuracy and AI success. An algorithm might be trained on data that lets it detect valuable trends. Alternatively, you might dig into information to gauge how well AI is working for your company six months or a year after implementation.


Rick Stanbridge is the chief information officer of Marco’s Pizza. He explained, “We’re utilizing AI and machine learning to project more accurate delivery times … with the goal of improving guest satisfaction and the overall customer experience. We utilize an algorithm based on machine learning that considers key data points — load time, travel time, oven speed, number of drivers, weather and traffic — to determine how long it will take for the customer’s order to be prepared and delivered.”


An AI algorithm is only as reliable as the data going into it. Regardless of how you plan to use artificial intelligence in your small business, take the time to ensure the related information is clean and free from duplicate records.

3. Let AI Supplement the Human Workforce


People frequently mention fears of AI taking their jobs. There are certainly cases where company leaders find that algorithms can do some tasks as well as humans. However, those instances often lead to people getting more rewarding work.


The likelihood of errors is often smaller with AI-based systems because they don’t get tired or distracted like people can. Such technology can also streamline repetitive tasks, such as enrolling employees in benefits programs or completing certain payroll duties.


These applications don’t remove humans from the picture. However, they let them spend more time on activities that directly support the company’s growth and success. 


Keep in mind that employees may not be fully on board with the idea of operationalizing AI in your small business at first. It’ll be easier for them to manage the transition if you show you’re willing to listen to their concerns and answer any questions that arise.

4. Learn About the Potential Security Risks


Using AI in a small business does not always create new cybersecurity threats. After all, some companies rely on the technology to spot potential network intrusions. However, security practitioners warn that criminals could launch adversarial attacks to interfere with how well an AI system works, effectively tricking it into not performing as expected.


A survey published in 2020 indicated that 88% of people who owned small-to-medium enterprises were interested in implementing AI. However, seven in 10 were unaware of the potential cybersecurity risks that could accompany a decision to operationalize AI. Additionally, 54% of the respondents said they planned to move forward and use the technology despite the known risks, believing the benefits outweighed the possible downsides.


In any case, it’s not wise to get fully on board with using AI while staying blind to any potential security issues. Think about examining the company’s current security strategy and how it could become more proactive against threats, whether they come from AI or elsewhere.

5. Don’t Rush the Implementation


Another thing to remember is that you don’t have to use AI for all intended purposes right away. It takes time to figure out how to implement AI into your processes and determine the best ways to overcome any obstacles.


A 2021 survey about small and medium-sized businesses using AI found that the organizations that were interested in using it encountered some shared challenges. Almost half of those not using it found the technology too expensive. Another 28% of people said they were still looking for more uses within their companies to justify the expense. Hiring someone to assist with the implementation and management of AI may be a need many organizations have, too.


The main thing to remember from these takeaways is that there’s no harm in taking your time to determine specifics like your AI budget, how you’ll use the technology and whether you need to add people to the team to make the transition as successful as possible. Being overeager to put the AI to work in your organization could mean you encounter many preventable and frustrating issues.

Are You Ready to Operationalize AI?


Starting to use AI in your small business will not be a fast process, and you’ll likely encounter a few setbacks along the way. However, these five best practices will help you avoid many common pitfalls.

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