Can SMEs and workers survive the AI revolution?

MENA business owners discussing the potential of AI for business growth in a modern office setting

Access to the latest business tools, trends and technologies isn’t always available to underdeveloped nations and emerging economies.

Additionally, with pressing demands on their resources, implementing things like green initiatives can seem like a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’.

But when it comes to AI, the time for MENA businesses to pick up the baton is now. And contrary to what many MSME owners believe, AI is not just for the technologically-advanced elite. Tech’s latest big thing is surprisingly egalitarian.

Leaders International is committed to helping the region’s many small businesses, startups, freelancers and gig economy workers explore the most in-demand skills for the next 10 years and recognise the potential of AI – and, where possible, to view it as an opportunity, not a threat.

5 ways AI can help your business

Business owners frequently feel like they don’t have enough time. The idea of studying and implementing new AI applications may, therefore, seem like another thing to put off until tomorrow.

But what if AI could actually save you time? One of the biggest benefits of AI and machine learning is that it can help to streamline operations when correctly applied.

It can help to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks such as inventory management, order processing, invoicing and more.

In doing so, it can also reduce human error – and allow employees to shift their focus to more strategic/productive activities instead.

Among the many other ways that AI can help MSMEs are:

Better customer insights: AI can help business owners to analyse customer data more accurately than ever. And the insights provided can be leveraged to create personalised marketing campaigns – which 80% of consumers say makes them more likely to buy.

• Improved customer service: an efficient chatbot and AI-powered customer service platform is far more effective than a phone line that no one has time to answer. AI solutions can also provide around-the-clock support – and the ‘believability’ of these systems is improving all the time.

• Smarter market decisions: AI shows business owners what to do and when – based on historical data and market trends. This information can help to forecast demand, manage inventory levels and optimise pricing strategies.

• Enhanced recruitment: AI and machine learning systems can quickly identify and eliminate low-quality candidates, often saving countless hours. The new tech can also help with other HR functions, such as performance evaluations.

In addition, AI has the opportunity to assist with everything from product innovation, marketing strategies, supply chain management and much more.

Importantly, you don’t need a large tech team to start implementing AI in your business. In many cases, zero coding is required. There are numerous off-the-shelf solutions that can be used on their own or easily integrated into your existing systems.

AI offers a way to upskill employees – not make them redundant

Much has been written about the catastrophic loss of jobs that AI will cause. And some of this is true.

According to investment bank Goldman Sachs, up to 300 million jobs could be threatened by AI, with more than 65% of all American jobs affected in some way.

The World Economic Forum, meanwhile, predicts that 23% of jobs globally will be disrupted in the coming five years because of new technologies like AI.

The most at-risk jobs are those that are highly repetitive in nature, such as admin and data entry – though more “human” jobs, such as receptionists and retail staff, are sometimes mentioned in the list of potential casualties too.

While some jobs are irrefutably under threat because of automation, AI actually presents an opportunity for business owners to upskill their employees so they are equipped for the needs of tomorrow.

By surrounding themselves with tech-savvy talent, they will not only be supporting the local jobs market but also putting their business in the strongest possible position to grow.

Just as previous industrial revolutions replaced old jobs with new ones, so too will the fourth industrial revolution (also known as 4IR). AI, robotics, advanced analytics and other digital technologies could generate a net gain of 50+ million jobs globally, according to the US think tank Brookings.

Leaders International has already seen AI’s business potential in action while working on a project named DIP – Digital Innovations for Peace.

Almost all the startups to have launched under the project – which focuses on Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Palestine – use AI tools to analyse and validate online content.

In the coming months, we hope to announce a number of other initiatives that will help MENA businesses and talents to capitalise on the biggest developments in technology.