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What Small Business Owners Need to Know About AI

Key Podcast Highlights

What Do Small Business Owners Need to Know About AI?

  • What is AI? AI is the ability for software to understand the world around it and interpret it into data, so it can act.
  • Generative AI, means you’re asking an AI model a question to do something and it gives you a response back. ChatGPT is an example.
  • Large language models (LLMs), are databases with information that are tagged and structured in a way that you can ask it questions and train it to start giving you predicted outcomes. OpenAI is an example of this.
  • Having an AI policy is important for your business. As AI becomes widely used, you’ll need to come up with how it can be used in your business. You’ll need to specify which employees can and cannot use AI in their work. You’ll want to clarify which types of work AI can be applied to.
  • Talking to your software vendor is also important. Ask them what new features are coming that are incorporating AI and how you can use them.


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Gene (00:01):

Hey everybody, it’s Gene Marks and welcome to this week’s episode of the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. Thank you so much for joining me. This week, I want to talk to you about artificial intelligence or AI. I know you’ve been seeing a lot of stuff in the news all about it. I know that a lot of people have a lot of questions about it. Personally, I’m speaking a lot about this and writing a lot about it for Forbes. But I wanted to talk to you just to take a step back and a lot of people say to me, what do I need to know about AI? How will this impact my business? Well, let me tell you, there are three things that you need to know about AI for your business, and let me explain to you what those three things are.

Gene (00:41):

First, you need to know a couple of key terms. The first, of course, is what artificial intelligence or AI is. AI is just the ability for software to understand the world around it, interpret it into data and then to take actions. It’s usually understanding the world through audio and video as well as text as well. But that’s why you can talk to something that has AI capabilities. It can listen to you, it can watch you, it can see what’s going on, and it literally, like a human, it’s performing an intelligence operation artificially because it’s a computer doing that. Number two term is what’s called generative AI. Generative AI just means that you’re asking an AI model a question or to do something, and it’s giving you a response back. The best example of a generative AI model is ChatGPT, which I’m sure most of you guys have heard about.

Gene (01:39):

And with ChatGPT, you’re asking it to write a blog or compose an email or gimme some advice or create an itinerary or give me a recipe. You’re just asking it a question and it’s using AI to generate a response in a conversational way. Number three is what’s called large language models (LLMs). There are lots of large language models out there. Open AI’s ChatGPT is one. Microsoft has got it because it owns ChatGPT, at least for the most part. Google has a large language model, so does Meta, so does Amazon. All of the large companies are developing large language models. They’re basically databases. Whenever you hear about an AI large language model or LLM, it just means a database. A database that’s got a bunch of information that is tagged and structured in such a way that you can ask it question after question after question and train it to start giving you answers and predicting outcomes.

Gene (02:43):

That’s what an LLM is. It’s a large language model. ChatGPT has been using the entire internet as its large language model that gives you an idea of how big these large language models can be, but don’t get confused. They’re just databases. So understand those terms, what AI is, what generative AI is, and what large language models is. Number one, understand the terms. Number two, have an AI policy in your business. As AI gets more and more widely used, you’ll need to come up with how AI is to be used in your business. Every business I know are starting to create their own AI policies. In an AI policy, you need to specify which employees can and cannot use AI in their work. So you want to be very specific, names, titles, departments who can use AI and who is not allowed to use AI.

Gene (03:45):

There are a lot of risks in AI and that’s another topic for another day. Number two, in your policy, clarify which types of work AI can be applied to. So is it to manual work, managerial work scientific work, engineering work, customer facing work, internal work? What types of work can it be applied to? And number three, what uses of AI are acceptable in your company? Can it be used by your marketing department, by your HR department, by your design department, by your estimating department? You wanna incorporate those three pieces in an AI policy and more. And your AI policy is going to continue to evolve and evolve and evolve. You can expect to write your AI policy and update it probably two or three times a year ’cause that’s how fast things are moving. Now, where’s the best place to get a start with an AI policy?

Gene (04:43):

Try AI. Go to ChatGPT, the free version, and ask it to write an AI policy for your company. It will do that for you, and then that will give you a headstart as to what should be included. You can take that policy and then edit it and conform it to your specific needs. So make sure that you have an AI policy. Finally, number three, when it comes to AI, talk to your software vendor because AI is just a software development tool. This is like it was back when the internet first started or when mobile apps came out, or when e-commerce tools were proliferating. This is the same kind of thing. Your software vendor is getting their arms around all the capabilities of AI and they wanna incorporate it in their applications. Why? Because most likely you’re running a cloud-based application and you’re paying a monthly or annual fee for that cloud-based application, and your software vendor wants to keep you as a customer for the long term.

Gene (05:43):

So what they’re doing is adding new features and what’s the hottest new features out there? AI related features. So you should be talking to your software vendor this year. Ask them what new features are coming that are incorporating AI, how can you use them? Show me how they can be used. What type of training do you provide? How hard is it to set up? And then your job is to lean into those features, use them, test them out. Do them in real life. Yeah, you’re gonna make some mistakes. Yeah, some problems are going to occur, but trust me when I tell you that the AI tools will get better and better and so will you. And if you are truly leveraging the tools that your software vendor is providing to you, then you are making the most of the productivity value of your software, hopefully minimizing your overhead and making your employees as productive as possible.

Gene (06:37):

So don’t worry about developing your own AI solutions. Talk to your software vendor and ask them what they’re doing. Beat ’em up a little bit. They’ve got lots of features coming down the line. You want to take advantage of those features. Hey, you’re paying for them already, right? So lemme recap. The three things you need to know about AI for your business. Know the key terms, understand what AI is, understand what generative AI is, understand what a large language model is. Number two, have a good AI policy in your business. Specify which employees can use AI. Clarify what types of work AI can be applied to, and then figure out what uses it can have marketing, HR, design. If you want to write an AI policy, go ahead to ChatGPT and let AI write it for you. Hey, why not? It’ll do a good job and it’ll at least get you started.

Gene (07:32):

Finally, in number three, talk to your software vendor this year, your accounting software, your customer relationship management software, your project management software, your inventory software, whatever it is, those vendors are using AI and developing new features on it, and you want to be all over those new features so you can be as productive as possible in your business and get the most value from the technology that you’re already paying for. Those are the three things I think you should know about AI this year. I’ll be coming back to AI a few times during the year to talk about other topics related to it, but those are the three things I’d like you to walk away with. Thanks for listening. This has been the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast, and my name is Gene Marks. If you’d like any advice or tips or help in running your small business, please visit us at SmallBizAhead.com or SBA.thehartford.com. Again, my name is Gene Marks. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you again next week. Take care.

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View Comments (1)

  • Hi Gene,

    I like this approach to AI! I appreciate your words of caution, and that an understanding of the underlying structure of AI is a good thing to have before jumping all in.

    I think one thing to note is that you correctly point out that we are most likely all using cloud-based platforms that are letting us get early access to AI tools. One potential downside to this is the change in funding streams in the future. If OpenAI is able to firm up a monopoly (or duopoly with Google), we may see the costs to users raise up when consumer choice is diminished. SaaS companies are likely to pass these costs right on to users. Just something to keep in mind as we utilize these new tools - we should consider whether our businesses are becoming dependent on them too soon.

    All in all, I think this is a measured approach to a very hyped issue!

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