By: Dr. Sean Stein Smith
Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, Rutgers University
It is difficult to overstate just how frequently the terms blockchain and artificial intelligence are mentioned as part of the broader business conversation, but it is relatively easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities available for business owners. These terms and ideas might have actually superseded the previously dominant buzzword and phrase of data analytics, and just like “big data,” it can seem a bit murky to actually understand what these ideas mean for you and your business. On top of this possible confusion, the reality is that many technology tools require some financial investment, employee training, and enhanced security methods. Entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out or who are operating their own small business, are often hesitant to adapt rapidly changing technology tools for the reasons listed above.
Let’s take a look at some of the things every business owner should keep in mind when analyzing blockchain and AI for their business.
The conversation and analysis around blockchain technology tends to be dominated by the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but the implications of blockchain are much broader than just this one currency. At its most basic essence, blockchain can be thought as of as enhanced encryption and data security. Leveraging a decentralized blockchain underlying computer network, all involved parties using blockchain are anonymous participants are assigned a unique identifying number. Transactions taking place using blockchain are encrypted, with only the sender and receiver having access to the information necessary to decrypt the details of said transactions. Additional benefits and security tools that are generated via the time stamp functionality that is a part of how blockchain technology functions – this helps prevent tampering or corruption of files after they have been initially recorded.
- Small business takeaways – Knowing about blockchain, and what it represents at a high level, is something every entrepreneur should educate themselves about. The upsides of better encryption, data security, and protecting client and customer data will help you manage your business better, and provide better service to your clients.
Drilling down on artificial intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence is a buzzword and topic that is bounced around so frequently you might think that every organization and business owner is well versed in this topic. Compounding this possible confusion is that artificial intelligence can, and often is, confused with the topic and idea of machine learning, which is a related but different topic. What artificial intelligence means, drilling down for small business implications, is harnessing the power of computers to help automate processes, and free you up for higher level business activities. Let’s take a look at some of the specific ways in which AI can benefit small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.
- AI for organization – For all of the jokes about Siri and Cortana, both tools are vastly improved and can be more integrated into your other business systems and processes. Use these AI systems to help remind you of things, follow up with clients, and serve as your back up so that you don’t lose track of anything
- Integrate AI into business processes – It may not seem like it, but almost any tool, app, or program that you are purchasing currently can be integrated together. Remember, synchronizing your different business operations, from point of sales, to monitoring traffic on your website, to customizing your marketing materials, helps free you up for client, product, and business development.
- AI doesn’t require large up-front investments – Traditionally, some business owners are hesitant to commit to large technology upgrades due to 1) the time necessary to learn these new tools, and 2) the costs associated with purchasing and installing technology systems. AI, however, can be thought of as either as app-based tools or cloud based platforms, many of which are cheaper than traditional alternatives. Clearly, there are tradeoffs with any tool or technology your business adapts, but don’t let the cost angle keep you from improving your business.
Blockchain and artificial intelligence are buzzwords that are nearly everywhere in the business conversation, and represent trends and tools you should keep current on. That said, these ideas and topics may seem a bit overwhelming or confusing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Remaining up to date, realizing what these trends mean for your business, and what steps you can take to put into place today, are items that can help your business, and your bottom line.