What does AI mean for Irish SMEs?

UX professional Chris Donnelly from Each& Other reveals how SMEs can integrate AI into their business.

The media is awash with headlines and articles about AI, half of them telling of our impending doom and the other ringing the bell of a utopia just over the horizon, but for many Irish SMEs, the practicalities of integrating AI into their operations remains obscure.

What exactly does this new technology mean for your business? Will it be expensive or will it save money? These and many more questions besides are what many SMEs are asking themselves.

“For Irish SMEs, AI offers a mountain of opportunities, but remember not to get swept up in the hype, this is a transformative technology and thinking practically about how it might interact with your business now will definitely reap benefits down the line”

As a User Experience (UX) designer, I will often take a human or user centered approach to how I solve a problem. 

Our process is to consider what the human at the center of the problem needs and then to work outwards from there to a solution. For the purposes of this article, I have a taken a business centric approach to thinking about AI.

How to integrate AI into your business

Below are some perspectives on understanding and integrating AI into your business:

Design Thinking and AI: Before diving into the AI whirlpool and getting swept up in the hype, it’s crucial to soberly approach its implementation from a design thinking standpoint. What this means is starting by understanding the exact problems you wish to address. At Each&Other we would suggest employing research methods to delve into these areas. In many cases, AI and Machine Learning (ML) can help solve a problem or make a process more efficient. However, understanding the problem you want to solve and tailoring the technology to its solution is key. Always ensure that technology serves the problem and not the other way around.

Business Realities and AI: How specifically will AI impact your business? Without digging into the specifics of your business it is of course hard to answer this question. The key thing is to view AI as a tool, much like the internet in its early days. It was hard to predict exactly what the internet would become at its outset and similarly it will be impossible to figure exactly how AI will immerse itself in our lives. My recommendation would be to start small, experiment and see what works.

There is a handy framework from Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s ‘The Second Machine Age’ that can help businesses figure out what business tasks could be improved by integrating with AI.

When thinking about whether to try to integrate AI into a task, ask yourself:

  • Can the task be simplified into smaller procedures?
  • Is the task repetitive?
  • Does it require cognitive skills?

For instance, invoicing, a cognitive yet routine task, can be streamlined with AI. And if you run an SME and invoicing takes up a significant amount of your time, then I would consider thinking about how AI can help. The good news? You don’t have to develop these solutions from scratch. A plethora of AI startups are emerging, and it’s quite likely that a solution tailored to your needs already exists or is in the process of being developed. A quick search can usually lead you to the right tool.

The Irish Government’s AI Strategy: The Irish government’s vision for AI is people-centric. The aim is to harness AI for the welfare of its citizens. As per the strategy document, the focus spans across three broad areas:

Building Public Trust in AI

  • Strand 1 – AI and society: The government intends to create a dialogue around AI to build public trust and buy in so we can as a society can benefit from it.
  • Strand 2 – A governance ecosystem that promotes trustworthy AI: They also intend to create a legal framework to govern the use of AI and its implantation, ensuring that AI can be seen as trustworthy and misbehaviour can be identified and managed.

As an SME I would recommend engaging in this dialogue wherever the opportunity presents itself. If you are doing things with AI that can demonstrate the value and demystify it then that will serve to enhance our national agenda and benefit your business.

Leveraging AI for economic and societal benefit

  • Strand 3 – Driving adoption of AI in Irish enterprise: The plan is to partner with industry to drive the adoption of this technology across the country. There will be an AI innovation hub established and funding mechanisms put in place.
  • Strand 4 – AI serving the public: The public sector will also be encouraged to leverage the technology, there are pilot programmes already afoot. We will see more emerging in the coming years.

As an SME this is the area where you stand to benefit most. The government is stating it loud and clear that AI is on the national agenda and supports and funding are going to flow into this area. Be sure to position yourself to be the beneficiary of whats coming down the line.

Enablers for AI

  • Strand 5 – A strong AI innovation ecosystem: This will be about promoting the case for R&D and making Ireland a global centre of excellence to attract skills.
  • Strand 6 – AI education, skills and talent: There are already many government sponsored courses emerging and there will be many more over the coming years.
  • Strand 7 – A supportive and secure infrastructure for AI: This will be about creating standards and governance frameworks to ensure data and AI models are trustworthy.
  • Strand 8 – Implementing the Strategy: And lastly an Enterprise Digital Advisory Board will be established to see through the implementation of this strategy.

For SMEs, the message is simple: the landscape is evolving, and the government is offering avenues for growth and development in AI. It’s a good time to consider how these changes might fit into your business plans. Familiarise yourself with available resources, consider upskilling where needed, and think about how your business might benefit from this national shift towards AI.

For Irish SMEs, AI offers a mountain of opportunities, but remember not to get swept up in the hype, this is a transformative technology and thinking practically about how it might interact with your business now will definitely reap benefits down the line.

Begin with a problem-first attitude, be clear about business objectives, and align with the national AI strategy. Taking those simple steps now can ensure you are well positioned to benefit from this new wave of technology.”

Chris Donnelly
Chris Donnelly is a seasoned UX professional. As UX Design Principal at Each&Other he is responsible for overseeing projects and guiding teams in creating value for clients through strategic product thinking and user centric design methods. Before joining Each&Other, Chris was a key member of the design team at Viasat for five years, where he was responsible for leading the Global Enterprise and Mobility (GEM) design team. Prior to that, he worked as a Lead Designer at IBM in the IBM Security design team.