Small businesses looking to catch up on AI, but face obstacles: study

Small businesses in the U.S. are making progress in catching up with implementing artificial intelligence (AI) to help their operations, even though nearly half are unsure of how to get started, according to new research.

A recent study done by Morning Consult for Visa that surveyed small business decision-makers found that just 52% of U.S. small businesses have adopted AI in their operations, while about half of non-adopters are planning to follow suit within the next two years. Of those that have implemented AI, 85% say their use of AI has increased compared to a year ago.

However, about 90% of small businesses faced obstacles in integrating AI into their business, with learning how to use AI tools the barrier cited by 47% of respondents. That was followed by navigating options (36%), not knowing where or how to begin (34%), ensuring compatibility (31%) and concerns about privacy and security (26%).

“There is a recognition that AI and the advancement of technology is important in small business,” Denise Press, Visa’s head of small business for North America, told FOX Business in an interview. “There was an equal weight of, ‘I don’t know how to get started’ and not knowing how to get started and not being experts in AI and/or new technology.”

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The Visa study conducted by Morning Consult found that small businesses are optimistic about AI but have faced obstacles in implementing it. (iStock)

For small businesses that aren’t sure how to get started using AI in their business, Press suggested they should look to try it out in “lower risk areas, even using chat, to see where that can help.”

As an example, she said a small business could leverage AI to do things like drafting a press release, given that “not many small businesses have a writer or a comms and PR department.” She added that they could then ensure the generative AI output is in a voice that represents that small business and refine it as needed, rather than having to write it from scratch.

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Small businesses could start using AI in lower-risk use cases to help get comfortable with the tools. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)

The study found that of small businesses that haven’t adopted AI, 49% of respondents said that marketing was the most interesting business area for using AI — well above other use cases like business development, accounting or customer service.

As a small business gets more comfortable using AI in lower risk capacities, Press said they can then “move along that spectrum” to try it in different use cases. She added that small businesses should look to partners and vendors in their industry that can share insights about how AI could be useful to their operations.

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OpenAI ChatGPT Screen

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT can help small businesses in a variety of ways. (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“Look for key partners and vendors in that small business’s industry,” Press said. “There are vendors that specialize in working with a variety of industries, and those vendors, who are often larger organizations like Visa, are already looking to incorporate AI and going to those vendors to say, ‘What are you doing with AI? How does that impact my business? How can it help?'”

“I think the message is: start small. Look for partners that have good, solid thought leadership that can be trusted. Look to vendors who are already starting to get into AI in ways that can really impact the business,” Press said.

Among small businesses that have implemented AI, 53% strongly agreed that automation gave decision-makers more time to focus on operations and that productivity helped them drive additional revenue.

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The study also found broad optimism about AI from all small businesses, including those that haven’t yet adopted the emerging technology, and that it will help their businesses, with 65% expressing optimism it will positively impact their business.

“Small businesses should be optimistic, they should be open to AI. It is absolutely going to impact the way that we do business as a whole and the way that we already do business as consumers today,” Press said.

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