Skip links

How to Start Implementing AI in your business: a Guide for SMEs

AI is not a silver-bullet for transforming your business and thriving in the marketplace, but there’s no doubt about it, there’s an increasing number of AI business solutions that are helping businesses to do valuable work more quickly, streamline their operations, and gain oversight into their data and make better decisions.

For SMEs it’s becoming an increasingly ripe time to start incorporating AI more into their businesses, offering a range of benefits. But how do you start implementing AI? Where should you start with it? How can it be done realistically and profitably?

After all, it will be quite a big (and unrealistic) leap to go from using AI for business process automation to using machine learning algorithms, but a step-by-step approach could enable your business to sharpen its competitive edge, profitably grow, and deliver better outcomes for your customers at scale.

Understanding AI and Its Potential

When we think of AI today, we often think of technologies such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which uses complex algorithms and vast amounts of data to create content and images based on prompts. But AI isn’t just that, it’s also tools that automate workflows like invoice processing, processing website enquiries into inboxes, and so on.

Using AI to enhance the productivity, scalability, and value that your business provides to your customers involves many accessible opportunities; in fact, much of the AI that works using explicit instructions has been in use for decades.

But in short, there are many possibilities. Businesses can use Microsoft 365 CoPilot to create documents, retrieve information across Sharepoint, and analyse spreadsheets. They can use AI to automate administrative processes, ensure their network security in real-time, and build website chatbots for example. It’s all about taking gradual steps.

Here’s how your business can go on an empowering AI implementation journey:

Step 1: Identify and Prioritise Your Needs and Goals With AI

The first step in implementing AI is to identify the specific needs and goals of your business. Ask yourself what problems you’re trying to solve or what aspects of your operations you’re looking to improve. Are you aiming to enhance cyber security measures in your London office? Or are you looking to automate customer service to save time while offering speedier services? By setting clear objectives and prioritising them, you can get a firmer grasp on which AI solutions are best suited for your business.

Step 2: Start Small

For SMEs, it’s often wise to start small when implementing AI. Choose a single process or a specific area of your business where AI can have an immediate impact and drive a small project around that. This could be automating repetitive tasks, connecting together workflows by integrating apps together using an API, or improving customer engagement through AI-driven chatbots. Starting small allows you to see the benefits of AI without overwhelming your team or straining your resources.

From there, you can start engraining AI implementations as an organisational habit, including bringing it into your IT roadmap and wider IT strategy.

Step 3: Choose the Right AI Solutions

With the pain points and benefits that AI can address contextualised and some inspiration from a small project, the next step you can take is to identify AI driven solutions, and connect them to these pain points and benefits.

For example, there may be process automation tools within your current software stack or 3rd party business process automation tools you can use. You can use systems such as ChatGPT, Microsoft CoPilot, or migrate to Microsoft 365, which offers some AI-driven tools for emailing, document creation, editing, and more. By finding matching solutions for your business, you’ll be able to better prioritise and organise your AI adoption efforts.


Step 4: Build Your Team’s AI Skills

Something of an overlooked piece in implementing AI successfully, is considering how your team interact with AI. Wherever relevant, do they have the knowledge to use your existing AI solutions to their potential? Do they understand how it works? What safeguards and policies should be in place?

Answering these questions organisationally through methods such as training and onboarding documentation will help you use AI to its best potential while avoiding risks.


Discover The Cyber Vitals of Your Business With A Free Cyber Health Report

Do you know the cyber security posture of your business and what vulnerabilities you can start addressing? Our free cyber health assessment takes just three minutes to complete and gives you customised results for your business. Take it today to get actionable insights straight to your inbox.

Step 5: Focus on Data

AI in both its most complex and rudimentary forms, needs quality data to work effectively. If a software automation lacks critical data to make it to the next step, it will interrupt or disrupt the workflow, while for a data analytics software or a generative AI solution like Microsoft 365 CoPilot, a lack of good context or data will create varyingly unhelpful and inaccurate outputs.

Take care to make sure data works in favour, rather than against any AI solutions that you’re using. This includes ensuring data accuracy, privacy, and security, especially considering the cyber security implications for SMEs in regions like London, Essex, Bedfordshire, and Sussex.

Step 6: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Once you’ve started implementing AI, it’s helpful to monitor and evaluate the impact it’s making for your business, as well as for the successful implementation of the projects themselves.

Link key business performance metrics to the AI solutions that you’re implementing to see where it is making a difference, and plan your AI projects in a way that makes their success measurable and accountable.

Step 7: Scale Up Gradually

As you become more comfortable with AI and start to see its benefits, consider scaling up your AI initiatives. This could look like moving from using more time-tested forms of AI based on explicit instructions to rolling out the use of data analytics and generative AI for some business functions.

This could also look like expanding AI applications to other areas of your business, especially cyber security where AI is becoming more essential, and integrating more advanced AI tools, or increasing the sophistication of your AI solutions. Scaling up should be a gradual process, guided by your business needs, goals, and the results of your initial AI implementations.

Final Thoughts

Implementing AI in your SME doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. By understanding your needs, starting small, choosing the right tools and partners, and focusing on data and skills development, you can successfully integrate AI into your business. Whether you’re in London, Essex, Bedfordshire, or Sussex, the journey towards AI integration can mean making a transformative and profitable step that keeps your business ahead of the competition and ensures your security.


Virtual IT: IT Services and Digital Transformation Partners With A Cyber-Security First Approach

We’re partners to hundreds of businesses and schools across London and surrounding areas such as Essex, Sussex. We help them to profitably and sustainably grow with exceptional, secure-by-design IT services and solutions, delivered by a team of dedicated experts that you can count on.

Have a tech challenge on your mind? We’ll help you to solve it! Get in touch with our team today to book a complementary consultation, guaranteed to give you actionable insights for your business.