How artificial intelligence is helping small businesses

Jessica Satherley
How artificial intelligence is helping small businesses

The evolution of artificial intelligence has seen unstaffed convenience stores and self-service bank branches open in China. 

But AI is also helping small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) working with lower budgets that make up 97 per cent of New Zealand businesses.

“Large corporations can afford to invest in the technology to maximise their efficiency, but there has not been a lot in the market for SMEs to use,” Co-Founder and CEO of Aider, Brendan Roberts says.

Roberts’ AI software company has developed a digital assistant, Aider, which works alongside a small business’s existing digital applications.

Westpac has announced a partnership with Aider and is offering the digital assistant to its SME customers for a free three-month trial.

“Aider works with other applications, for example if the SME runs their accounting through Xero, uses Google Analytics, a POS system like Kounta and a rostering tool like Deputy, Aider integrates the software and reports back via conversational interaction,” Roberts said.

“People working and running SMEs have so many hats to wear and this type of automation helps with time efficiency. You can speak to Aider through a voice assistant like Amazon’s Alexa or have text conversations with it to look at your data.  You can ask Aider what your total expenditure was last week or what your top selling products were for the day,” he added.

Brendan Aider

Co-Founder and CEO of Aider, Brendan Roberts

WORLD, which is one of Westpac’s SME clients, has been using Aider for the past couple of months to speed up efficiency within its fashion retail stores.

“We can see which stores or staff members are the busiest, which in turn affects our rostering,” WORLD co-founder Benny Castles said.

“Aider will also tell me straight away: ‘This product is selling well today,’ or ‘you should order more of this stock,’ which means I don’t have to spend three hours doing my own reports and looking over data.”

“As part of a small business, you can also become emotionally attached to your products.  I had designed a dress that I felt very much attached to, but after marketing it on Instagram and having it in stores, it just didn’t sell as well as others.  Aider was able to look at the sales figures without an emotional response and tell us it’s not selling well and to take action on that,” Castles added.

Unlike Siri and other chatbots, which only react to requests, Aider proactively says what should be looked at after analysing the business’s data.

“We run our algorithms to look for patterns and changes and afterwards Aider will tell you: ‘Hey, you usually sell this amount and now you have dropped this month, maybe you should look at that,’  or ‘hey, your net cash flow is low, you should look at that’,” Roberts explains.

You can use Aider to easily look at your revenue and understand how you can do more. It is helping you supervise your stock and sales inventory to manage margin lines and people costs.  So far it has been popular with hospitality and retail businesses across Australasia since launching at the end of 2018.

Westpac NZ Head of Digital Ventures, Lewis Billinghurst, agrees that AI is of great value to SMEs in an easily-consumed format.

“We have been recommending Aider to our SME clients at Westpac and offering them a free three month trial because it is such an efficient tool to help grow small businesses,” Billinghurst said.

While Aider is helping SMEs, other AI programs have been helping the New Zealand banking industry combat fraud.

Westpac NZ’s Senior Intelligence Officer, Alex Ferguson, says the bank primarily uses AI to spot credit card fraud.

“If a customer spends $40,000 on sneakers at four in the morning, the AI would look into the customer’s spending habits to see if that is their normal behaviour, which in this case it probably wouldn’t be. 

“We run pro-active risk management programs for the AI to find certain patterns that it flags up as suspicious behaviour.  This type of AI has a much higher rate of accuracy than a human could have due to the speed of data it can run through,” Ferguson said.

, ,