If you're looking for a good reason to bring artificial intelligence (AI) into your small or midsize business, here's one: AI can perform grunt work exceptionally well. And that's true across multiple functions and multiple industries.

A growing number of CEOs are recognizing the competitive boost this can bring to their business. A Vistage report, based on a survey of 1,467 leaders from small and midsize businesses, revealed that 13.6 percent of respondents are currently leveraging AI in their companies. The majority of these leaders are using AI to improve their business operations (51 percent), followed by customer engagement (45.5 percent), talent management/hiring (20.2 percent) and financial reporting (16.2 percent).

To know how to build AI capabilities in your business, you first have to know your options. Below, some examples of how real-world companies are making AI work -- and work to their advantage.

Business Operations

The predictive and prescriptive capabilities of AI-powered applications offer incredible business value to manufacturers. For example, these applications can make predictions about inventory needs or forecast wear and tear on machinery. They can perform predictive maintenance, manage process controls and automate routine tasks. They can also apply control-loop decision-making and prescribe solutions.

Many of these applications can be used to upgrade old equipment with sensors and automation capabilities. A manufacturing firm wanted to figure out why some of its machines weren't running properly. It started using an AI-powered application that could collect data from every point the manufacturing process -- from the arrival of raw materials to the shipment of finished goods -- and flag problems. As a result, the manufacturer was able to determine how inefficiencies in a single machine were impacting the entire system and implement AI-prescribed solutions.

Sales and Marketing

AI can improve the speed, accuracy and efficiency of a variety of different sales and marketing activities. For example, AI can help sales teams identify leads and opportunities. It can help marketers deliver the right content to the right customers at the right time. It can forecast sales trends, capture sales activities and log customer data.

A small medical devices company wanted its sales team to spend less time searching for sales leads and more time meeting with prospective clients in the field. It invested in an application that could target and predict which prospects were most likely to convert into customers. As a result, the sales team was able to determine where to best direct its energy in order to meet sales goals.

Customer Service

If you've ever interacted with a chat bot  -- agent-like assistants powered by machine learning --  you've seen AI-powered customer service in action. These applications can effectively manage basic customer inquiries as well as classify and route customer-service cases. They're also good at facilitating self-service communities and recommending solutions and knowledge articles to customers.

An e-commerce company wanted to improve the speed and quality of its customer service and engagement. It purchased chat bot software to answer customer questions quickly. This freed the company's support agents to provide white glove support to key customers and resolve more involved support cases. In turn, customer satisfaction and revenue retention increased.

Talent Management

On behalf of HR teams and decision-makers, AI can capture data from recruiting to inform future hiring. It can target the right candidates at the right time as well as improve job postings. It can also discover passive job seekers and target them with personalized messages.

An HR team was struggling to manage its workload and find the right candidates for top positions. To improve the efficiency of its processes, it started using an AI-powered assistant to schedule interviews with candidates. It also used an intelligent application to automatically find and rank candidates according to their credentials and qualifications. The efficiency of the teams hiring processes improved shortly after implementing these AI systems, leading to better, faster hires.


In financial institutions, AI can automate many of the repetitive tasks that would otherwise saddle skilled human employees. For example, AI-powered applications can process loan applications or approve credit increases. It can also perform rote accounting tasks and categorize expenses.

A mortgage lender discovered that its employees were spending too much time with basic paperwork when processing loan applications. They invested in an AI-powered tool that could process loan applications quickly and automatically. This freed employees to focus on more complex tasks and cases that required human attention.