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AI platforms are vital in stopping SMEs lagging behind

AI platforms are vital in stopping SMEs from lagging behind the mainstream of retail in terms of technological advancements – and are vital to ensuring the future of many of these companies, according to new research from emlyon business school.

SMEs face huge barriers to adoption when it comes to AI, including a lack of data culture; a lack of awareness about what AI could bring; a need for retraining managers and workers, and so on. Researchers say that when working with platforms using AI technologies, SME not only benefit from the central service proposed by the platform (as an example facilitating international trade for the case studied in the research), but in addition get benefit in terms of awareness, initiation, and level of education in relation to AI.

The research was conducted by Ruiqi Wei and Catherine Pardo, both Professors of Marketing at emlyon business school, with an expertise in the B2B sector. Researchers used a single case study of a digital platform headquarted in China. This ecommerce platform supports SME’s in trading abroad.  It has over 31 million buyers across more than 200 countries.

The researchers conducted 21 interviews with the managers of the platform company, platform user companies, and external module providers to understand SMEs uses of this platform. The researchers show how SMEs leverage this platform to integrate AI technologies

Through this research, they identify six roles adopted by these users and highlight the mechanisms of their interactions with the platform. The researchers describe these six roles as users; designers; ideators; intermediaries; innovators; and middlemen.

Users receive platform guidance and use the technologies passively; designers mix and match using their knowledge and combine various modules; and ideators bring knowledge to the platform and co-innovate with the platform owners.

Whilst intermediary cross-pollinates knowledge across platforms; innovators have their own technical teams and integrate the platform’s AI capabilities to create their own AI modules; and middlemen integrate the platform’s competitors’ resources and facilitate cross-platform coordination.

As part of this research, they also identified three layers of these AI platforms where interactions between platform users and the platform take place; the coordination layer, the integration layer and the capability layer.

The coordination layer is when SMEs use these platforms to facilitate greater resource coordination. Whilst the integration layer is the use of AI in specific modules and combinations in the organisation, and the capability layer is the direct access to AI technologies and the building blocks needed to implement them.

Professor Ruiqi Wei says: “It’s clear that digital AI technologies can massively transform business processes and strategies, by helping companies reduce costs, make products faster and create new products or services to meet customers’ changing needs.

“Yet for SMEs, the cost can just simply be too high, making the barriers to adoption for these technologies unattainable, and SMEs are at a huge risk of lagging behind because of this. This is where AI platforms come into play, allowing SMEs to further grow and innovate, allowing them to greater compete”.

These research findings have interesting implications for SMEs, greater promotion of these platforms is needed by public actors in order to help SMEs grow and further their innovation and digital transformation.

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