This year’s C2 Conference in Montréal touched on many hot business points through its diverse range of topics. And with Montréal being a hotbed for artificial intelligence, it was no surprise for the subject to be front and center.

Artificial intelligence has become quite the buzzword, albeit a divisive one. There are folks who don’t believe it’s as advanced as most claim it is, and there are those that evangelize its abilities as the driving force behind Industry 4.0. I stand closer to the latter, while still seeing tons of room for improvement.

What concerns me is feeling like most businesses are still very far behind in understanding AI’s current abilities, thus failing to use a phenomenal tool. It’s like watching someone hitting a nail with the butt-end of a screwdriver while a perfectly good hammer is lying on the floor next to them.

Think about it: You and I have been working with data for a long time. AI is just a new term for the evolution of what we’ve been doing for so long. The key component is to understand the data analytics and make decisions based on that data.

AI Is Not Only Meant For Major Corporations

Because the media has made such a huge deal of AI, it’s made most folks think that it’s not an attainable solution for them — as if it was something only meant for major corporations. AI is not just meant for tech companies or the majors — there’s a level of solutions for all. You just need to ask the right person to guide you.

If hiring an agency is not in your budget, consider low-hanging fruit. Incorporating a customer relationship management (CRM) tool should be among your first steps. HubSpot and Salesforce are two great examples to look into.

Chatbots are also becoming more popular. During their F8 Conference this past May, Facebook spoke at length about the importance of Messenger chatbots. Our company uses Chatfuel, a platform that allows you to build a bot without coding. Chatbots can be integrated into your website, freeing your inbound customer service people to handle the more pressing and complicated client requests.

If you do want to hire an outside service, I want you to look at AI the same way you look at asking for help with marketing. Your small business may not be able to afford the services of a big agency like a Sid Lee or Ogilvy, but has that ever stopped you from getting great work from a smaller agency?

Use A Balanced Approach

Don’t rely on data to drive all of your decisions. Data can’t accomplish everything on its own, and a human can no longer function without proper data. We need to envision AI as an ally. Keep in mind that this ally is still quite young, and just like a young human prodigy, AI still needs its fair amount of mentoring. Kind of like a rookie entering the NFL, it is a raw prospect that needs training. With the proper training, it will become one of the star players on the team. This star elevates the rest of the team and yet cannot do it all on its own.

Start by gathering your team and analyzing your business needs and goals. What data-related tools could you use to be more efficient and to help make better decisions? Are there any marketing/sales automation tools that could help your team perform at a higher level?

Define what results you want from the data before you let it roam freely on the field. But while you define these, you also need to leave space for human perspective as well as the unexpected. There may be answers you weren’t even looking for to questions you hadn’t even asked. That’s the beauty of AI and the reason why the media makes such a huge deal about it.

One of the better examples of data-driven creativity comes from Netflix. Most of you have seen the House of Cards series, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. What most of us don’t know about the series is that it was almost entirely created thanks to data.

Netflix has been collecting data on its clients since its days as a DVD rental company. The data revealed that people who watched a Kevin Spacey movie watched every single movie he was in. The data also highlighted that anyone who watched a David Fincher-directed film watched every single film he directed. You see where this is going. But as the good old infomercials love to say, “But wait! There’s more!” The data collected from the British version of House of Cards also revealed the one-sitting, binge-watching habits of the great majority of viewers.

The Netflix case study has been used in business schools for the past years to remind marketers that it is easier to understand consumer behavior through data and then give them what they want, in comparison to trying to change the consumer’s existing behavior.

Data Is Great, But It Still Needs Great Humans To Process It

In order to get the best out of AI, you can’t just feed it data. There needs to be a purpose behind it. This is is the part where humans with great vision come in — those who can see behavioral patterns in numbers and interpret them, only to turn them into potential solutions or decisions. Like with any other technology, the trick is to understand the tool you have in hand while never falling back on it as a crutch.