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Generative AI: A New Frontier

By Kawal Preet | December 19, 2023

The applications for genAI seem limitless, with new breakthroughs happening all the time. Kawal Preet explores how small businesses can charter a pathway through this game changing new technology.

When OpenAI released ChatGPT for testing to the general public in November 2022, it sparked a global fascination with the possibilities of generative AI (or genAI). Since then, barely a day has passed without AI making the headlines. From caution to bullishness, debate on AI and how best to operate, limit or harness its evolving capabilities has been fierce.

As the internet was flooded by examples of what AI could create from a set of user prompts, numerous think pieces have reflected on the advantages and dangers of mass adoption of AI tools.

But, despite some wariness, the adoption of genAI is gaining pace. And the potential value of AI to small businesses, corporations, the economy and society is huge. A 2022 McKinsey survey showed that AI adoption more than doubled over five years. McKinsey also believes genAI has the potential to generate value equivalent to US$2.6 trillion to US$4.4 trillion in global corporate profits annually.

At FedEx, we’ve known for a long time that data and digitization is absolutely crucial to how we transform for what’s next. Our network isn’t just our physical network – it’s the source of tremendous data and insights about the market, about our customers, about our carbon footprint and theirs. All that intelligence is extremely valuable.

We’re taking action by digitizing more processes, and by unlocking data insights for the benefit of our customers, making supply chains smarter for everyone – including testing applications for AI.

What genAI can do – and the potential for small businesses

It’s not just businesses the size of ours that are looking into AI. The obvious benefit for SMEs is time. Writing, responding to stakeholders, categorizing, and organizing – all the business-related administrative tasks that really do add up over time – can be taken care of.

For instance, ChatGPT can generate checklists, emails, essays, businesses proposals and more. GenAI can also unlock visualization, which we’re increasingly seeing in simulations, mock-ups and designs - whether it’s of a new office layout for a growing team or a AI-generated preview of an end product, logo or branding.

What’s more, most of the tools available can be accessed for free – a major benefit for small businesses without big budgets.

3 areas where SMEs can use GenAI tools

GenAI is most useful in the following areas: improving efficiency by automating tasks; boosting capacity for complex tasks; and enhancing learning. Addressing these areas through this new technology can help SMEs to level up and unlock growth.

1. Improving efficiency by automating tasks

SMEs have limited resources, and they need to use them to focus on business growth, strategy and pursuing new opportunities. In many cases, genAI can help small businesses become more productive without increasing headcount.

AI tools such as Polycoder, MutableAI, OpenAI Codex, and Seek can help to generate code for mobile apps, websites, and SQL queries. Artworks and images can also be generated with platforms like Dall-E, Stable Diffusion Online, and Playform.

Other functions of genAI include creating marketing content and summarizing meetings. Automating these tasks allow staff to focus on high-value tasks that they’re more skilled at.
Man typing on keyboard with visualized data floating on top

2. Boosting capacity for complex tasks

There is a limit to the human capacity for processing large amounts of information, and here’s where technology can be a powerful resource. We’re seeing more and more how genAI tools can be used to organize and analyze customer data, and to generate customized experiences, recommendations, and business strategies with greater speed.

This use of genAI is particularly useful for SMEs in Asia. In the 2022 ASEAN SME Transformation Study, 44% of 1,500 SME respondents (from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam) singled out customer engagement as a pressing concern. Tools such as Salesforce’s Einstein GPT can capture data-driven insights to improve decision-making and customer relationship management.

3. Enhancing learning:

We know that staff training can be a real challenge for resource-constrained SMEs. Ensuring employees are up to speed with the latest digital tools is an especially important goal for SMEs in Asia — a 2023 International Monetary Fund paper showed that SMEs in emerging and developing Asia lacked a digital-savvy workforce.

Valuable institutional knowledge can be encoded in genAI tools, and used to teach employees by generating simulated scenarios, feedback, and information. Such tools are likely to be customized to each business’s specific needs.

How small businesses can get started with genAI

For these uses of genAI to be effective, it is important to lay some groundwork.

One of the biggest conversations happening in companies right now – from big corporations to independent businesses – is where and how to start. To get going with AI, businesses need to find ways to train their team in working with genAI tools. An example is putting them through courses on crafting prompts.

This requires a subject matter expert who can be trained in-house or outsourced. Once the workforce has gained more experience with AI, a good next step is to build institutional memory by cataloguing successes and lessons in a database.

Most critically, AI needs human oversight. At the SME level, the proprietary data and platforms used daily need to be ready for integration with genAI tools. It’s also going to require working closely with IT – sometimes a weak spot for start-ups or small operations – to take the right cybersecurity precautions.

How FedEx is using AI

Every day, more than 14 million packages pass through FedEx facilities around the world. At that scale, we’re always looking for more efficient and sustainable ways to run our business. In September 2023, we collaborated with start-up Dexterity AI in the US to address one of the most challenging tasks in our business: truck loading.

Stacking the wide variety of sizes, shapes, and weights in the shipments we handle is highly complex, and taxing when performed manually. Dexterity AI’s proprietary mobile robot design, DexR, navigates autonomously, and machine learning technology helps it to continuously improve.

We are also using AI in our operations across Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. In 2022, we introduced an AI-powered intelligent sorting robot at our South Pacific Regional Hub in Singapore, and deployed a similar sorting robot at our South China E-Commerce Shipment Sorting Center in Guangzhou.
FedEx robotic sorting arm working in a warehouse

We’re also using AI for demand forecasting platforms to improve capacity planning, and for delivery tracking purposes to provide greater accuracy of estimated delivery times and updates for early or delayed shipments. Our Intelligent Virtual Assistant customer service tool helps to transform the way we serve customers too.

Being digitally-led goes beyond just using AI

AI is only one part of our approach to be fully digitally-led. Leveraging technology in everything we do ranges from the really simple to the complex. And making our supply chains smarter with data and digital solutions is how we can deliver a sustainable future for everyone in the value chain -passing efficiencies on to all our customers.

When it comes to how we’re seeing AI being used in the region, some Asia markets are more advanced than others. I see many advantages to AI, but we need to be clear-sighted about usage, ask questions, remain objective, seek expert advice, and not sacrifice autonomy for the sake of automation and convenience. I look forward to seeing how SMEs adapt to a technology that really is fast becoming the norm.

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About the Author
the author bio

Kawal Preet

Asia Pacific, FedEx

Kawal started out as an engineer at FedEx over 27 years ago. She’s now the President of FedEx Express AMEA and is based in Singapore.

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