What is Machine Learning and How is it Changing Business?

What is Machine Learning and How is it Changing Business?

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Machine learning may once have been a topic of discussion only for computer scientists and researchers. Now, however, it is a technology businesses are eager to use. The need for machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being driven by the massive amount of data being generated today. Statisticians can get insight from this data. But the volume is so large and growing at such a rate, the best way to tackle it is using the very same machines that are in part responsible for creating the data.

Machine learning outside of academia and specialized fields is seeing increased adoption because of the growth of this data. But more importantly, the availability of powerful computers, cloud technology, cheap storage and low computational costs is making it more accessible.

What is Machine Learning?

Put simply, machine learning processes large amounts of data and learns from it to make predictions. Using algorithms that continuously learn from the data they are presented with, it is possible for computers to find insights without being programmed or told where to look. So the machine is learning from information based on its algorithm or model.

The Data

It is important to note data in itself will not produce anything. It’s a question of drawin the right insights from that data. In the case of good (human) data analysts, one may catch something another one misses.  Similarly, in machine learning success depends on producing the right algorithm or model to get the best insight possible from the information.

Once the model has been created, giving it access to all existing and future data sets lets the computer continue learning and improving itself. Bigger and complex data sets can be analyzed to get results that are more accurate at faster rates to identify opportunities and avoid risks.

What Can You Do with Machine Learning?

The answer is a lot! Here are a couple of real-life examples from some very well-known brands and how they use machine learning.

Amazon Recommendations

Amazon has almost 250 million active customers and tens of millions of products. Making recommendations using people is not an option and it would take forever. With machine learning, Amazon has managed to make accurate product recommendations based on the customer’s interest as well as purchasing and browsing history in very near-real-time.

Google AdWords

Google is known for having the best machine learning and algorithms anywhere. The company has perfected the art/science of delivering the right information for its users, and it is made possible in great part with highly advanced machine learning models.

Using Machine Learning

The good thing is, you don’t have to be a computer scientist to use machine learning because there are service providers out there that will do everything for you.

Service Providers

The growth in the segment has led many companies to providing machine learning services. Here are some providers with solutions that start with a free tier so you can get your feet wet and use the technology for your small business. But if you start growing, they have options to address virtually any type of scale.

The first one is IBM Bluemix, a platform that uses Watson and so much more to deliver a comprehensive analytics solution that is currently very highly ranked in the industry.

The second company is BigML. The service provides a variety of services needed for an end-to-end machine learning deployment, including education, certification and a large number of free resources.

Amazon Machine Learning is another service that is known for being affordable for even the smallest of businesses.

There are many companies that provide machine learning services, so choose carefully and ask as many questions as possible to make sure they will deliver on their promise of addressing your particular needs.

Small Businesses and Machine Learning

As a small business you might think you don’t generate enough data to require machine learning. But there is more data out there than you think. To start with, you are going to use machine learning for the industry you are in. So whether you have a restaurant, vintage clothing store or make custom utensils, there is a lot of data for each sector that is readily available. Once you get general information, you can get more granular data based on your location, types of customers, price, materials, marketing and much more.

Based on the data, you can have a service provider create models you can deploy to give you valuable insights. You can then use the insights to fill the inventory in your business with the right products and at the right time year round.

One of the best ways to get started with machine learning is to use it for marketing. This is because there is a lot of marketing data, and if you choose the information carefully, it is possible to have a model that will quickly deliver results for your particular industry.

Machine Learning for Marketing

The best marketing solutions are personalized. That means not bombarding your current and potential customers with the same campaign over and over. It also means knowing when they are not happy so you can take action before they tell you they are leaving. Delivering relevant marketing and addressing their concerns will increase customer loyalty, engagement and spending.

With machine learning you can use purchase behavior, website visits, app usage, campaign responses, preferences and many other data points to get highly accurate next best action predictions. Businesses have used it for customer segmentation to extract groups of customers, customer churn prediction to implement proactive prevention measures and customer lifetime value forecasting.

The Importance of Machine Learning Today and Moving Forward

Data is being generated faster than at any other time in history. And the pace is only going to increase as more people gain access to information and communications technologies around the world. This will require crunching this data and making sense of it all. With machine learning, it is now possible to get the insight a business or any other organization needs quickly.

Machine learning is a tool just like any other, and if you use it properly it can pay dividends. Make it part of your overall strategy to make your small business more efficient and productive.

Machine Learning Photo via Shutterstock

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Michael Guta Michael Guta is the Assistant Editor at Small Business Trends and currently manages its East African editorial team. Michael brings with him many years of content experience in the digital ecosystem covering a wide range of industries. He holds a B.S. in Information Communication Technology, with an emphasis in Technology Management.

2 Reactions
  1. Hi Michael,

    But machine learning isn’t usually as sexy as most of its applications. Right now, in a Facebook newsfeed near you, machine learning is controlling what you do, see, and interact with.


  2. Hi Christopher,
    The technology is being applied across a wide range of services, and granted the Facebook application may not be sexy, but it is effective. And if it keeps learning as it should, it will only get better.

    Another point to remember is, it is more accessible than ever for organizations that are not as massive as Facebook. You too can access the power and innovation of IBM’s Watson without having to mortgage the farm.