Will SMEs Be Left Out in the Rise of AI, Blockchain, and Web3?

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are crucial for the global economy, accounting for over 90% of all businesses and employing more than 40% of the workforce. SMEs generate employment, drive innovation, and contribute to social and environmental sustainability.

However, SMEs face various challenges and obstacles, including limited access to finance, markets, and technology, high transaction costs, and a lack of business history and credibility.

The rapid progress of technology has presented SMEs with both opportunities and challenges as they adapt and compete in the digital era.

Three emerging technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain, and Web3, hold significant potential to reshape the SME.

Key Takeaways

  • SMEs play a vital role in the global economy — representing over 90% of businesses and employing more than 40% of the workforce.
  • However, can they be forgotten by the emerging technologies of AI, blockchain, and Web3?
  • SMEs can benefit from decentralized and transparent finance, record-keeping, and data-driven insights but may struggle to add these tools without encouragement and outside help.

AI refers to machines’ ability to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as learning, reasoning, and decision-making. It can assist in improving productivity and efficiency by automating repetitive tasks, streamlining operations, and offering data-driven insights and predictions.

Blockchain, a distributed ledger technology, records and verifies transactions without intermediaries, providing SMEs with enhanced security and transparency, preventing fraud, facilitating trade, and enabling smart contracts.

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Web3, the next generation of the internet, empowers users by granting them more control and ownership over their data and assets, along with decentralized applications (DApps) running on peer-to-peer networks, which help SMEs eliminate intermediaries and open doors for financing.

With each technology offering different but complementary services, SMEs can make better use of their resources, enhance their existing solutions, and create new ones, empowering them to compete and thrive in the digital economy.

Examples of AI, Blockchain, and Web3 Tools for SMEs

There are numerous examples of SMEs successfully adopting these technologies to create innovative solutions and gain a competitive edge.

For instance:

Everledger uses blockchain and AI to track and authenticate high-value assets like diamonds, wine, and art. Through blockchain, Everledger generates a digital fingerprint for each asset, allowing anyone within the supply chain to access and verify it.

With AI’s help, Everledger can also analyze asset data and images, offering stakeholders insights and recommendations. This solution aids SMEs in reducing fraud, enhancing efficiency, and building customer trust and loyalty.

Unstoppable Domains is a platform that leverages blockchain and Web3 to provide decentralized domain names and websites, ensuring they are censorship-resistant and user-owned. Using blockchain, Unstoppable Domains enables users to register and manage their domains without intermediaries or fees, and through Web3, users can access and host their websites on decentralized networks such as IPFS and Ethereum. Unstoppable Domains facilitates SMEs in establishing and maintaining their online presence while safeguarding their freedom of speech and expression.

Fetch.ai is a platform that combines AI and Blockchain to create autonomous agents capable of undertaking complex tasks and transactions for users and businesses.

The integration of AI allows these agents to learn, communicate, and negotiate with each other, as well as external data sources and services. By incorporating blockchain, Fetch.ai ensures security and reliability and enables smart contracts and decentralized governance for the agents. This solution assists SMEs in optimizing their processes, reducing costs, and fostering innovation.

Other examples include Ocean Protocol, SingularityNET, and Decentraland, which allow SMEs to create, share, and monetize AI services, access and exchange data securely and transparently, and offer entertainment, goods, and equity through virtual reality and NFTs, respectively.

They also enable SMEs to tap into innovative finance and investment avenues and foster trust via transparent ledgers.

Challenges, Barriers, and Recommendations

Integrating AI, blockchain, and Web3 technologies brings several challenges for SMEs, including the wider world’s limited awareness and exposure to the new tools, along with interoperability issues and restricted access to digital infrastructure. Overcoming these obstacles is vital if SMEs are to capitalize on these technologies’ transformative benefits.

Addressing these challenges necessitates a strategic approach. Initiatives should prioritize increasing awareness through training programs and collaborations with educational institutions, and encouraging collaboration is crucial to facilitate shared learning and resource pooling.

Providing technical and financial support is also imperative to navigate the complexities associated with technology adoption, and support mechanisms like grants or subsidies can assist.

Furthermore, facilitating strategic partnerships allows SMEs to navigate the challenges of technology adoption. Collaborations between SMEs and technology providers can lead to mutual growth, and establishing platforms for SMEs to connect with experienced tech adopters for mentorship can foster valuable relationships.

Proactive measures in these areas can help SMEs overcome the challenges associated with technology adoption, paving the way for enhanced competitiveness and sustained growth.

The Bottom Line

The convergence of AI, blockchain, and Web3 technologies offers a transformative path for all companies — not least SMEs.

These technologies enable companies to enhance productivity and facilitate decentralized interactions, presenting unparalleled prospects. The tangible benefits of successful integration serve as examples of the potential advantages.

Despite the challenges, implementing strategic approaches, phased adoption, and collaborative partnerships can drive SMEs towards increased competitiveness and sustained growth in the digital era, highlighting their pivotal role in the evolving technological era.

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Assad Abbas

Dr Assad Abbas received his PhD from North Dakota State University (NDSU), USA. He is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at COMSATS University Islamabad (CUI), Islamabad campus, Pakistan. Dr. Abbas has been associated with COMSATS since 2004. His research interests are mainly but not limited to smart health, big data analytics, recommender systems, patent analytics and social network analysis. His research has been published in several prestigious journals, including IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics, IEEE Transactions on Cloud Computing, IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing, IEEE Systems Journal, IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics,…