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How to build an AI business strategy

5-minute read

AI can help companies cut costs, boost sales and add value. It can assist with pretty much any function—everything from customer service to digital marketing and product development.

“Canadian business owners should be aware of the opportunities AI offers and the risks of falling behind,” says Samuel Easto-Lefebvre, a Senior Business Advisor with BDC’s Advisory Services who coaches entrepreneurs on AI and digital adoption.

“We recommend that businesses explore how AI can help them keep and enhance their competitive edge.”

How can AI help to grow my business?

AI is playing an increasing role in helping businesses:

  • increase sales
  • reduce expenses
  • add value
  • improve efficiency
  • minimize waste
  • improve employee engagement
  • reduce climate impact

In marketing, for example, AI tools help to optimize marketing and sales activities. AI chatbots can give customers 24-hour access to quick answers to their questions or help resolve issues. AI can also be used to optimize machinery maintenance schedules and inventory management.

Here are some common ways AI capabilities can optimize activities to help businesses grow.

Marketing and sales

  • social media channel management
  • market research and behaviour analytics
  • customized product recommendations
  • content creation
  • pricing optimization

Supply chain and production

  • yield simulation and optimization
  • energy efficiency
  • supply chain and inventory optimization


  • quality control optimization
  • task automation
  • assisted decision-making

Planning can enormously boost your chances of success with AI.

How can I build an effective AI strategy?

It’s important to start your AI journey in a structured way. This helps to ensure you choose AI tools that most benefit your business without needlessly wasting time, energy or money. “Planning can enormously boost your chances of success,” Easto-Lefebvre says.

Get your business AI-ready

The first step in your AI journey should be to take stock of your business. Review your company’s strategy, goals and challenges.

1. Assess your business needs and pain points

Sit with your team to review where you are with your strategic plan. List chronic pain points or bottlenecks in the business. Consider bringing in an outside digital expert to facilitate an open and focused discussion.

Next, take stock of how you use technology in your business. It can be useful to make a list or table of various applications, technologies, machines and automated processes you use.

2. Review your data

Data is at the heart of AI. You should review your existing data and how your business uses it. It’s helpful to prepare a list of key data in your business and a data flow showing how data moves between systems.

3. Address technology and data gaps

Start thinking about how you will address any technology, data or other gaps you find in your review. “Don’t let yourself be daunted by AI,” Easto-Lefebvre says. “What’s important is to get started. If needed, start small with easily manageable initiatives.”

4. Find use cases for AI in your business

Now you’re ready to start finding solutions. Proceed in a structured way by developing a digital plan for your business. This sets out a digital road map to steer your strategic digital investments. Any AI initiatives should fall within the broader strokes of your digital plan.

Get the ball rolling by brainstorming with employees about your pain points, root causes of each issue and AI or other digital solutions for each pain point.

Also consider what technologies could give you a competitive edge, improve customer experience or boost efficiency.

5. Exploit existing or inexpensive out-of-the-box AI solutions

Bear in mind that some of your existing systems may have AI modules or capabilities that you can exploit with little additional investment. Check whether this is the case, so you can start experimenting with AI right away.

“Many inexpensive out-of-the-box AI solutions are available to get you started on your AI journey,” Easto-Lefebvre says. “You don’t need to build your own model to use AI.”

6. Weigh the benefits and risks of AI solutions

Now prioritize the five to 10 most impactful and feasible solutions. One method is to assign a score for each one based on various factors, such as business impact, strategic alignment and complexity. The solution with the most points is likely the optimal one. It’s usually best to choose a single solution to start with.

Don’t let yourself be daunted by AI. What’s important is to get started.

How to successfully deploy AI

1. Understand the main types of AI

Entrepreneurs often ask which strategy is better for deploying AI or other technology: buy or build. “The best strategy depends on the context and your capacity,” Easto-Lefebvre says. “It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

2. Develop an AI readiness plan

Carefully plan your AI investment to avoid unexpected costs, features that don’t work as expected or a painful tech transition.

An AI readiness plan is a good way to plan a successful AI deployment. It usually lists all the initiatives and sub-initiatives you need to undertake, a timeline, stakeholders and budgets. The plan typically also includes a structured approach to find the right AI solution for your business.

AI adoption mistakes to avoid

It’s common for businesses to make mistakes when adopting AI. Here are some common ones and how to avoid them:

1. Lack of oversight

Establish a digital oversight champion or committee to assist company leadership to oversee digital technologies and AI deployment and monitor progress on your AI readiness plan.

2. Ignoring risks

Be sure to manage cybersecurity and risks associated with AI. It’s a good idea to assess your current resiliency and adopt best practices in cybersecurity, business continuity and data privacy.

3. Overlooking automation

Many pain points can be resolved by using existing technology to its full potential or other automation. Consider hiring an efficiency expert to help.

The keys to AI adoption success

Here are some tips to help ensure a successful AI deployment:

1. Think about change management

Ease disruption and resistance to change by getting buy-in and communicating well with your team and other stakeholders. Support employees with training, resources and time they need to make the AI deployment a success.

2. Monitor performance and improve continually

Establish key performance indicators to monitor and optimize the new technology’s performance.

3. Foster a culture of innovation

Cultivate a culture that embraces innovation, and build engaged, empowered and motivated teams. “Celebrate successes,” Easto-Lefebvre says. “If you encourage new ideas and learning, your team will become your champions not just for AI, but throughout your business.”

Next step:

Take the right steps to prepare and plan for AI with BDC’s free guide Get Your Business AI-Ready.

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