Isabelle d’Otreppe is cofounder of Coucou Shop, an evening dress hire and accessory sales showroom in Ixelles. The business was launched five years ago but now faces new digital challenges: establishing an e-commerce platform to cope with the crisis and opening up to the new opportunities offered by artificial intelligence.

We met her as part of the Rebound Program, when mic.brussels organised sessions on artificial intelligence.

Step-by-step digitisation

Coucou Shop has always had a Facebook page. Then, Isabelle and her business partner threw themselves into setting up a website, and then an Instagram page to attract more customers. They have digitised gradually, adapting to their budget and the needs of the business, which have become increasingly specific as it has matured.

The need to set up an e-shop has become absolutely clear. As for many other businesses, the project has taken shape more quickly with the current health crisis. Isabelle also envisaged designing a chatbot to make it easier to manage customer requests. That was why she took part in the mic.brussels training session to assess the strategic possibilities offered by artificial intelligence.

Training in digital tools and artificial intelligence

There are many digital and artificial intelligence training initiatives, such as Elements of AI, AI for Business and AI School.

Isabelle d’Otreppe stresses that although the range of training is very broad, the most important thing is to choose a programme suited to the internal needs and competences of the business. This is not always easy because, before you start, you have to:

  • Understand both the business’s current and long-term needs.
  • Be able to free up enough time to participate actively.
  • Self-assess your level of competences to determine whether your profile matches the training, even though there is no real frame of reference for this.
  • Meet any financial costs associated with the training.

This means entrepreneurs have to position themselves with respect to the range of training and choose whatever best matches their needs and budget. The financial aspect is considered to be a considerable deterrent to implementing digital solutions.  We would like to remind you that the Brussels region offers incentives for consultancy and training accessible to SMEs and micro-enterprises under certain conditions.

Over the last few years, SMEs have become aware of the need to integrate digital tools into their everyday business, and of the many possibilities they offer. However, few of them have successfully implemented artificial intelligence or have understood the added value this technology will bring to their activities.

So should micro-enterprises be opening themselves up to artificial intelligence? Yes. But how and where should they start?

These are good questions.

Even though it could be a springboard for her business, Isabelle realises that implementing a chatbot is not an immediate priority. What she remembers from her training is the need to assess the cost-effectiveness of the project in relation to the desired performance of the artificial intelligence. She concludes that, to be effective “we need to find a proper balance between working in our business and working on our business”.

Using tools like AI Value Canvas provides food for thought on this issue. These models help businesses visualise the strategic approach to be adopted in this respect.

So artificial intelligence is not the sole preserve of IT developers and multinationals. It represents a competitive advantage for all businesses, even small ones. And although SMEs and micro-enterprises do not yet see AI as an immediate priority, it is essential for them to find out about this technology and define ways that it could offer them business development advantages.

Mic.brussels’ third round of AI training for business profiles starts soon ! A session in French is scheduled for February and another one in Dutch for March. If you would like to find out about the initiative, please fill in the following form: https://bit.ly/33Gae0e

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