Minority, diverse businesses urged to get on board

By M.V. Greene


If a minority business enterprise (MBE) relies on technology to sustain and grow its business, one thing is clear: There is no hiding from AI (artificial intelligence).


According to observers of business and technology, AI represents the greatest technological advancement since the internet was commercialized in the early 1990s.


“AI has the potential to be as impactful as the internet, and its innovation rivals some of the most significant advancements in history. I believe it belongs in that elite category,” said David A. Gupta, co-founder and executive chairman of SDI Presence LLC, a Chicago, Illinois-based technology consulting and managed services provider.


“It’s really a new frontier out there for everybody,” he added.


And those “everybodys” who should be focused on adopting AI protocols include minority-owned and other diverse businesses, Gupta said.


Gupta’s company is certified as a minority-owned company through the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. (NMSDC) and enjoys status as a Corporate Plus® member of the organization. That coveted designation is reserved for minority business enterprises working with NMSDC that have been operating for at least three years with annual gross revenues of at least $25 million, attesting to their ability to execute national contracts for major corporations.


In May 2024, SDI received the Supplier of the Year Class IV award from the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (ChicagoMSDC), an affiliate chapter of NMSDC.

In Chicago, among its many activities, SDI is leveraging AI in a commitment to diversity through a program to help create high-paying information technology (IT) careers for residents in underserved local communities.


“AI,” Gupta said, “has the opportunity to give access to technology to people who traditionally have not been able to participate in our industry.”


For minority-owned and diverse businesses, AI offers a sky-is-the limit proposition, according to observers.


Legendary author, strategist and consultant James H. Lowry has tracked the field of minority business enterprise for five decades, and he, too, has been sounding a clarion call that AI indeed presents an unparalleled opportunity for minority-owned and diverse businesses.


“If we don’t get in front of technology, and specifically, AI, you can kiss it goodbye” is a message he has been directing toward diverse companies for several years. “Right now, most of the money is being invested in AI companies,” said Lowry, founder and CEO of James H. Lowry & Associates Inc. and a longtime senior partner at Boston Consulting Group.


 In a recent MBN USA column, he advised minority entrepreneurs to embrace the potential power of AI technologies as a strategy for business growth and wealth creation. “We must be at the table, build a case for our involvement, and accept that we must think big,” Lowry wrote in this column.


Gupta as well is keen to understand the posture and hype occurring around AI today, as the rapid momentum surrounding the technology is jaw-dropping.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a 2023 report from its year-long study of AI by its “Commission on Artificial Intelligence Competitiveness, Inclusion and Innovation” — which included leaders from both government and the private sector — opined that the

AI development and AI-based systems are growing exponentially and will be in use over the next 10 to 20 years in virtually every business and government agency.


AI, the Chamber report said, “will have a profound impact on society, the economy, and national security,” with global economic growth attributed to AI expected to total $13 trillion by the end of this decade.


Competing in the technology services industry, Gupta’s company is focused on enhancing its own internal operations through AI, while also pushing out tools and solutions to its customers.


“We’re looking at AI throughout our organization for how we can make things more efficient and make better use of the data we have,” he said.


On the client delivery side, SDI, for instance, focuses on helping companies accelerate the modernization of their legacy applications via AI, and Gupta said the results can be transformative. He explains that large companies are seeking opportunities to update their back-office systems away from mainframe computing processes that they have had employed for decades.


 Gupta said three key benefits to deploying AI applications are reduced costs, speed to innovation, and productivity efficiency, he said.


“Application modernization [via AI] can update applications running on mainframes that would normally take years to replace. You can do that now in weeks and months,” Gupta said. “AI can make possible now what was thought to be impossible.”


Gupta calls AI an opportunity for small and diverse businesses, that may not always be able to compete on price within corporate and government supply chains, to create strategic advantages in vying for new business opportunities.


“Every small business needs to take advantage of their flexibility and their nimbleness to embrace this opportunity and find where they can use a particular piece of AI technology to differentiate their business and make it more competitive,” he said. “If you are truly trying to differentiate your service, AI can help you do that.”


AI — as in, actual intelligence

But not everyone is going full speed ahead to jump on the AI bandwagon. Take, for instance, Shabazz Graham, co-founder of Qcast Ltd. His company developed the Qcast app. Of course, he sees merit in AI.


“I appreciate some aspects of artificial intelligence as an ‘efficient assistant,’ which is very much like the fast-moving adoption of the internet,” he said. “When digital first took the world by storm, access to technology offered us more reach, more speed and more efficiency, helping people achieve faster turnarounds of essential tasks, especially in business, commerce, socializing and general engagement.


“On the other hand, I take the fast-moving adoption of certain aspects of AI as quite concerning, as more than ever — despite our need for efficiency and speed — I believe we humans truly need more of the ‘real’ instead of the artificial,” Graham continued. “We need more AI — as in, actual intelligence — versus artificial Intelligence. AI has been used amazingly to help answer basic, factual questions posed by humans online. Still, it hasn’t mastered the human art of asking questions only humans can, for the reasons only humans do. Emotional intelligence trumps artificial intelligence on this front.”


It’s that need for human contact that has made Qcast successful, he said.


“The name of our platform, Qcast, stands for ‘question-cast.’ We are an interactive video engagement tool built on questions — human questions,” Graham said. “Some have mistakenly thought that we are powered by AI, but we have intentionally limited our AI component to assist in the backend analytics of the video data that is captured by our front-end tool, so as to intentionally maintain the human element at the center of Qcast.”


AI revolution

For those minority-owned and diverse suppliers that may be slow to incorporate AI into their business processes, observers say don’t be squeamish about adoption.


Gelyn Watkins is CEO of Black in AI, a scholarly advocacy organization in Silicon Valley, California, founded in 2017 that seeks to increase the presence and inclusion of Black people in AI globally, said AI isn’t necessarily new and that users are likely more comfortable with the technology than they probably imagine.


“We’ve been with AI really for the past 15 years, you just haven’t known that” she said.


“Anytime that you’ve been using Alexa, anytime that you’ve been using Siri, anytime that you’ve been using your cell phone and logging on to YouTube or Instagram, and the algorithm that is being used to suggest your videos or power your feed with information, you’ve already been engaging with AI systems. We weren’t necessarily calling them out as such,” Watkins said.  


Observers say what is fueling AI development today is the sophistication of large language models (LLM) that can process and generate human language. These language models based on neural networking architecture can predict and generate sequences from massive amounts of text data, allowing them to configure complex patterns and relationships in language, according to general AI definitions.


“We’re still in the early part of the AI revolution, but the reality is that the technology is moving fast in terms of what we are learning and what it can do. In fact, we haven’t even exhausted what it can do,” said Watkins, whose background includes finance and business strategy.


In charting a course of AI technological development, Watkins said two decades ago new technologies were being created largely to solve problems. But AI’s posture is wide open — with a sort of “let’s build it and they will come” approach, she said, with large technology companies seeking to edge to the forefront in the development of large language models, including platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini, Microsoft’s Copilot and Meta Platforms’ Meta AI.



“Big tech is in an arms race to get AI in the hands of consumers and users with these large language models,” Watkins said.


For businesses considering AI adoption, Watkins said companies first need to understand their internal operational landscape to locate and document gaps in the business that need to be closed. Then they need to consider the possibilities that generative AI can now offer in closing gaps and alleviating “pain points” in the operation, Watkins said.


For instance, in supply chains, companies may not understand all the data that is being generated and can leverage AI tools to help them make sense of the data and connect more efficiently with supply chain partners, according to Watkins.


One charge of the Black in AI organization is to seek clarity on how LLMs are developed and deployed and their ethical and everyday impact on people of color. For instance, observers say AI can address — yet also exacerbate — the racial wealth gap globally unless careful consideration is given to how algorithms are presented in instructions for solving problems.


Watkins and other Black in AI principals challenged the Congressional Black Caucus in a March 2024 white paper, for instance, to understand that it needs to play a key role by grounding its policy agenda in the context of recent AI developments and their implications for Black Americans through applying a “new lens” to the opportunities and risks of AI development.


To ensure economic mobility access for all people, businesses, policymakers, etc. “will need to be mindful of AI systems and their use and application across various domains in our society,” Watkins said. 


“You need to understand how the AI tool is working to ensure that you are not disenfranchising any particular group,” she added. “The (social) problems of the day haven’t changed. The civil rights issues of the day across business, education, health care, etc., have not changed because of AI. They will not necessarily improve because of AI. So, you do need to understand how the tools are being utilized in any given context, and what groups might be negatively impacted through its application (within that context).”


To learn more about SDI, visit sdipresence.com.


To learn more about James H. Lowry & Associates Inc., visit minoritychangeagent.com.


To learn more about, Qcast, visit qcast.io.


To learn more about Black in AI, visit blackinai.github.io.


To learn about the 2023 U.S. Chamber of Commerce AI report, visit uschamber.com/assets/documents/CTEC_AICommission2023_Exec-Summary.pdf.


David A. Gupta Jim Lowry James H. Lowry & Associates Inc. Shabazz Graham AI Artificial Intelligence Gelyn Watkins Black in AI SDI Qcast

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