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January 18, 2018

AI Investment Up, ROI Remains Iffy

George Leopold

Real-world applications for artificial intelligence are emerging in areas such as boosting the productivity of dispersed workforces. However, early adopters are still struggling to determine the return on initial AI investments, according to a pair of new vendor reports.

Red Hat released research this week indicating that AI deployments have yielded some tangible results in areas such as transportation and utilities that rely heavily on field workers. A separate forecast released Wednesday (Jan.17) by Narrative Science found growing enterprise adoption of AI technologies but little in the way of investment returns.

Chicago-based Narrative Science, which sells natural language generation technology, found that 61 percent of those companies it surveyed deployed AI technologies in 2017. Early deployments focused on business intelligence, finance and product management. “In 2018, the focus will be on ensuring enterprises get value from their AI investments,” company CEO Stuart Frankel noted in releasing the survey.

Early adopters are also encountering many of the hurdles associated with a “first mover” advantage. “More and more organizations are deploying AI-powered technologies, with goals such as improving worker productivity and enhancing the customer experience that are not only laudable, but achievable,” Narrative Science concluded. “A focus on realistic deployment timeframes and accurately measuring the effectiveness and [return on investment] of AI is critical to keeping the current momentum around the technology moving forward.”

Meanwhile, the Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) survey also found an uptick in AI deployments, with 30 percent of respondents planning to implement AI for “field service workers” this year. Other applications include predictive analytics, machine learning and robotics.

While issues such as securing data access and a lack of standards persist, Red Hat found that field workers are “now at the forefront of digital transformation where artificial intelligence, smart mobile devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) and business process management technologies have created new opportunities to better streamline and transform traditional workflows and workforce management practices.”

A predicted 25 percent increase in AI investment through November 2018 is seen transforming field service operations, Red Hat noted in a blog posted on Thursday (Jan. 18). Early movers cited increase field worker productivity (46 percent), streamlining field operations (40 percent) and improving customer service (37 percent) as the top business factors for investing in AI.

Along with a lack of standards, respondents said deployment challenges include keeping pace with technological change and integrating AI deployments with legacy systems. The survey notes that industry groups are focusing on standards and interoperability among IoT devices along with data security while improving integration technologies.

Earlier vendor surveys also have identified barriers to implementation ranging from a lack of IT infrastructure suited to AI applications to a lack AI expertise. For instance, a survey released last fall by data analytics vendor Teradata Corp. (NYSE: TDC) found that 30 percent of those it polled said greater investments would be required to expand AI deployments.

Despite the promise and pitfalls of AI—ranging from freeing workers from drudgery to displacing those same workers—early AI deployments appear to underscore the reality that the technology remains a solution in search of a problem.

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