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ESI ThoughtLab Report: Five Steps Firms Can Take to Unlock AI-Driven ROI

October 15, 2020
· 3 min read

ESI ThoughtLab, the thought leadership arm of Econsult Solutions, recently partnered with DataRobot and other AI leaders to produce a standard-setting study of senior executives in 1,200 companies focused on the impact of AI on ROI. The firms surveyed hail from 15 countries and 12 industries, portray a diverse array of AI maturity, and carry a combined revenue of $15.5 trillion. 

Even with companies increasing their AI investment by nearly 5% per year and projecting to bump that number up to 8.3% by 2023, 40% of AI projects are still currently showing no yield. It’s time to move beyond “Experimental AI” — AI that isn’t value-oriented or trustworthy — and translate data to value across the entire AI lifecycle, from creation to consumption. With this in mind, the report advocates that executives focus on five key best practices to optimize their AI initiatives:

  • Begin with pilots, but then scale AI across the enterprise
  • Lay a firm foundation
  • Get your data right
  • Solve the human side of the equation
  • Adopt a culture of collaboration and learning

The report details how companies are tackling these five challenges and the specific steps they are taking to become AI-driven. 

COVID-19 Shed Light on AI’s Ability to Deliver Vision and Guidance in an Era of Unprecedented Change  

AI not only helped healthcare organizations battle the coronavirus, implement the latest analytical techniques to enhance virus detection, and advance vaccine research, it also provided insights and direction in an era of unparalleled change. Companies dealing with the challenges of social distancing and remote work also hastened their adoption of machine and deep learning, as well as NLP and RPA to make critical adjustments. 

AI leaders, meanwhile, kept customers happy and workers engaged with automated processes while shielding against cyberattacks, gaining insights into time-critical data, and forecasting market trends. The report states that by 2023, the number of firms competent in using different AI technologies will increase greatly: 

  • RPA will increase from 29% today to 68%  
  • Chatbots will jump up from 25% to 59% 
  • Computer vision will bump up from 13% to 22% 
  • Machine learning will see an upturn from 19% to 45% 
  • Deep learning will nearly double, going from 11% to 20%.

In 2023, the report notes, we will also see a surge in data dependence as 73% of companies will be advanced in data management, which will include such categories as:

  • Psychographic 109%,
  • Competitive 76% 
  • Geospatial 76%
  • Real-time 75% 
  • Social media 60%.

Strategic Change and Measuring What Matters Are Key to Delivering the Real ROI of AI

The report also pinpoints a logical outcome in AI: the more you use and develop it, the more you get out of it. 

Companies new to AI usually use AI to boost staff and customer engagement and to automate internal processes. AI leaders then turn the corner when they harness AI to advance strategic gains in their supply chain management, strategic planning, product development, and distribution and logistics. AI leaders report reaping the following benefits:

  • 31% increase in revenue
  • 22% greater market share and new products and services
  • 21% faster time-to-market
  • 19% creation of new business models
  • 14% higher shareholder value

AI laggards, meanwhile, have made the least progress on distribution and logistics, finance and auditing, supply chain, R&D and innovation, sales and business development, risk management, and fraud detection. Interestingly, those are the same metrics where AI leaders are the most ahead.

At the underdeveloped end of the spectrum, we find the shocking revelation that 79% of companies reporting negative or no ROI do not have tangible systems in place to measure returns. Companies new to AI need to account for the costs of hiring and training AI staff, not just for the technology itself.


Humans will never be replaced by artificial intelligence, but organizations that work well with AI will surpass those who cannot. Therefore, companies that focus on solid training and re-skilling are way ahead in delivering AI-driven ROI. AI beginners need to lay a foundation of management support, an IT platform, and data management system, while AI leaders must actively augment their world of AI partners, suppliers, and consultants. Whether you are an AI-driven enterprise or in the early stages of your AI journey, download and read the full report to learn more about the five best practices that can expand your AI-driven ROI.

About the author

Value-Driven AI

DataRobot is the leader in Value-Driven AI – a unique and collaborative approach to AI that combines our open AI platform, deep AI expertise and broad use-case implementation to improve how customers run, grow and optimize their business. The DataRobot AI Platform is the only complete AI lifecycle platform that interoperates with your existing investments in data, applications and business processes, and can be deployed on-prem or in any cloud environment. DataRobot and our partners have a decade of world-class AI expertise collaborating with AI teams (data scientists, business and IT), removing common blockers and developing best practices to successfully navigate projects that result in faster time to value, increased revenue and reduced costs. DataRobot customers include 40% of the Fortune 50, 8 of top 10 US banks, 7 of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies, 7 of the top 10 telcos, 5 of top 10 global manufacturers.

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