AI, analytics, and NLP are valuable, despite lack of obvious financial return

Instead of focusing on return to business, consider how technologies can give your business a competitive advantage.

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Image: gonin, Getty Images/iStockPhoto

Every business decision has to have a benefit. I have been one of the biggest proponents of demonstrating the worth of big data and analytics to business by being able to show impact to the bottom line—either in increased revenues or reduced costs. This is what the budget process focuses on, and what all CIOs who present their cases for new technology investments know: You have to show that what you are proposing is worth it.

SEE: TechRepublic Premium editorial calendar: IT policies, checklists, toolkits, and research for download (TechRepublic Premium)

However, there is also an argument for "soft benefit" big data and analytics investments that give a return to business. These are investments that may not be readily discernible on the bottom line, but can be major wins for companies. 

Here are a few of the benefits that may not directly translate to your bottom line, but are still worth pursuing.

Customer satisfaction

If you invest in a natural language processing (NLP) tool that in real time can detect customer sentiment during a conversation with a service person, the agent will have more information and the customers are likely to come away more satisfied. This can bring repeat business and even word-of-mouth or social media recommendations to others. These improvements might not be able to be quantified as revenue, but the technology that helps your agents solve issues effectively with customers improves the value of your brand and reputation. 

SEE: Tableau business analytics: Tips and tricks (free PDF) (TechRepubnlic)

Employee recruitment

You can improve job candidate selection and recruitment by using NLP, artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics that identify keywords in employee resumes and that use social media to sift through candidates and come up with the best ones. However, even if you find the best job candidates and hire them, it's difficult to prove out a return on investment (ROI). What you do get is the best talent—a true differentiator, especially in tech industries that depend on innovation and new revenue-generating products in the pipeline.

SEE: HR analytics: An effective yet underused employee retention and recruiting tool  (TechRepublic)

Security and IP theft prevention

The costs of a security breach or a major loss of intellectual property that walks out the door with a disgruntled employee are well documented. These are reasons investments in IT security have been robust. However, obtaining best-in-class security software and analytics is again nothing you'll see on the bottom line. All you know is that your business isn't getting compromised.

SEE: Zero trust security: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Preventive maintenance

Sensors can predict when a piece of equipment is going to fail before it does. This enables maintenance staff to get out in the field and effect replacements so your company remains operational 24/7 and never sees a failure. Again, this is hard to quantify in revenue. Some managers try to make a revenue case by showing how much revenue a company could theoretically stand to lose if certain operations were offline—but that is hypothetical.

SEE: How industrial IoT and predictive analytics are saving millions through digital transformation (TechRepublic)

Supply chain predictive analytics

More companies, especially those with large supply chains, are using analytics and big data to predict future climate patterns and even political disruptions that could threaten the flow of supplies. This is all part of a corporate risk management strategy, but it doesn't necessarily measure out in tangible cost savings or revenue gains.

SEE: 3 tips for logistics companies to help maintain the supply chain during a crisis (TechRepublic)

Remote conferencing and collaboration

Remote conferencing and collaboration have been lifesavers during the COVID-19 pandemic They are what have kept many companies operational. Of course, companies have had to invest in remote collaboration and conferencing tools in order to operationalize their remote work forces. In these cases, the results could potentially be measured in revenues gained because companies have managed to stay open. However, the revenue argument is still speculative. The cost savings argument doesn't work because in many cases, these expenses were unplanned. What companies have learned is that whether there is a bottom-line case for them or not, remote conferencing and collaboration have become indispensable corporate strategies.

SEE: Zoom vs. Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco WebEx and Skype: Choosing the right video-conferencing apps for you (TechRepublic download)

The bottom line on "soft" costs

Not every big data or analytics technology invested in has a hard revenue or cost savings return it can report. Instead, there are strategic cases where it just makes good business sense for companies to invest in technologies that will help them perform at higher levels, become more agile and efficient should conditions call for it, and stay solvent.

If the CIO or others with IT decision-making responsibilities see these technology opportunities, they should promote them with business values that don't necessarily have to be measured in financial returns.

Any company whose analytics tipped it off to a potentially unrecoverable security breach or that was able to attract a dynamic and creative employee who helped to transform its products, will affirm this.

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