Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence Technology

Investing millions in AI is great, if you know what to do with it

By Bob Briski, Chief technology officer



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March 28, 2024 | 7 min read

AI might be new technology, says Bob Briski of Dept, but old principles still count. Invest and implement wisely, look for sustainable opportunities and partnerships, and look boldly to the future.

Three yellow sticky Post-it notes on a white bakcground with a blue Sharpie marker pen beneath them

Research shows that R&D spend does not always result in strong financial performance. / Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

In the year 2024, navigating AI announcements feels like standing in a bustling auction house. Headlines report soaring figures – from $230m to $300m, even $3bn – pledged to AI-related projects by organizations around the world. Each turn of the news cycle presents another opportunity to top the previous story’s outlandishly large spending amount. But spending money is one thing – the real question is what do you do with it?

The line of reasoning behind these loudly publicized statements appears to be simple: the heftier the investment announced, the more capable, innovative, and dedicated the organization. Yet, spending money is the easiest part of any project.

For nearly two decades, PwC’s Global Innovation 1000 study has reaffirmed that there: “is no long-term correlation between the amount of money a company spends on its innovation efforts and its overall financial performance.” And most of us intuitively already know this, derisively referring to this kind of profligacy as: “throwing money at the problem.”

Still, that’s exactly what we’re seeing happen today. Well-known, highly influential companies are announcing their plans to spend huge sums on AI, but a deeper look beyond the eye-popping headlines betrays a troubling lack of strategy – or, in the worst cases, accounting sleight of hand to boost the newsworthiness of these investments. But a successful investment into a largely uncharted realm of world-changing technology demands more than just a healthy checkbook and a PR moment. It requires a vision, a strategy, and a commitment to genuine innovation.

Be bold, don't just spend big

So, how can brands distinguish themselves in this crowded and noisy space without yielding to the easy path of massive investment announcements?

The answer lies in their approach to AI: a focus on sustainable growth, strategic partnerships, and an unyielding commitment to research and development that seeks to drive forward the frontier of what AI can achieve.

In recent years, we’ve all seen what happens when companies invest in growing too large, too quickly. What looks like a meteoric rise can lead to an untenable business model, and the waste and heartache that occurs when companies spend without restraint or hire too quickly is evident.

When it comes to investing in AI, executives must rein in their zeal and commit to sustainable growth – prioritizing long-term value creation over short-term headlines. Investing in technology and talent at a steady pace is key. This approach allows organizations to focus on more than just novel projects that use generative AI. By taking the time to think about how to integrate this technology into legacy systems, existing processes, and long-term strategy, businesses can deliver real, measurable value to themselves and/or their customers.

Invest in strategic partnerships and research

Strategic partnerships should also be central to an organization's AI strategy. By collaborating with other innovative companies in the generative AI space, businesses can position themselves to remain at the forefront of AI advancements as this technology continues to rapidly progress. Forming relationships with other like-minded organizations allows brands to leverage external expertise and bring the most cutting-edge solutions to their teams and clients faster and more efficiently than they could alone.

Finally, before spending vast sums of money on emerging technology, businesses should have a clear direction, unmatched dedication to research and development, and a culture of innovation.

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Each dollar invested in R&D should be targeted toward solving specific problems or exploring new opportunities. This means R&D should be working closely with product and services teams – ensuring the money spent is going to work that has practical applications and provides real, tangible benefits to the business or its clients. Success requires a culture that encourages cross-team collaboration and communication, sharing work widely within the company and encouraging the exchange of ideas and successes from all departments.

The headlines will continue to pour in, dominated by stories of titanic investments in AI. But brands should remain focused on building sustainable, innovative companies that lead through action and results, not announcements. Much like we’ve seen with other emerging technologies, leadership in generative AI doesn’t require broadcasting huge investments, but rather a commitment to thoughtful, strategic growth and development.

Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence Technology

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