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CFOs Considering the Return on Investment of Generative AI

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Mar 25, 2024

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As companies embrace generative artificial intelligence (gen AI), chief financial officers want to be sure that there is a good return on investment (ROI), The Wall Street Journal reported.

Companies in many industries are testing generative AI, exploring new ways to make their workforces more productive, communicate with customers or improve financial forecasting, the Journal reported.

“In the spirit of the unknown, organizations are taking a leap of faith,” said Todd Lohr, U.S. technology consulting leader at KPMG, in an interview with the Journal. He added that companies are gauging returns using metrics such as productivity gains and employee satisfaction, as well as revenue. “This might not be the traditional ROI,” he said. Companies “don’t fully appreciate all the benefits yet, but we think from a disruption perspective, we need to invest in [generative AI].”

Adoption is expensive. In the next 12 months, 43 percent of U.S. companies with at least $1 billion in annual revenue expect to invest at least $100 million in generative AI, according to a survey of 220 companies published Friday by KPMG.

Companies can pay to use proprietary models from providers such as OpenAI, refining them as  needed, or they can also build their own generative AI tools using open-source models, such as Meta's Llama 2 AI model. Copilot for Microsoft 365—a product that uses generative AI to perform tasks such as summarize emails and create documents—costs $30 a month for each user, for example.

“Understanding where the highest and best use is around these investments that we are making, and will continue to make, is an important role for finance and the CFO,” said Jason Winkler, chief financial officer of Motorola Solutions, which makes technology for emergency responders and other public agencies and companies, in an interview with the Journal.

Airbnb CFO Ellie Mertz told the Journal that she is working with her Chief technology officer to help the company prioritize among possible experiments with generative AI, such as using conversational AI tools to improve customer service; computer-vision models to help identify room types, views and amenities; and machine learning to help guests find listings.

“That’s an area where we’ve been leaning in to see where we can leverage AI to just make the kind of matching of problem and solution more straightforward, more efficient and get to better outcomes,” she said.

Financial software maker Intuit, which owns brands such as TurboTax, QuickBooks and Credit Karma, is using and testing generative AI across its product lines to help answer customer questions or generate invoice reminders.

Other CFOs, such as Cisco Systems’ Scott Herren, are moving more deliberately. “We’re not there today,” he told the Journal. “I think we need to define it well enough and then understand both the cost and the benefit before we head too far down that path.”

Software company Autodesk is looking for possible uses of generative AI within the finance team itself, CFO Debbie Clifford told the Journal.

“If we’re able to automate some of the processes that underpin the ability for those more strategic finance people to be successful, we might be hiring fewer people on an incremental basis in the long-term,” she said.