Salesforce Exec: AI Pact with IBM Will Help Enhance Customer Engagement

The artificial intelligence (AI) partnership announced by Salesforce and IBM March 6 — combining the companies’ respective AI platforms, IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein — will help enhance customer engagement for companies that use the services of both companies, according to David Havlek, Salesforce EVP of finance.

The IBM partnership is “super exciting for us,” he said at the Raymond James Institutional Investors Conference in Orlando, Fla., March 7. He explained: “The world is really moving to a world of artificial intelligence. Our customers have put a tremendous amount of data inside of our service and now they’re looking to get value out of that data. They want that data to talk back to them and make them more productive in sales and service and in marketing.”

Salesforce, however, doesn’t “have a monopoly on all the data in the world, and there’s a lot of other incredible data that’s sitting inside of customer environments,” he said. The IBM Watson AI platform for business has been “mining that data and bringing huge insights to industry data, to a lot of back-office data and even random data like weather data, etc., and bringing the value of that to their customers,” he said.

The partnership between the two companies will combine the best of the Salesforce AI platform and the best of IBM Watson to “drive deeper and more meaningful customer engagements, and making it easier for those companies that are working with Salesforce and IBM to bring those insights together,” he said.

He pointed out that IBM, last year, bought the consulting company Bluewolf, which is working with Salesforce on a very-large initiative to build integrated solutions around the insights that come from Einstein and Watson.

In announcing the IBM-Salesforce partnership, the companies said Bluewolf “formed a new practice to help clients rapidly deploy” the combined IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein capabilities. The new unit “capitalizes on Bluewolf’s over fifteen years of Salesforce implementations and their current portfolio of multiple” Salesforce and Watson projects, the companies said.

Havlek went on to tell the conference that AI is “becoming a little bit of a buzzword in tech” and “there’s been lots of buzzwords in tech over the years.” But AI is “not just a vision” for Salesforce, “it’s actually something we’re delivering,” he said.

Going forward, “customers are going to expect their applications to get smarter and deliver them value,” he said. Some Salesforce customers will want more AI functionality than others, presenting an “incremental monetization opportunity” from those customers who want more than what’s incorporated in just the basic service offerings, he said.

Internally, meanwhile, the company is “starting to use intelligence inside of Salesforce to begin to have a better sense about our own forecasting for our sales performance,” he said, adding: “We’re definitely looking at it. It’s early stages. We’re using it more on the sales side than we are on the finance side.” Havlek told the conference that he sent a message to his team recently, saying they need to think about how to start deploying some of the Einstein intelligence into their own processes. But Einstein has “actually gone faster than even some of us internally even expected,” he said.

“We’re in the early stages of AI” in general, he went on to say, adding: “I don’t think we’re even remotely where we will be in a year or five years or 10 years. But it’s happening very, very quickly.”

AI is “sort of the mother of all innovation in a way” because many people are suffering from “data overload” today, he said. Providing just one example of the productivity gains that are possible with the technology, he said AI can help us stop being “slaves to our email” by letting us know which emails are the most important ones to look at each day.

The wide-ranging partnership between IBM and Salesforce will see the Watson and Einstein integration available later this year, with the combined offering promising “smarter, faster decisions across sales, service, marketing, commerce and more,” according to a joint statement from the companies.

“Within a few years, every major decision — personal or business — will be made with the help of AI and cognitive technologies,” said Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and CEO of IBM, in a statement. “This year we expect Watson will touch one billion people — through everything from oncology and retail to tax preparation and cars. Now, with today’s announcement, the power of Watson will serve the millions of Salesforce and Einstein customers and developers to provide an unprecedented understanding of customers.”

Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, added: “The combination of Einstein and Watson will make businesses smarter and our customers more successful. I’m thrilled to form an alliance with IBM — no company’s core values are as close to Salesforce’s as IBM’s. It’s the best of both worlds.”

The partnership also calls for IBM to deploy Salesforce Service Cloud — Salesforce’s Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud-based customer service software — “across the company to transform its global product support services and gain a single, unified view of every IBM customer,” according to a company statement.