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Dreamforce 2016: Salesforce stakes claim for baked in artificial intelligence

Salesforce inaugurates Dreamforce 2016 by restating a claim to bring artificial intelligence to bear on its customer relationship management cloud-delivered software

Cloud-delivered customer relationship management (CRM) company Salesforce inaugurated its Dreamforce conference in San Francisco by staking a claim for artificial intelligence (AI) baked into business applications.

A slew of the company’s executives put a case for leadership in the fashionable area of AI in enterprise software during a conference briefing to media from outside the US.

Much of the claim is based on technology stemming from a group of companies acquired in the past year, and on software embedded in a platform the company calls “Einstein”. The cloud CRM company has obtained permission to use the physicist’s name from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The company said in a statement that it will “supercharge productivity” with Quip, a cloud-based Office applications suite it acquired in August 2016. It said its Einstein platform “will make every customer interaction smarter”, and announced enhancements to its Salesforce1 Mobile App, Salesforce Platform and IoT Cloud.

Alex Dayon, president and chief product officer, said: “Customers are generating more data than ever before and the [business] world is more customer centric. That’s the core focus of our conference.”

Dayon said the supplier’s buying spree has been confined to its core business of CRM, which is “the guiding light of our strategy”.

“We don’t do enterprise resource management. All our acquisitions are aligned with that, and are of two types: either expanding our business by buying the leader, as with [the June 2016 acquisition of] Demandware or ExactTarget for digital marketing; or where there is technology innovation, and that has been heavy in AI in the past year,” he said.

Acquired company Quip is billed as a group of word processing, spreadsheet and task listing applications, designed to be mobile first and team-oriented, that has now been more closely integrated with the Salesforce software as a service.

Quip CEO, Bret Taylor, said the technology had been well integrated with Salesforce prior to the acquisition, and had been a partner. “We need to do more to integrate more with Chatter and with the other clouds Salesforce has,” he said.

Einstein a go-go

However, it is the cloud applications supplier’s “Einstein” platform – announced on 18 September 2016, on the first day of rival Oracle’s Open World conference, most likely in a move to deflect publicity from that event – which seems to be the most distinctive element of the new developments.

John Ball, general manager for Einstein said: “We are in the middle of an AI revolution. Einstein is about bringing that to the business world, in the form of business apps.”

“Unfortunately, for most companies, bringing AI to the business process is too hard. It’s complex and requires infrastructure and skills that most companies simply don’t have. Einstein simplifies all that complexity,” he added.

The company said Einstein will obviate the need for customers to employ legions of data scientists by “automatically discovering relevant insights, predicting future behaviour, proactively recommending best next actions and automating tasks”.

Read more about artificial intelligence and business applications

The platform, as imbued in the supplier’s CRM software, will draw on customer data from its Chatter social collaboration platform, email, calendar and e-commerce, and social data streams “to train predictive models”.

These AI models will be customised automatically for individual customers, whose administrators will be able “to include Einstein-powered fields in any object, page layout or workflow”.

Hervé Coureil, CIO at energy company Schneider Electric, and Salesforce customer, said: “With the convergence of IoT, big data, analytics and artificial intelligence, there’s a huge opportunity for us to close the loop between products, the information they’re generating and customer processes.”

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