Salesforce, IBM Kick Off New Artificial Intelligence Era

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty on Monday announced a global strategic partnership to deliver joint solutions leveraging artificial intelligence.

Einstein, the AI that powers Salesforce applications, will be connected seamlessly with IBM’s Watson AI platform.

The Watson/Einstein integration is scheduled for availability in the second half, and pricing will be announced at that time.

“This brings together two powerhouses — at least in branding — in the AI space,” observed Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

“If this partnership truly delivers more integrated solutions and the combined strengths of Watson and Einstein, it can accelerate value for customers,” she told CRM Buyer.

Salesforce Spring ’17, which the company has touted as the first complete enterprise CRM solution with AI, went live on Tuesday. Einstein is now available to all Salesforce customers in its sales, service, marketing and other products.

Salesforce also announced Einstein Vision, a set of new APIs that let developers rapidly bring image recognition to CRM and build AI-powered apps.

How’s the Weather?

Insights from Watson’s structured and unstructured data across many sources and industries will be pulled directly into the Salesforce Intelligent Customer Success Platform through Watson APIs.

The IBM Application Integration Suite for Salesforce is scheduled for availability by the end of March. Pricing will be announced at that time.

The Weather Company, which IBM acquired last year, will power a new Lightning component to provide weather insights; it will be available on the Salesforce AppExchange in the second half.

“When you wake up in the morning, you look at two things — the time and the weather,” said Trip Chowdhry, managing director for equity research at Global Equities Research.

“So your day will start with IBM and progress with Salesforce. Now you’ll know whom you need or want to interact with, and which customers you want to connect with,” he told CRM Buyer.

Further, IBM will deploy Salesforce Service Cloud enterprise wide to transform its global product support services and gain a single unified view of every customer.

Implementing the Solutions

Bluewolf, a global Salesforce implementer IBM purchased last year, has formed a new practice to help clients rapidly deploy the combined capabilities of the two AI systems.

Bluewolf will develop new industry-specific solutions for enterprise clients to accelerate adoption of cognitive applications.

“As CRM vendors move beyond basic functionality to industry-specific solutions as a way to accelerate time to value and reduce risk, what the IBM Bluewolf component can add to Salesforce — particularly with IBM’s experience in industry blueprints, for example — is great news for customers,” Nucleus’ Wettemann said.

IBM has positioned the partnership as heralding “the era of cognitive intelligence — using Watson’s huge data store to give general information to other apps, and intelligence from specific tools like Einstein,” observed Denis Pombriant, principal at Beagle Research.

Meanwhile, Salesforce’s Einstein will factor in specific CRM history and activity, he told CRM Buyer.

“It seems each side is staking out specific and non-overlapping positions,” Pombriant noted.

Impact of the Partnership

IBM “is in a race to be the first company to get to true critical mass with AI,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“They know whoever gets there first will be the next IBM,” he told CRM Buyer.

IBM “has the breadth for a multipronged attack, and no industry and no significant opportunity is out of bounds,” Enderle remarked.

Salesforce brings “massive scale in the CRM space,” and teaming up with IBM “would help ensure Salesforce has the best CRM solution on the planet,” he suggested.

IBM already has partnerships in CRM with Oracle, SAP and other major players, and with Microsoft Dynamics and SugarCRM for implementation deals, noted Nucleus Research’s Wettemann, “so this means even more competition in the space.”

What happens to the partnerships will be performance-based, Beagle’s Pombriant suggested. “Feed the winners, ignore the losers.”

The IBM-Salesforce partnership is not about AI, argued Global Equities’ Chowdhry. It’s “the next phase of machine learning and deep learning: applied learning.”

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