Salesforce will share more information about its hyped-yet-still-secret artificial intelligence technology before its annual Dreamforce conference in October. In fact, it will start talking publicly about its Einstein AI effort in two weeks, which is, coincidentally or not, just before Oracle’s (ORCL) annual conference kicks off.
On the Salesforce earnings call Wednesday, chief executive Marc Benioff talked up “Einstein” in very general but extremely glowing terms. He had already disclosed the product name and some details to Forbes last week. Benioff, after all, is a master of parceling out snippets of information to keep the headlines fresh—and focused on Salesforce (CRM). And so here we are.
By putting the news out in mid-September, instead of at Dreamforce, which starts a few weeks later, Benioff does two things. One: He keeps drumming up interest among Dreamforce attendees. Two: He steals the spotlight from Oracle OpenWorld, which kicks off Sept. 18 in San Francisco.
Benioff and Oracle executive chairman Larry Ellison are frenemies of the first order. Benioff started his career at Oracle 30 years ago and was a top lieutenant to Ellison, whom he calls a friend and mentor. But the two do enjoy a good tussle every once in a while. They tangle about which company’s tech conference is bigger. About which offers the best online software. About which represents “true” cloud. You get the drift.
Five years ago, Benioff was once bounced from his OpenWorld keynote, and worked that into a media goldmine.
Now Benioff is all about Einstein and artificial intelligence. Basically that is software that teaches itself new skills based on the data it’s parsed and interactions it’s had. Imagine a program that knows what you want even before you ask based on its past interactions with you and your colleagues. That could be interesting.
To be fair, although Salesforce has bought AI companies including RelateIQ two years ago, MetaMind, Implisit, PreductionIO, and TempoAI, it is a bit late to this party. IBM (IBM), after all, has been dining out—at least in PR terms—on Watson ever since Watson kicked Ken Jennings’ butt on Jeopardy five years ago.
“After buying RelateIQ, Benioff was going to call everything ‘blank IQ,’ but when he saw the traction IBM was getting with Watson, he wanted something else, and Einstein was born,” said one source close to Salesforce who insisted on anonymity.
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On the earnings call on Wednesday, Benioff said Salesforce would offer AI-enabled versions of all of its existing software products that are widely used by sales and marketing people in big companies.
Thus there will be a Sales Cloud Einstein, a Service Cloud Einstein, a Marketing Cloud Einstein, and an Analytics Cloud Einstein. And corporate software developers would be able to build their own AI features using “Einstein extensions and Heroku,” Benioff noted. Heroku is a software development platform Salesforce acquired five years ago.
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And he also noted Einstein would suit both techies who know how to program and mere mortals in sales and marketing departments who just want smarter software that may anticipate their needs. These are some mighty big promises, as is the contention Benioff made that the company has managed to take all those acquired companies and their technologies and “stitch” them together.
Given that integrating technologies from so many companies is a complex and tricky process, it will be interesting to see how Einstein turns out.