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The IBM, Salesforce AI Mash-Up Could Be a Stroke of Genius

March 7, 2017, 2:00 PM UTC
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.
Photo: Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service

All these partnerships are making my head hurt. To keep up you need a scorecard. Yesterday I wrote about NBC Universal taking a big slug of the initial public offering of “camera” company Snap (SNAP). That was about sprinkling NBCU’s vast “content”—what we used to call news, films, and TV shows—across the Snapchat platform.

Today’s news is about a tie-up between and IBM over artificial intelligence. Or, as Andrew Nusca cleverly wrote on Monday, the deal represents the marriage of “two nerdily-named artificial intelligence platforms,” Salesforce’s Einstein and IBM’s Watson.

The two companies plan to integrate the AI products but sell them separately. This would let IBM (IBM) turn its prediction engine loose on Salesforce’s sales-oriented clients. And it would inject Salesforce’s customer-focused analytics on IBM’s business customers.

Both companies are big on buzzwords and the transformative power of headlines. Actual products from their relationship are “expected” in the “second half of 2017,” the companies said. They’ll reveal pricing “at the time of general availability,” a handy euphemistic way of saying this partnership exists merely on paper for now.

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There was one more concrete element of the announcement. IBM agreed to become a paying user of Salesforce’s customer-support product. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said his company will displace Microsoft for this business.

Benioff and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty each divulged a related nugget to Fortune’s Nusca. “These are the best of both worlds for artificial intelligence. These are the two best players coming together,” said Benioff. “We have almost no overlap in our businesses.” In agreement, Rometty added: “We share over 5,000 joint clients.”

Salesforce (CRM) is worth $57 billion and struggles to make money. IBM’s market value is $172 billion and it has a tough time growing. Might this almost-no-overlap, thousands-of-shared-clients relationship someday be more than a partnership?