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Marrying Watson With Einstein

March 7, 2017, 12:53 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

Good morning.

Do you have an AI strategy yet? Have you hired a Chief AI Officer? Time is running short, because, as a Wall Street Journal headline tells us this morning, Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything.

I have no doubt that’s true. But for the moment, we still have a shortage of people who can tell you exactly how it’s going to change everything, or what you need to do to prepare for the change. A recent Bloomberg analysis found mentions of Artificial Intelligence in corporate earnings call transcripts have taken a hockey-stick-like turn upward in the last two years. Yet actual revenue resulting from AI-based business models, I suspect, remains scant. We are climbing the steep side of the Hype Cycle, without a clear sense of what lies on the other side.


The latest sign of that came yesterday. Salesforce, which is building artificial intelligence capacity under the brand name Einstein, is forming an odd-bedfellows alliance with IBM, which has brilliantly marketed its Watson technology as the cornerstone of its business transformation. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty discussed the partnership with my colleague Andrew Nusca yesterday, and you can read the full interview here.

In principle, Salesforce gets to bolster its number-crunching credentials, which is important when you think it’s competing against against the likes
of Microsoft, while IBM gets to put Watson in front of Salesforce’s fast-growing customer base. The stock market suggested that, Salesforce stood to gain more: its shares rose some 2% in after-hours trading, while IBM’s rose only 0.3% (they still outperformed the big indexes).

I confess I still don’t fully understand practical applications of the partnership. But how can marrying Einstein with Watson be anything less than brilliant?