In the late 1980’s, when my career was first beginning, I worked on a technology helpdesk for an insurance agency automation system (Aetna’s Gemini platform). Many of the calls were routine with an easily road mapped set of resolution steps. So the firm decided to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) and began interviewing its most seasoned experts to identify the problem resolution path.
After several months of development, an AI module would be unveiled that walked the user through problem resolution. It was basically a set of if-then-else and case statements providing pre-coded branching logic. Support reps started with a category and were walked through a set of questions to ask and resolution steps to convey over the phone.
The solution was expensive and lacked the ability to learn. Thus, if new problems arose or the problem resolution changed due to new hardware or software being introduced, the rules no longer applied.
It was far from intelligent. Heck, I’d coded a twenty-questions game in a first semester programming class that was more intelligent than the service. At least my Q&A game had the ability to learn new questions to ask without requiring an expensive consultant.
Finally, it was only used by new hires as much of the routine steps were just that — routine.
Solutions like this quickly proved that Artificial Intelligence wasn’t intelligent and after a few years, the term AI fell from favor and returned to the realm of sci-fi killer robots.
Nearly three decades later, the term AI is once again being rolled out. But now it does convey an impressive level of intelligence which makes our devices feel smart. It’s why we call them smartphones. They are able to leverage vast amounts of data and make decisions in the blink of an eye. Whether it is asking Siri a question or having Google map the best route to a location subject to current traffic patterns and transportation mode, we expect our devices to be intelligent.
AI represents a massive change in technology. You might call it a “paradigm shift” or “disruption” or we could just stick with “massive change.” What we’re trying to say is, AI is kind of a big deal. And just like the arrival of the personal computer, cloud computing, and the mobile smartphone, AI is going to fundamentally change the way things work, forever.
AI is not killer robots. It’s killer technology.
- “Learn AI Fundamentals,” Salesforce Trailhead (training)
So it was with a smile that I saw the term AI being used by Salesforce in positioning their new Einstein service. Each year at Dreamforce, CEO Marc Benioff discusses a new underlying technology or cloud. Most recently it has been Lighting (UI and workflows), Wave (analytics), and the Internet of Things Cloud. At Dreamforce 2016, it is Einstein, their artificial intelligence platform to assist with sales, marketing, and service.
Salesforce presents AI simply as
Lots of data + cloud computing + good data models = smarter machines
So while much of this technology has been provided as consumer applications for over a decade, businesses have been lagging behind when the scope goes beyond a mobile app or e-commerce portal.
Shouldn’t the full transactional and service history be available to help understand past purchases, preferences, and potential cross-sell and upsell opportunities?
Wouldn’t we want it delivered no matter the touch point?
That is the type of intelligence that Einstein is looking to bring to Salesforce customers. Einstein is “the world’s first comprehensive artificial intelligence platform for CRM. I’ve never been more excited about the innovation happening at Salesforce,” said Benioff.
Einstein is available both programmatically (for developers) and “declaratively for non-coders,” said Benioff. It is integrated directly into the SFDC platform and available across all of the clouds. For example, an Einstein widget displays a set of insights identifying competitor news, recommended actions, and account intelligence.
Einstein builds models with no coding or initial training by users. For example, the system is able to determine which trigger events are important to sales reps and surface news about competitors without asking “who are your competitors?” The system also can make recommendations concerning high-scoring leads based upon both fit (firmographics, biographics) and behavior (e.g. recent viewing of a demo).
Not only does the system recommend activity, but it then offers recommended email copy including a proposed call time.
The platform is built on a series of recent acquisitions including RelateIQ (rebranded SaleforceIQ), MetaMind, Implisit, PreductionIO, and TempoAI. The firm now has a team of 175 data scientists “stitching together this amazing platform,” said Benioff.
“The new platform will “democratize artificial intelligence” and “make every company and every employee smarter, faster and more productive,” continued Benioff. “This is going to be a huge differentiator and growth driver going forward as it puts us well ahead of our CRM competition once again.”
The new platform infuses their sales, cloud, and marketing platforms with AI capabilities for “anyone” regardless of their role or industry. According to Salesforce, Einstein lets employees “use clicks or code to build AI-powered apps that get smarter with every interaction.”
Einstein is positioned as having your own data scientist focused on applying AI to customer relationships. Einstein has access to a broad set of intelligence including CRM data, email, calendar, social, ERP, and IoT to “deliver predictions and recommendations in context of what you’re trying to do. In some cases, it even automates tasks for you. So you can make smarter decisions with confidence and focus more attention on your customers at every touch point.”
Several predictive analytics companies used the launch to shout, “hey wait, we’ve already mastered AI for sales and marketing.” LeadSpace CEO and former Salesforce CMO Doug Bewsher stated, “B2B marketers need a complete solution that works across multiple channels, in their existing marketing stack.”
“Bad data is the Achilles heel of AI,” continued Bewsher. “AI is only as good as the data available to it. Marketers who want to get the full benefit of AI need to address their data problems first, or they’ll see the same diminishing returns as with traditional marketing automation.”
Shashi Upadhyay, CEO at Lattice Engines was a bit more diplomatic in welcoming Einstein. “After having led the market for several years, we are really excited to see the mainstream attention shifting towards AI-based solutions for marketing and sales. The Einstein announcement from Salesforce is a great step forward, as it will serve to educate the market and signal that predictive solutions are here to stay.”
Image Credit: Salesforce.com