Unveiling Einstein: Salesforce's Channel Heads To Dreamforce Eager To Get Into The AI Game

Salesforce partners headed to the Dreamforce mega-conference taking place this week in San Francisco are eagerly awaiting their introduction to Einstein, a broad set of artificial intelligence capabilities that will be infused into almost all of the CRM leader's products.

Dreamforce will be ​Einstein's coming-out party after months of Salesforce teasing an array of cognitive capabilities, such as machine learning and deep learning, that assist users in developing and maintaining relationships with their customers.

The AI technology will be offered as native enhancements to apps like the Sales, Service, Marketing, IoT and Analytics clouds, as well as a stand-alone development platform partners can leverage to customize intelligent solutions.

[Related: InsideSales Reveals Revamped Sales Acceleration Platform Ahead Of Dreamforce]

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As is often the case with the introduction of cutting-edge technologies into established product lines, however, it will be incumbent on the channel to figure out how to monetize Einstein by putting it in the hands of customers.

"Ideally, we'll be able to create entirely new enhancements to sales, service and marketing processes using Einstein as a toolset that ultimately drives better user decision-making," Glenn Weinstein, CIO of Indianapolis-based Salesforce partner Appirio, told CRN.

Salesforce has a large role to play in helping partners, and customers, anticipate those use cases for the platform-native AI, Weinstein added.

Charles Landry, chief revenue officer at SpringML, a Salesforce partner based in Pleasanton, Calif., said Einstein will boost the practices of partners that already focus on bringing AI solutions to market.

"As a provider of predictive analytics and machine-learning techniques, we think it's great wind in the sails," Landry told CRN. "We think it's going to be a great platform for us and other partners to develop against."

But even beyond gaining access to a development platform — both programmatic and declarative — to power custom AI projects, Salesforce partners will benefit from the status Einstein helps the CRM vendor secure in a competitive market, Jim Sinai, vice president of marketing at Salesforce, told CRN.

"Whether you're an SI or an ISV, you're looking to partner and align with the most forward-thinking technology vendors out there," Sinai told CRN.

Artificial intelligence has become a major battlefront of late among enterprise tech companies.

"It's pretty clear that AI is the next major technology transformation going on," Sinai said. "Cloud, mobile, social, IoT, all of these things are built on top of each other to unlock all this data, and then all these models unlock AI."

Einstein is an expansive technology that takes different forms in different products, all driven by recent breakthroughs in the automation of machine learning, Sinai said.

Because it's not an add-on capability, but rather a native enhancement to almost every Salesforce product, it will deliver to all customers a unique return on investment, he added.

Einstein will help sales reps score leads, and service professionals classify and direct cases to the right agents. Marketers will benefit from predictions on audience engagement. Even Salesforce's new Commerce Cloud — the rebranded Demandware platform acquired earlier this year — will offer personalized product recommendations thanks to Einstein, according to Sinai.

Consumers have become perfectly comfortable using artificial intelligence — from Facebook identifying people in photos, to Apple's Siri learning our voices and search preferences, to Amazon making product recommendations.

But enterprise tech vendors like Salesforce are still figuring out how best to power businesses with the self-learning technology.

"What they find is putting AI into applications is incredibly complex," Sinai told CRN.

It's also increasingly necessary, he said, as companies struggle to manage massive amounts of data by leveraging predictive models and algorithms, but face a global shortage of data scientists to help them do it.

Bluewolf, a global Salesforce systems integrator owned by IBM, recently released its latest State of Salesforce report, as it does every year before Dreamforce.

Eric Berridge, Bluewolf's CEO, told CRN that half of the companies surveyed for the study said their most essential applications contained elements of artificial intelligence.

"We are in the next wave of computing," Berridge said. "This is where the market is going and what customers are demanding. ​And AI and cognitive are helping companies get to their future now."

Salesforce has been developing Einstein's underlying technology for several years, Sinai said.

After the decision to take a deep dive into AI, Salesforce hired almost 200 experts and began a string of acquisitions: RelateIQ, MetaMind, Implisit, PredictionIO and Tempo.

"We went to find best-of-breed technologies and people, to bring them into one organization to work on one focus. And that's what Salesforce Einstein has become," Sinai said.

Partners will be able to leverage Einstein to fine-tune predictive models and help enterprises adopt predictive capabilities that supplement human judgment, speeding the process of making critical decisions, said Landry, of SpringML.

"As someone that builds applications on Sales and Analytics clouds, we think our job just got easier," Landry told CRN. "A lot of people are familiar with AI in the consumer space, but it's more complex for the enterprise. No one is certain yet how to take that and translate it to the average person in sales."

Salesforce will have achieved a lot by simplifying that technology and making it approachable, Landry said, but partners have a large role to play, both in evangelizing the technology and helping customers adopt it.

"It's clearly early days, but from our standpoint, we think it's going to speed adoption of these technologies very quickly," Landry said.

The buzz around AI is similar to where analytics and big data were a decade ago, he added.

"A lot of people are going to wake up and say I really want this. A lot of other people are just going to stumble in and start using it," Sinai said. "I think over the first year that most of our customers will be using Einstein features."

Einstein will be like giving every Salesforce customer their own data scientist, Sinai told CRN.

"We're enabling our SIs to go in and deliver predictive applications without having to be AI experts themselves. And to be those thought leaders being backed up by some really powerful technology. We'll build the base version and our partners will come up with industry applications and extensions into verticals," Sinai said.