IBM and Salesforce announced an expanded partnership focused on AI. In particular, IBM has agreed to make Watson’s capabilities more accessible to Salesforce users and customers of the company’s Quip productivity solutions. There is also an announcement about Salesforce promoting IBM Cloud services as a standard. That is good news for IBM as it is looking for growth in a cloud hosting market currently dominated by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure. However, as far as partnerships go, this seems like more distribution for IBM’s Watson and more capabilities for Salesforce users. IBM has much more to get out of the deal.
More Reach for Watson
Salesforce has 150,000 customers that now have greater access to the Watson AI solution. If IBM can execute, this could rapidly expand Watson usage in businesses beyond the Fortune 500. That will be important as Microsoft is focused on getting users exposed to its Cortana assistant and other AI-based services that are promoted through Azure, Office 365 and Teams. Salesforce’s Quip competes directly with Microsoft’s productivity offerings and Watson looks like a way strengthen the offering.
Today’s announcement builds on the previous partnership news between the companies in November 2017. It may also be an acknowledgement that Salesforce’s own AI will remain narrowly focused on a few machine learning tasks. At the time of the November announcement, IBM’s Strategic Partnership and Alliances GM, Fred Balboni commented in a blog post:
Einstein can analyze all Salesforce data – customer data; activity data from Chatter, email, calendar and ecommerce; social data streams such as tweets and images; and even IoT signals. With Watson, companies can pull insights from data outside Salesforce, like news articles, market data, interactions on social channels, as well as different types of internal enterprise data sets and sources (that live outside of Salesforce) including NPS surveys, customer responses to emails, product reviews and focus group feedback.
So, Einstein is focused on analyzing data that Salesforce already has access to and Watson will handle the messier and more varied external data sources. Why isn’t Salesforce just expanding Einstein’s capabilities? It’s not that easy to build AI-based assistants and expanding to new domains takes both time and substantial financial resources.
The Battle for B2B AI Assistants
Is this expanded relationship between IBM and Salesforce big news? The significance is what it signals to the market about AI, assistants and B2B applications. IBM and Salesforce are doubling down on their partnership. They could have had their news conference in November, patted themselves on their backs for some favorable PR, and then let the initiative go fallow as typically happens after most of these announcements. However, the renewal announcement suggests that both companies are keenly focused on better positioning themselves to compete with Microsoft for AI-based service in the enterprise.