On Monday 6th March 2017, IBM and Salesforce announced they will form a strategic partnership centred on their Artificial Intelligent (AI) and cognitive computing products: IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein. While many of the details around the integration are unclear this is neither a one sided, nor a Marketing announcement.

 A strategic relationship for strategic insights

IBM and Salesforce are committing to bringing Watson into Salesforce later in the year. Developers will be able to access Watson insights on data within Salesforce using Application Programing Interfaces (APIs). This will enhance the power of AI within Salesforce to a new level.

What isn’t clear is whether Watson will have access to the Salesforce data directly. Einstein can extract insights from Watson and it can also extract its own insights from Salesforce data. While those insights can be combined, the AI solutions are independent. How developers might seamlessly interoperate the two engines to combine their different sets of insights is the most obvious challenge, although Salesforce believes it has an answer and has provided some supporting use case examples. CIC will delve more into this once the underlying APIs have been completed and there is more specific detail on the integration architecture and strategy between the two intelligence engines.

Where Watson already delivers specific information, for example, data from The Weather Company, the benefits are more obvious.  Combining location data, knowledge of field service behaviour and likely weather patterns could see advice and instructions passed through Salesforce to field workers. Another area that Watson has delivered solutions to is in healthcare and with Salesforce Health Cloud gaining traction quickly there could be some interesting innovations as a result of the alliance.  With Watson already delivering solutions for the financial industry, there are opportunities for extending this to applications based on Salesforce’s Financial Services Cloud.

Einstein also features heavily in the Salesforce Spring 17 release. While use cases are being rolled out across the different verticals one interesting innovation was around image recognition.  This is still behind the capability of the IBM Watson visual recognition service though. If this partnership is successful and benefits both companies it will be interesting to see how much development Salesforce does on Einstein in directions where Watson already has a substantial lead.

What Salesforce customers and partners can do is create business applications using Einstein, and now Watson faster than IBM has done solely for Watson.   A question, however, still hangs over whether Einstein, on its own, has the compute and AI power to match Watson quickly. In our opinion, as long as Watson keeps its competitive advantage in terms of cognitive AI capabilities this partnership could last a long time.

Good for business

At a business level the partnership will allow joint customers easier access to the power of Watson through Salesforce. This will enable a greater number of existing Salesforce and IBM customers to leverage the powerful Watson AI engine. For Salesforce this delivers a level of insight of structured and unstructured data hitherto not available to Salesforce customers.

The agreement is also good news for Bluewolf, who will build an AI practise and the implementation tools for Watson in Salesforce. They will then be best placed to deliver this enhanced AI to IBM’s Salesforce customers.

The joined up forces of IBM and Salesforce thus places the strategic alliance ahead of the competition in terms of a deliverable and practical AI solution.  Just the existence of the Watson/Einstein integration will attract more IBM customers to the Salesforce platform. Salesforce users that are already using Einstein will also see the value of extending their solution to bring additional insights using IBM Watson, bringing IBM additional customers – customers that they might not have obtained otherwise.

CIC’s verdict

According to Salesforce, “FY18 is the year of Einstein”.  CIC analysts have said that 2017 will be the year that organisations start using machine learning in earnest. Cognitive computing and AI are the next step and with this announcement IBM and Salesforce are at the forefront of that technology.

There are also other companies might may also benefit from this alliance.  SI’s such as Accenture already help implement solutions from both Salesforce and IBM Watson. While Bluewolf will look to leverage the existing IBM customer base, others will also help increase the sales of Einstein, and Watson. This is good news for both IBM and Salesforce and should help Salesforce accelerate their growth.