IBM and Salesforce have joined forces to integrate and leverage one another’s artificial intelligence solutions to deliver new applications for customers in a variety of sectors, including retail, and across sales, service marketing and other business domains.
IBM stated in a press release that the resulting offering will bring new insights from IBM Watson directly into the Salesforce Intelligent Customer Success Platform, combining deep customer insights from Salesforce Einstein with Watson's structured and unstructured data across many sources and industries including weather, healthcare, financial services and retail.
The combined solution resulting from the initial integration of IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein is expected to be available in the second half of 2017. Pricing will be announced at the time of general availability. IBM also said it is creating a new practice to help customers implement the combined capabilities.
This is a pretty exciting combination once you get over the mental image of Watson kind of, sort of... mating with Einstein. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and CEO of IBM, hinted at just how big of a deal this partnership could be in the accompanying press release: “Within a few years, every major decision — personal or business — will be made with the help of AI and cognitive technologies," she said. "This year we expect Watson will touch one billion people — through everything from oncology and retail to tax preparation and cars."
That first sentence should come off as hyperbole, but it's really not. Many of us engage with one AI or another on a daily basis and don't even think about it. Heck, even the second sentence about Watson's reach might have sounded shocking a couple years ago, when most people still thought of Watson as a poker-faced "Jeopardy" champion with only vague aspirations in business. Yet, here we are in the age of not only Watson, the business-focused AI, but also Einstein (which was smartened up by Salesforce's Metamind acquisition last year), Alexa (whom we have come to know well) and many AI tools for retail and other industries that don't have such cutesy, easy-to-remember names. Watson and Einstein may need one another to effectively compete in this environment and offer more than some other rivals.
Watson has had a pretty solid year with retailers and consumer products brands, lining up deals to power a range of solutions for Staples, Under Armour, Sears, Mall of America and others. Teaming up with Einstein will only broaden and enhance its utility across retail organizations and other companies in ways that these firms probably haven't even thought about yet.
If there is a risk for IBM and Salesforce specifically in regard to retail, it's that last bit. Companies in this sector are just starting to understand AI as something that can work on the back end to improve their customer interactions. The solutions that will result from this partnership are likely to go much farther than that, and it could be a while before we're ready in retail for some of those next steps.