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Speculation abounds over features of Salesforce Einstein

Smarter predictions for sales and marketing reps, better compilation of company data and what it means are among the ideas industry analysts speculate for Einstein.

With just over a month until Dreamforce, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff teased the big news slated for the user conference: The company's new offering will be called Salesforce Einstein.

While details about the product -- or if it even is a product or just a suite-wide upgrade -- are scarce, it doesn't take someone of Einstein's ilk to connect the offering's name with the recent spate of AI and machine learning acquisitions Salesforce has made.

Salesforce representatives confirmed the public report Benioff made about Einstein, adding that more details will be available mid-September and at Dreamforce. The conference, which usually draws around 150,000 users to San Francisco, is scheduled for Oct. 4-7.

The news sent industry analysts speculating on the capabilities of Salesforce Einstein, while patching together the AI-related purchases Salesforce has made in the past year and what role they could play.

"I imagine [Salesforce] using AI to accelerate the performance of the entire sales funnel, from prospecting to opportunity close," said Karl Becker, president of The Carruthers Group, an Arvada, Colo.-based marketing and sales programs consultancy. "From what I have read, I think there is a good chance that the AI technologies Salesforce has acquired that focus on machine learning, data mining, statistical analysis and predictive intelligence can all be assembled to create a version of this concept."

Salesforce's AI-based acquisitions date back more than two years, when the company bought RelateIQ, a relationship intelligence company that mines data from numerous data points, turning it into SalesforceIQ. Salesforce continued the trend with five more cognitive software company acquisitions, most recently in August with the BeyondCore purchase.

[We're at] this inflection point where a machine with AI and cognitive capabilities will be able to say 'This is the next best action.'
Adam Bataransenior director of analytics, Bluewolf

"You look at its acquisition history, and [Salesforce] has aligned itself with analytics," said Rodney Nelson, an equity analyst at Chicago-based Morningstar Inc., an investment research and management firm. "The RelateIQ purchase stands out -- that's a business that some people thought could maybe compete at some level with Salesforce. They've made a couple of purchases that have helped boost the level of analytics in their existing platform."

The fundamental need for artificial intelligence to make sense of organizational data is only increasing. According to Gartner's 10 strategic technology trends of 2016, four related directly to the need for smarter handling of data, as more of it is available from more areas than ever before.

"AI capabilities help organizations consume dark data -- unstructured data -- whether it's medical imagery or natural language or social feeds, it can help organizations consume that data," said Adam Bataran, senior director of analytics at Bluewolf, a New York-based consulting company and Salesforce partner. "Many organizations are unable to unlock the data silos and value of that dark data; despite the fact it's being collected, it's not being used."

Bataran speculated that Einstein will help solve this problem of "dark data" for businesses and provide insight not only to that data, but what to do next.

"I refer to it as the cognitive inflection," Bataran said. "In the past, companies would leverage [business intelligence] capabilities by running a ton of reports and a human would have to think about what is the next best action. Now [we're at] this inflection point where a machine with AI and cognitive capabilities will be able to say 'This is the next best action.'"

The concept of a platform-wide upgrade such as Einstein, rather than a new product launch, would be similar to what Salesforce released in 2015 at Dreamforce, when the company introduced Salesforce Lightning, a system-wide upgrade that better connected desktop with mobile functions.

Whether or not these speculations and predictions on Einstein's functionality are true, they do fit in line with the scarce details provided by Benioff and crew at Salesforce. Benioff tweeted that Salesforce Einstein will be the "first comprehensive AI platform for CRM" and, in a separate tweet, "Artificial Intelligence for everyone."

The idea of "AI for everyone" is sought-after for businesses, because it would allow for sales and marketing teams to make quicker, smarter decisions with data on hand.

"In the last five or six years we've seen companies try to address the average employee and wrap their arms around the data that's being generated," Nelson said. "This self-service analytics movement allows that average employee to make powerful analyses on data that would historically be done by a data scientist."

Artificial intelligence has been pervading the consumer space for nearly a half-decade -- anytime you interact with Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana or Amazon's Echo, AI is at play. IBM has been using AI in its computer system Watson for more than a decade. But AI and cognitive computing's capabilities in the enterprise space are still being explored, and Salesforce is hoping that Einstein joins those brand-name AI systems.

"Most businesses generate mountains of data, and over the last eight years there's been a big movement on the enterprise side on what that data means and what can be drawn from it," Nelson said. "The consumer side is much different. Our interactions with devices are the overwhelming exposure to AI that we have. Enterprises are still trying to figure out their own internal processes and best practices. It's something that's not going away anytime soon; it's just going to be more prevalent."

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