IBM-Salesforce partnership brings Watson and Einstein together

By combining Watson's troves of unstructured data with Salesforce's CRM data, users can mine for even greater insights.

Watson, meet Einstein. Einstein, meet Watson.

Two of the brand names in AI capabilities are coming together, with an IBM-Salesforce partnership that is expected to make it easier to glean insights from both platforms. By finding insights through Watson's mountains of structured and unstructured data -- including weather patterns, healthcare information, financial services and retail -- and combining that with Einstein's customer-centric data, organizations can be more specific when targeting customers.

IBM is also implementing Salesforce Service Cloud as part of its partnership, according to a press release.

"One of the reasons this partnership makes sense is it provides Salesforce Einstein access to large data sets from The Weather Company and it provides compute power from the IBM Cloud," said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Cupertino, Calif.-based Constellation Research Inc. "Similarly, it provides IBM closer access to Salesforce for the work they are doing around Service Cloud."

The IBM-Salesforce partnership also creates an interesting development in the AI space, according to Lepofsky.

IBM has been looking to productize Watson, and they looked at the role that CRM data can play.
John Brunoanalyst, Forrester

"Google, Microsoft, [Amazon Web Services], Salesforce and IBM are fighting it out for developer attention," Lepofsky said. "The IBM and Salesforce partnership helps build a combined ecosystem."

Salesforce and IBM share more than 5,000 customers, and in a public report Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff took a jab at former partner Microsoft -- whose relationship with Salesforce soured in 2016 -- saying that Salesforce products can now replace Microsoft's products at IBM.

While IBM has successfully marketed Watson as that information-rich, Jeopardy-winning, music-making AI machine, it has lacked practical use cases in the business space where its riches of data can be converted into insight. The IBM-Salesforce partnership has the opportunity to open those floodgates and combine unstructured Watson data with customer-focused Salesforce data.

"In order for Watson to win in Jeopardy, it has to consume vast amounts of data and information, said John Bruno, an analyst at Forrester. "IBM has been looking to productize Watson, and they looked at the role that CRM data can play. You can fuse Watson's rich context data with Salesforce's customer data."

In theory, with this combined scope of customer data from Salesforce and greater data trends provided by IBM, a retail company could look at customer shopping patterns, weather information and retail industry data to send highly personalized campaigns. It's this combination that IBM CEO Ginni Rometty sees as the main advantage of the IBM-Salesforce partnership.

"Data is changing every industry and profession in the world. AI is the only way to turn all this data into knowledge and actionable insights," Rometty said in a video statement during a Salesforce webinar. "Together with Salesforce, we're bringing AI further into the enterprise, putting cognitive into the hands of millions of professionals and developers."

There are several capabilities that Watson will be bringing into the Salesforce CRM platform, including IBM Weather Insights for Salesforce, which can be used by Salesforce customers to alert its customers about weather patterns that may affect products. IBM Weather Insights for Salesforce will be available on the Salesforce AppExchange. Another IBM product that will be available for Salesforce customers is the IBM Application Integration Suite, allowing for the integration of on-premises data with cloud data.

Bruno sees The Weather Company insights as a flashy, out-of-the-box example of the type of integration the IBM-Salesforce partnership can produce, but the potential for insight that customers can gain out of Watson's troves of industry-wide data and Salesforce's CRM-specific data is what excites him the most about this partnership.

"I'm not seeing the business value on the weather end, at least for sales," Bruno said. "There's some implications for the service side of things, but Watson and The Weather Company are well known and it's a little of IBM flexing its muscle. There are use cases around weather, but it's really just the tip of the iceberg."

The tea leaves for a possible IBM-Salesforce partnership could have been read as early as May 2016, when IBM purchased Bluewolf, a longtime Salesforce implementation company and partner, for about $200 million. Bluewolf is establishing a new practice to help clients "rapidly deploy the combined IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein capabilities," according to a Bluewolf press release.

The majority of IBM-Salesforce integrated products will be available in the second half of 2017, with pricing information expected at the time of general availability. IBM Application Integration Suite for Salesforce is expected to be available at the end of March, with pricing information not yet released. 

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