CEO Marc Benioff has made no secret of the fact that Salesforce.com's (NYSE:CRM) future will include comprehensive artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to enhance the customer experience. Benioff's commitment to AI isn't new: He and Salesforce.com president Keith Block have been raving about its analytics cloud for nearly a year now. Deep learning, or AI, is a natural fit for Saleforce.com to assist its customers in utilizing the reams of sales and service data collected on its industry-leading CRM platform.
Salesforce.com fans may recall last summer when Benioff shared the news that its new analytics cloud was the fastest-growing product introduction ever. Benioff's conference calls are known for his over the top "rah-rah" feel, but when it comes to deep learning, Salesforce.com is doing a lot more than shouting from the rooftops.
Salesforce.com has confirmed its commitment to AI with yet another acquisition, in addition to aligning itself with some of the tech industry's biggest AI players, including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and IBM (NYSE:IBM).
The latest AI push
Salesforce.com recently acquired MetaMind, a relatively new AI research provider that, for the past year and a half, has been developing "state of the art deep learning technology to simplify, improve and automate decision making." As one of MetaMind's first investors, Benioff is intimately familiar with what it brings to the AI table.
MetaMind's deep learning technologies will extend Salesforce.com's existing AI capabilities. As it's done with prior acquisitions, Salesforce.com is shutting MetaMind down to existing and future customers. MetaMind's web users have until May 4 to utilize the technology, and recurring customers will lose access on June 4.
Salesforce.com intends to keep the folks at MetaMind working to further its "groundbreaking discoveries that advance our deep learning platform's accuracy and capabilities," but now advancements in its AI technology will be specific to the reams of data housed in Salesforce.com's marketing, sales, and service clouds. Financial terms were not disclosed.
The deal for MetaMind comes shortly after Salesforce.com wrote a check for another machine learning start-up, PredictionIO, in February. Benioff didn't share financial terms for the PredictionIO deal, either.
Running with the big boys
Salesforce.com has a long-standing relationship with Microsoft that has expanded over the last several years to include the seamless integration of software including Office 365 and Skype, among others. Microsoft, not surprisingly, also recognizes the potential of AI as the world becomes increasingly digital, and it's ramping up its own deep learning capabilities to add to its already impressive cloud capabilities.
How long before Salesforce.com and Microsoft partner on AI-related features and products? Neither Benioff nor Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella have confirmed such an arrangement, but with a successful partnership that spans several years, the two would make a powerful AI combination.
No speculation is needed in terms of Salesforce.com working with AI industry leader IBM. IBM recently acquired cloud implementation specialist Bluewolf, Salesforce.com's first consulting partner. Salesforce.com and Bluewolf began their long-standing relationship in 2001. IBM has also been busy building out its AI capabilities, largely via its cognitive computing wonder Watson and a litany of acquisitions that have totaled over $5 billion in the last year alone.
When the IBM-Bluewolf deal was announced, Benioff said, "The powerful combination of our strategic partners, IBM and Bluewolf, will help clients transform and demonstrate the growing client demand for our Customer Success Platform." The alignment with IBM via its Bluewolf deal isn't specific to AI development, but it will "extend IBM's analytics" leadership.
Salesforce.com doesn't need to work with the Microsofts and IBMs of the world to further its AI capabilities, as its string of acquisitions and fast-growing analytics cloud make clear. But as business customers begin to recognize the value AI brings to the data analytics party, comprehensive deep learning functionality will become a necessity, rather than a nicety. And Salesforce.com is actively positioning itself to garner a fair share of what is conservatively expected to become a $5 billion market in just four years.