Salesforce officially unveiled its artificial intelligence (AI) capability called Einstein yesterday — just hours before Oracle kicked off OpenWorld.

Constellation Research analyst Doug Henschen said it was no coincidence that Salesforce made a point of introducing its AI capabilities just ahead of Oracle's big user conference. 

"And likewise, it's no coincidence that we'll hear AI announcements from Oracle this year. Its work has been stealthy while Salesforce has very publicaly been loading up on machine learning and AI-related acquisitions,” he said.

Salesforce promises Einstein will forever change customer relationship management (CRM). It is a lofty goal, but one but that doesn’t seem unattainable: Salesforce has both purchased and hired the technology and the people needed to make it happen. 

Salesforce: We Have the Smartest CRM

John Ball, General Manager, Salesforce Einstein, told reporters at a virtual press conference last Thursday that the company has created “the world’s smartest CRM” by marrying data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing and deep data discovery with its business applications.    

These kinds of capabilities are out of reach of most companies, said Ball. 

AI for the Masses?

Salesforce aims to change that for its customers by embedding these powers into the Salesforce platform across its sales, service, marketing, commerce, community, analytics and internet of Things (IOT) clouds and by leveraging the large data stores that it has accumulated as the world’s leading SaaS CRM provider over many years.  

Salesforce is bringing artificial intelligence to everyone, said Ball. 

Well, not exactly everyone. 

Salesforce isn’t pretending to compete with IBM’s Watson in fields like healthcare or Siri in answering average consumer questions via iPhones and iPads.

But when it comes to making predictions like Microsoft Bing or advanced analytics like Power BI, it is probably fair to say that the jury is out. The folks at Microsoft have AI and data science capabilities and CRM aspirations of their own and they’ve been working on them for years. 

And SAP, with its market leading advanced analytics and new Data-as a-Service (DaaS) capabilities, is a force to be reckoned with as well.  

Salesforce Claims its Place

Compared to these larger vendors Salesforce is still a babe in the woods. 

But if Salesforce has anything to say about it, it won’t be far behind these computing giants with their well-established and well-funded research labs that have employed some of the world’s best computer scientists for decades.  

Salesforce wants the world to know that it now has a stellar research group of its own, Salesforce Research. 

Headed by Chief Scientist Richard Socher, who came to Salesforce as part of its MetaMind acquisition, the group is tasked with pushing the edge of AI in the context of the Salesforce platform. Here Socher needs to be credited for not only limiting the group’s scope but for also fessing- up to the fact that the advancement of AI will be a (larger than Salesforce) research community effort. 

Einstein for Developers 

Salesforce enthusiasts know that company CEO Marc Benioff believes that developers are key to its success.

So, of course, Einstein comes with tools that provide APIs to make things like adding Einstein-powered fields into any object, page layout or workflow easy. 

Not only that, but more advanced data scientists and developers gain access to Predictive Vision and Sentiment Services to train deep learning and predictive models, to recognize and classify sentiment in text and more. 

Will the Crowd Be Wowed?

Every year, just before or during Dreamforce, Salesforces’ user conference/pep rally/party, Benioff and his management team unveil the next big thing. Einstein is this year’s star.

The jury is out as to whether it will revolutionize CRM, whether it’s first-to-market, or even best in class. (We know vendors like SugarCRM, SAP, Microsoft and others promise similar capabilities.) But that may not matter — all it has to do is wow its existing, fanatical base.