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Salesforce Talks Artificial Intelligence at National Park-Themed Conference: Dreamforce 2016

By Nick Price

B2B giant Salesforce hosted its massive annual conference in San Francisco last week. This year’s Dreamforce event had about 175,000 people register online, according to Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, who also boasted that about 15 million people watched the events online.
The theme of the event was Dream Park, inspired by national parks, transforming the area surrounding San Francisco’s Moscone Center into a campground for explorers. Attendees were challenged with exploring trails, as the event took on a kind of game. Fake grass, charity booths and mindfulness meditation stations staffed by French monks were scattered throughout the park. Will.I.Am and U2 performed at the event, which was as grandiose as ever.
While rumors of a Twitter acquisition flooded the bloggosphere in advance of the show, nothing was announced. However, Salesforce did reveal that it has been on a major shopping spree with other companies. In the past five years, Salesforce has acquired 30 companies. This year alone, the company has spent millions of dollars on startups across the artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics categories.
“We’re all going to have to go a lot faster,” Benioff said during his keynote presentation. “We’re on this march to artificial intelligence; we’re the world’s smartest CRM. I know it sounds like magic, but so did it sound like magic when we said we’re giving the cloud to everyone, mobile to everyone.”
The event’s news announcements centered around Salesforce’s new machine learning-enabled technology called “Einstein.” Einstein works like a personal assistant, making recommendations for sales people to use when targeting clients by pulling data into the equation. The tool uses predictive lead scoring and opportunity insights to alert sales people when the potential to make a deal is in the works.
The personal assistant technology is inspired by consumer technology that is taking off in the Internet of Things world. While it may sound flashy and buzzwordy, the trend toward machine learning is real and the combination of an IoT-type of technology with large data storage has the possibility to transform how companies do business. Benioff stressed the five concepts driving the evolution of enterprise software: intelligence, speed, productivity, mobility and connectivity. Salesforce is building its platform around these concepts.
Voice is at the center of the new interface: think Siri or Alexa for B2B. According to Strategy Analytics, almost 88 million devices with voice-activated functionality will be shipped this year. This number is expected to rise to 347 million in 2020, meaning that 970 million of these devices will be in use globally. Salesforce wants to bring the popularity of Voice in the consumer world to the workplace. (Technologies that are popular in the personal space often do well when adapted for B2B). The Voice tool is quite sophisticated and allows sales people to access marketing automation and performance data to make sales calls.
But it wasn’t all business at the show. Benioff highlighted the company’s philanthropic efforts during his Dreamforce keynote, stressing how philanthropic causes are a central part of the Salesforce mission. During the presentation, Benioff discussed the company’s partnership with the (Red) organization to create an “AIDs free generation”. In a move to promote fundraising among show attendees, the Benioffs personally agreed to donate $1 million to match the $1 million they expected to raise from attendees. In addition, Bill and Melinda Gates agreed to double-match all the money raised for (Red) during Dreamforce.
Partners were celebrated throughout the show. “When we build innovation, we do not build it alone, we build it with our ohana,” co-founder and CTO Parker Harris said, using the Hawaiian word, “ohana,” for family.

Nick Price

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