Data Cloud Takes Center Stage at Salesforce World Tour

Salesforce’s World Tour event came to London this week, where the focus was squarely on the development of the company’s AI-related propositions.

The company’s UK CEO Zara Bahrololoumi kicked things off by unveiling the launch of a first AI Center in London, which will serve as a collaboration center for Salesforce’s growing team of AI experts, as well as clients and partners. The center forms part of a £4bn, five-year investment package that the company committed to its UK operations at last year’s event.

One thing that Salesforce does better than most software business is to corral its clients into sharing their stories and case studies at its showcase events, and there were some interesting stories from brands such as John Lewis, BP and Aston Martin about how they have already gained benefits from Salesforce’s AI-infused offerings.

But at a time when clients continue to be cautious about how they spend their money, is Salesforce one of the platforms of choice for AI initiatives?

Winning hearts and minds on AI

The main theme of the event was how to become an “AI-ready enterprise.” Like many of the current crop of events, some of last year’s (over)excitement about Gen AI has settled down into a focus on “how can we make this stuff work in a business environment?”

Salesforce rightly points out that AI is nothing new to its propositions, and that its products already generate more than 1 trillion AI-based predictions every week in areas such as demand forecasting and client behaviour analysis.

On paper, the company looks in a strong position to support businesses in the next phase of their AI journeys. The vendor cites research that claims that 75% of the value of AI sits in the front office, where its position as the leading CRM vendor (albeit in an increasingly competitive market) gives it a very strong starting point.

Another key aspect is that businesses are increasingly looking to leverage their existing platform investments to harness AI. A recent PAC CXO study found that approximately a third of business and technology leaders plan to invest further in their business applications in order to harness baked-in AI functionality. We strongly suspect that this proportion will ramp up significantly in the coming years as organizations struggle with DIY approaches that piece together point solutions.

Salesforce’s mission in the coming quarters is to win hearts-and-minds among both clients and prospects to be one of their central platforms for AI investment and activity. At this week’s event, the company announced the latest in a growing line of new AI-offerings, including enhancements to its Service Cloud (for proactive asset management) and Sales Cloud (harnessing the Einstein Copilot to provide sellers with more relevant context on the customer during the pre-and post-sales process).

However, the key to unlocking the potential of the advances at an interface and model level is the data piece, and this is why Salesforce’s Data Cloud has become critical to its ability to win hearts and minds as a central AI platform.

Data Cloud is the key building block

While consumer AI can very quickly take advantage of huge public data sets to deliver rapid results, the reality is that most businesses are hamstrung by the siloed nature of their data to get their initiatives off the ground.

Salesforce quotes research which found that more than 80% of IT managers state that this is a factor holding back their digital transformation, and it is what the vendor is looking to tackle with the Data Cloud proposition.

Data Cloud is not new – it was originally launched in 2020 as the Customer Data Platform (CDP) before taking on the current mantle last year. It is positioned as the open, foundational layer that enables connectivity between Salesforce’s multiple Cloud propositions, and data residing in third party platforms such as Snowflake or AWS.

Aston Martin is one of the flagship users, and it adopted Data Cloud to harmonize multiple data sets within a single unified meta data model. In practice this means that it has been built to provide a single, unified profile on its customers based on data that was sitting across multiple cloud covering sales, marketing, vehicle warranty and service history, etc. By building this single-pane-of-glass view across the customer lifecycle, it can provide a much higher level of personalization and servitization, which is critical when you’re talking about high-end luxury purchases.

The Data Cloud has regularly been the fastest-growing, home-grown (as opposed to acquired) part of Salesforce’s portfolio in the last couple of years. It has really come into its own as customers look to get their Generative AI initiatives off the ground. Another of the key announcements this week was the launch of the Data Cloud Vector Database, which is designed to help clients harness customer data that is trapped in unstructured formats such as PDFs, emails, transcripts, and other unstructured formats. 

Salesforce’s task ahead is to convince the large swathes of the Salesforce client base that haven’t yet purchased it, and this is one area where its partners are likely to play a very important role.

The importance of the ecosystem

PAC has spent several sessions with Salesforce’s alliances leadership team in recent months and it is very clear that its community of consulting and services partners has never been more important to its fortunes.

More than 90% of Salesforce’s larger engagements now involve an external partner, and even for smaller projects, that level is increasing as clients seek help in tackling issues around data management and integration in order to get the most out of the AI.

As we explored in our recent Innovation RADAR, the most successful Salesforce partners over the last 12 months have been those that are truly able to join-the-dots between the different moving parts of the portfolio, and the specific needs of the client based on their industry sector. Advisory-led firms with deep domain knowledge and experience such as PwC, Merkle and Reply continue to be stand-out performers, but increasingly they will also be leaned on based on their ability to leverage data strategy experts and practitioners.

Like all of the big enterprise players, Salesforce won’t have an easy ride in the coming quarters. The economy shows no noticeable signs of improving as we head towards the second half of the year, which means significant budget pressure remains in place. The vendor recently announced that its current financial quarter (ending July) is set to be its slowest quarter for growth since its inception in 1999.

However, the continued development and growth of Data Cloud will put Salesforce in a very strong position as an enabler of its clients to becoming “AI-ready.”


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