Salesforce Gets in the AI Game as Microsoft Chases Slack

Salesforce Gets in the AI Game as Microsoft Chases Slack

Artificial intelligence is beginning to make its presence felt in every corner of the working world. AI-powered chatbots are the future of workplace communication platforms like Slack, while the HR technology company FirstJob’s digital recruiting assistant Mya uses AI to streamline the hiring process and improve candidate experience. Now Salesforce is also introducing AI enhancements to its sales software, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Called Einstein, the new offering is a set of online AI services designed to automate tasks, predict behavior and spotlight relevant information. … If Salesforce can integrate AI into its applications, the San Francisco, Calif., cloud-software provider may get a jump on competitors, said Tom Austin, vice president at research firm Gartner Inc. “There are no simple, easy applications today to buy that really work,” he said. “This is hard stuff still.”

Beyond offering AI-equipped applications, Salesforce is joining companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Google in making AI services available for other companies to build into their own applications. Prior to their efforts, AI was limited to companies that could afford to hire data scientists and build large computing facilities. Providing access to AI software as a cloud-computing service over the internet lets companies tap the technology with a smaller investment.

Salesforce said Einstein, which eventually will be built into a range of the company’s products, can better predict which customers are likely to buy products, and recommend which consumers a sales person should contact. It analyzes data stored on Salesforce’s servers such as customer information, email, calendar entries, and social-media posts to learn how specific consumers are likely to behave.

Another heavyweight making waves in this space is Microsoft. hot on the heels of its acquisition of LinkedIn, the legacy tech giant is building a direct competitor to Slack, which it also considered trying to buy earlier this year, Mehedi Hassan recently revealed at MSPoweruser:

Skype Teams is going to be Microsoft’s take on messaging apps for teams. Skype Teams will include a lot of similar features which you’ll find on Slack. For example, Skype Teams will allow you to chat in different groups within a team, also known as “channels”. Additionally, users will be able to talk to each other via Direct Messages on Skype Teams. … Microsoft, of course, isn’t leaving out some of the core features of Skype on Skype Teams. Similar to Skype itself, teams will be able to make video calls in a channel or privately. To take this even further, the company is adding the ability to schedule online meetings, which can be quite useful for large teams.

Skype Teams will also allow users to share files, notes, etc. Now of course, these are some basic features which you’ll expect almost all chatting apps in the modern age. But Skype Teams also works with other services to make the chatting experience even better, and we expect Microsoft will allow bots from its Bot Framework to work with Skype Teams. Lastly, the service will feature Office 365 integration (for things like PowerPoint, Word, etc), which is going to be a very useful feature for businesses who use Office 365.

Skype Teams will run as a Windows app, a web app, and on all three major mobile operating systems. Hassan adds that Microsoft is currently testing the product internally and will likely release it to Office 365 subscribers initially. No release date has been revealed.

Slack, however, also has big plans to conquer the entire office, much as Microsoft itself did in the PC era. The startup has hinted at plans to move beyond its signature workplace chat program and use its AI-enhanced bots to build a comprehensive management system for teams, which would compete with other enterprise software providers in fields like HR, bookkeeping, expense reporting, and customer support.