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Salesforce Has Lots Of Whitespace To Tap In Generative AI, Says Its India Chairperson And CEO, Arundhati Bhattacharya 

The strong interest in generative artificial intelligence (AI) solutions in India notwithstanding, Arundhati Bhattacharya added that further maturity in the market is required

Salesforce Has Lots Of Whitespace To Tap In Generative AI, Says Its India Chairperson And CEO, Arundhati Bhattacharya 
Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson and CEO of Salesforce India
POSTED ON June 29, 2023 6:16 PM

It took streaming giant Netflix 10 years to amass 100 million users after launching operations in 2007. On the other hand, OpenAI's ChatGPT achieved the feat within two months of its launch, demonstrating a strong interest in the industry. 

Looking to capitalise on the buzz around generative AI, which has swept the tech industry in the last few months, Salesforce is doubling down on the technology to help its enterprise customers leverage AI-created content. This new-age tool can help them automate workflows and enhance their go-to-market plans faster, across all their business verticals, be it sales, customer service, marketing and IT. 

While launching Salesforce's AI Cloud in New York earlier this month, the company's co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff said, "Customers have the ability to use generative AI without sacrificing their data privacy and data security… Generative AI…may be the most important technology of any lifetime." 

Salesforce's push for generative AI is unsurprising. Across the 63 use cases McKinsey analysed in a report titled 'The economic potential of generative AI: The next productivity frontier' published this June found that generative AI has the potential to generate $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion in value across industries. Goldman Sachs found that using generative AI correctly could add around $7 trillion to the world's GDP in the next decade.  

While Salesforce chalks out its strategy on generative AI, it has to deal with several concerns companies have raised over using proprietary data for training large language models (LLMs). How it handles these concerns and executes its strategy will determine how soon its bet on generative AI will pay off in the future. 

A Big Bet 

A look at the history of the global customer relationship management (CRM) giant shows that AI is not a new weapon in its arsenal. Salesforce has been using it since 2016, when it launched its first trust model for predictive AI. The launch of AI Cloud this month simply took this foray further.  

In March this year, it also launched Einstein GPT, a generative AI CRM chatbot that sits at the core of Salesforce's AI strategy. The company stated that this tool would infuse its proprietary AI models with generative AI technology from an ecosystem of partners like OpenAI, Anthropic, and Cohere and real-time data from the Salesforce Data Cloud. 

By ingesting and amalgamating these data sets, Salesforce believes it can create a new layer that leverages the benefits of generative AI with the promise of data security. 

Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff
Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff

Highlighting the potential of the market for AI in India, Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson and CEO of Salesforce India, cites
a survey, which found that 91 per cent of Indian businesses want to use generative AI in their various offerings. "There is a lot of interest in it, mainly because people believe it will drive productivity and cost efficiency," she adds. 

Focusing on the Indian market, Salesforce has introduced Starter CRM for India's micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME). This suite includes sales, service and email outreach tools, with Einstein GPT as a layer, to help MSME improve their customer experiences, reduce costs and drive revenue. 

Bhattacharya notes that generative AI could help create the hyper-personalisation essential to meet the growing demands of India's large population. This could be across sectors like education, finance, healthcare, and corporate environments.  

"With the combination of AI, data and CRM, AI cloud drives productivity for every workflow, user and department by offering a set of tools that render customised and optimised results in a trusted generative manner across all processes," she pointed out. For example, in sales processes, it can help salespeople to create customised emails with targeted action plans for each customer, which increases the scope for business closure. 

While generative AI comes with many promises, the technology lugs around its set of challenges. Since AI crunches a huge amount of data points, churning out quick responses with on-premises systems is expensive and challenging. 

This is where cloud services step in; it alllows organisations to dial their needs up or down depending on the quantum of data they are handling.  

However, Bhattacharya points out that the adoption of cloud services is still low in India, especially in the public sector. "There are still a lot of on-prem legacy systems that require huge (computing) capacity and are costly," she says.

Bhattacharya adds, "So unless there is a huge adoption of cloud by Indian companies, it will be difficult for the ecosystem to adopt AI and generative AI technologies." 

Push For Ethical AI 

Along with solving logistical challenges for the effective implementation of AI strategy, Salesforce must also face concerns about the ethical use of AI technologies. Questions have already been raised about how much generative AI can be trusted with its responses. 

In February, Google's AI chatbot Bard claimed in a promotional video that the James Webb Space Telescope had taken the first-ever picture of an exoplanet. In reality, this picture was taken almost 14 years ago before the telescope was even launched.

Within hours, Google's shares plummeted and lost $100 billion in market value due to the mistake. There are also worries about privacy violations due to the use of companies' proprietary data and bias in generative AI models.  

Deepak Pargaonkar, vice president-solution engineering at Salesforce
Deepak Pargaonkar, vice president-solution engineering at Salesforce

Salesforce is well aware of the concerns. Its research showed that 73 per cent of surveyed employees believe that generative AI introduces new security risks to the system, while around 60 per cent who plan to use the technology lack the understanding of how to keep their data safe. 

Another survey of more than 500 senior IT leaders conducted by the company showed that 67 per cent of respondents prioritised generative AI for their business within the next 18 months, with 33 per cent naming it as a top priority. However, while most see technology as a game-changer, they have technical and ethical concerns about how it will play out in the long run.  

Mindful of these issues, Deepak Pargaonkar, vice president-solution engineering at Salesforce, says these issues could be overcome if generative AI could learn from trusted customer data. This would accelerate the development process and not replace it. 

While Salesforce has developed prompt templates to improve the quality and relevance of AI-generated content, these tools will use coordinated data from the customer data banks to analyse the generated outputs, which is individualistic to each company. This will help mitigate the AI hallucinations that generative AI is guilty of while optimising workflows. It would also accelerate the development process, rather than replace it. 

Sparking Start-Ups 

As Salesforce streamlines its AI offerings, the company is also upping its stakes in this dynamic space with initiatives that help start-ups contribute to the development of AI amid the buzz around the technology in the industry.

Earlier this month, it announced that Salesforce Ventures is expanding its Generative AI Fund, doubling the $250 million fund to $500 million to bolster the AI start-up ecosystem and spark the development of responsible generative AI. 

In a press statement, Paul Drews, managing partner of Salesforce Ventures, said, "We are already seeing AI change the way the world works and are excited to build on the momentum of our Generative AI Fund. Expanding our Generative AI Fund enables us to work with even more entrepreneurs who are accelerating the development of transformative AI solutions for the enterprise, and we are excited to support the next generation of innovative founders." 

Salesforce Ventures has several vertical-specific investment funds, including geographic-focused ones, but the Generative AI Fund is among its most significant tranches to date. Since its launch in March 2023, the fund has invested in several generative AI start-ups, including Cohere, Anthropic, You.com, Hearth.AI, Humane and Tribble.  

Riding on the wave of enthusiasm around AI-related technologies, Salesforce is focusing on strategies that will help offer solutions to help its customers operate efficiently and securely. The launch of several new initiatives and the investment in AI start-ups shows the willingness of the global CRM giant to bet on the future of this technology. 

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