Salesforce Einstein celebrates its first birthday with several new features

Salesforce launched Einstein, its artificial intelligence platform just one year ago this week. As it celebrates its first birthday, it’s worth taking a look back at the first year and looking at a couple of enhancements they’re adding as a birthday surprise.

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Einstein isn’t actually a product at all, even though Salesforce markets it like one. Instead it’s a set of artificial intelligence technologies that underlie the entire Salesforce platform and attempt to add a smart layer wherever possible. As I wrote last year at the launch:

The company pulled together 175 data scientists to help create Salesforce Einstein, while leveraging acquisitions such as MetaMind, PredictionIO and RelateIQ. In fact, MetaMind founder Richard Socher, holds the title of Chief Data Scientist at Salesforce now. Salesforce Einstein will touch every one of its products in some way eventually.

Salesforce has followed a familiar pattern with Einstein, announcing it to great hype, introducing it slowly, then building on the initial release to offer a more comprehensive set of tools. In addition, much like other technologies it has created over the years, it has been exposing the Einstein tools to developers as APIs on the Salesforce platform, giving third-party companies access to that same set of tools and technologies.

To illustrate this, the company added three new capabilities today. The first is Einstein Forecasting, a tool that uses machine learning and data mining to analyze Salesforce CRM data and based on existing information makes predictions about future sales performance, generating reports in plain language. Salesforce claims this eliminates the need for separate forecasting tools or spreadsheets to generate this information.

The second is opportunity scoring, a tool designed for sales management to keep on top of the sales pipeline. It takes advantage of data mining and machine learning to surface the biggest deals most likely close in the pipeline.

Finally, it added a new feature specifically for sales staff, which helps manage their inbox by surfacing the most important emails. It essentially acts as a smart email assistant, using natural language processing to find the emails that matter most from the onslaught we all face on a daily basis, and also offers a best action or suggested response to give an even bigger head start on conquering email.

The company says it has gone from zero to 475 million AI-fueled predictions per day in just the first year. They currently have 7000 developers working on AI programs on the platform, and announced a $50 million fund from Salesforce Ventures to encourage even more.

While many companies in AI look to replace workers, Salesforce says Einstein is about enhancing the employee and making their lives easier. Employees spend so much time in the sales, marketing and customer service functions on administrative overhead. In fact, the core CRM tool has always been up until now about administrative tasks: entering your customer’s vital information, keeping track of the sales process and entering notes about meetings.

Salesforce added an intelligence layer with the goal of automating many of those administrative tasks, such as prioritizing important emails (something I could use as a journalist), entering information automatically from sources such as online forms or pulling in news that could have an impact on your sale (like say a catastrophic hurricane in the area). For customer service or marketing, it could be adding smarts, for example, to locate all of the pictures related to an event or subject.

Whatever the task Einstein tech is attacking, Salesforce is trying to reduce the friction and put the tool to work for the user, rather than the reverse, which is how software has worked from the beginning of computers. AI flips the typical software workflow on its head. At its best, manual data entry would be reduced or eliminated, and the software would work for the employee. Salesforce isn’t alone in this goal, of course, but it’s trying to take advantage of it to enhance its products.

At just a year old, there is still a long way to go for this set of tools and technologies to meet that lofty goal, but in the first year Salesforce has been able to demonstrate the power of adding this kind of intelligence to its products. In the coming years, it is going to have to figure out ever more ways to put the power of AI to work for its customers.