Salesforce World Tour London: Welcome to the future

The Salesforce World Tour London was a celebration of the power of technology to transform the customer experience. With a focus on Artificial Intelligence, there was plenty to interest delegates from the public sector, as Tim Gibson reports

The future is Artificial Intelligence, and that future is now. This statement was the clarion call delivered at the Salesforce World Tour London in June 2023. Nearly 14,000 delegates gathered to explore how the company’s technology helps organisations enhance their customers’ experience and smooth operation efficiencies. As you’d expect, the focus was firmly on the huge potential of AI.  

“We have a decade’s worth of experience in deploying AI for the benefit of our clients,” explained Salesforce’s CEO of UK and Ireland, Zahra Bahrololoumi, in her opening keynote.  “In that time, we’ve delivered AI for CRM, published 227 AI research papers, and filed 300 AI-related patents as well as investing in large language models.” 

The message is simple: AI may seem like the next big thing, but it isn’t new to Salesforce. The company is already deploying it across its offer and, as Bahrololoumi went on to say, “in the new cycle of innovation, we need to think AI-first.” 

Building trust 

There is a challenge with such an approach. It has to do with the level of trust consumers feel towards what they perceive as emerging technology. Generative AI may have the power to transform the customer experience, but Salesforce’s own research shows that 59 per cent of people don’t trust companies with their data. “There is a ‘trust gap’,” said Bahrololoumi. “Today is about closing that gap.” 

In a traditional big data model – one in which companies aggregate and analyse data in their CRM to enhance their understanding of customer needs and habits – data is stored in a particular location. That gives Salesforce’s clients a sense of ownership and control over access.  

But as Patrick Stokes explained, this contrasts with the way AI functions. The company’s EVP for product and industries marketing explained that in an AI system, data is learned, not stored. There is no single location to store data, because large language models pull together several different ideas and concepts to think like a human.  

To illustrate this, Stokes gave the example of an apple: “If I asked everyone in the room today what an apple is, you’d all be able to raise your hand and tell me. But if I asked you to point to the location in your brain where the data about an apple is stored, you wouldn’t be able to do that – because you don’t store data about an apple in one place. Your brain stores information about various properties of an apple and brings that together to correctly identify one.” 

AI works similarly, which begs the question of how to protect data when it is being used in such a multifaceted way. Stokes was quick to assert Salesforce’s expertise in responding: “We have been solving problems like this for [more than] 20 years, helping enterprises use their data while also protecting it.” He gave examples of the move to shared data centres in 1999 and the use of predictive analytics in 2016, in which Salesforce has shown its ability to generate meaningful insight without blending customer data from multiple sources. 

Not only do these examples evince Salesforce’s expertise in protecting data while leveraging its power. They also speak of its track record of innovation. Through a worked example, Stokes showed what comes next: using context-rich prompts in generative AI to communicate in a personalised way with customers, while deploying Salesforce’s “Einstein GPT Trust Layer” to mask or protect sensitive data. The result is a system that’s easy for Salesforce’s clients to use, unleashes the full power of generative AI, and results in an enhanced customer experience.   

Public sector focus 

While the power of AI is self-evident and will have been experienced first-hand by any of the 100 million reported users of Chat GPT since its launch in November 2022, the real force of Salesforce’s offer lies in the secure access its platform provides to large volumes of customer data. Many of the presentations in the World Tour underscored that strength, and those aimed at delegates from the public sector circled around common themes.  

The first was the power of AI to further transform service delivery – building on the progress already seen through digitisation and data analytics. Recognising the utility of its cloud-based CRM solutions for public sector organisations, Salesforce’s message was straightforward: just think how much more can be achieved by using AI.  

A further theme was the improvement in user experience, for both staff and citizens, through adopting Salesforce’s technology. This was illustrated by case studies from partners including NHS Professionalsregional police forces, and Northern Trains – all of which revealed the power of cloud-based computing to transform the way the public interacts with service providers, and the quality of services themselves.  

A session about the rollout of financial support to households as part of the Energy Support Schemes between December 2022 and February 2023 demonstrated another theme: that service delivery can happen at pace when customising standardised platforms rather than building from scratch.  

What all the public sector sessions had in common was their capacity to exemplify the overarching messages of the World Tour London: Salesforce makes it easier for organisations to interact with the public; its technology enhances the quality of such interactions and makes them more meaningful; and it is already ahead of the game when it comes to AI.  

These are messages those in the public sector are primed to hear, thanks in no small part to the strides made in data-driven service delivery over the last decade or more. With an AI-shaped future already a reality for the commercial sector, and the “trust gap” closing, it is only a matter of time before the government fully embraces its power. And with a partner like Salesforce, the rewards of doing so appear great – for officials and citizens alike.

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