Google Cloud and Salesforce team up to bolster AI offerings

Salesforce and Google Cloud are teaming up to help businesses leverage data and AI via a new strategic partnership.

Announced this morning, the partnership will allow companies to use their data along with custom machine learning models to anticipate their customer’s needs, execs from Google and Salesforce said. The tie-up spans products and services including Google’s BigQuery tooling, Salesforce’s Data Cloud and Vertex AI, Google’s fully managed AI platform.

“This really allows us to democratize AI so that customers get choice on which AI they want to use,” David Schmaier, Salesforce’s chief product officer, told TechCrunch in a phone interview.

It’s the second such major partnership between Google and Salesforce in recent years. The first, inked in 2017, was largely analytics- and big data-focused. The companies subsequently expanded that original agreement, deepening their data sharing collaborations and building AI-infused customer service experience and marketing tools.

The move makes sense for Salesforce on its journey to reposition itself as a “data company.” Over the past several months, Salesforce has introduced new generative AI tools including EinsteinGPT, an AI assistant for customer relationship management (CRM) tasks like drafting emails, and SlackGPT, which answers natural language questions about a company’s Slack content, servers and channels.

Salesforce is also investing in the broader generative AI ecosystem, no doubt hoping to sniff out the next hit that might bolster its expanding product portfolio. Salesforce Ventures, the company’s corporate investment arm, this March launched a $250 million fund aimed at what it calls “responsible” generative AI startups.

As for Google, the renewed partnership with Salesforce puts its big data analytics and AI services front and center — which isn’t insignificant considering Salesforce’s customer base of over 150,000 organizations.

Google Cloud’s arguably in a position of strength, having just two months ago reported its first profitable quarter. At the same time, the company remains third in the U.S. cloud infrastructure market, behind Amazon and Microsoft.

“From our point of view, this partnership brings two very large ecosystems of data together and makes it much simpler and easier for customers to get value,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian told TechCrunch in an interview.

In terms of what the new strategic partnership will accomplish concretely, Google and Salesforce plan to launch an integration between Data Cloud — which is essentially a sophisticated data integration layer — and BigQuery that’ll enable companies to more easily create unified profiles of customers. The integration will provide companies with access across portions of Google and Salesforce’s platforms and clouds, akin to having their data housed in a single location.

Elsewhere, new connectors between Data Cloud and Vertex AI will allow companies to bring any AI models they’ve trained or fine-tuned in Vertex across the Salesforce platform. Companies will be able to train and retrain models on customer data from Salesforce, ostensibly streamlining the model development process.

How might companies actually use the new integrations and connectors? Salesforce provided a few examples in a memo ahead of today’s announcement.

A fashion retailer, for example, could connect CRM data like customer purchase history and service interactions with non-CRM data, such as social media sentiment, to deploy a custom AI model that predicts a customer’s likelihood to buy certain types of clothing based on the data. Or a financial institution could combine CRM and non-CRM data with an AI model to anticipate a customer’s spending habits and investment preferences.

So, will Google and Salesforce customers actually bite? That’s the perennial question. But Kurain and Schmaier seemed confident in the robustness of the new cross-platform offerings.

“Our general view is, these AI models are going to get richer and richer and much more sophisticated,” Kurian said. “The result that we’re trying to enable is productivity and efficiency for people doing work, and then, secondly, integrating all the information to make better decisions.”

The Data Cloud and Google Vertex AI integration will be in pilot starting July 2023 and generally available in October 2023, Google and Salesforce say. As for the Data Cloud and BigQuery integration, it’ll enter pilot in October 2023 and GA in February 2024.

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