IDC forecast – when AI meets CRM, jobs and revenues boom?


AI and CRM are mutually-beneficial according to new research from IDC. But what about the jobs implications for both public and private sectors?

AI associated with customer relationship management activities will boost global business revenues from the beginning of 2017 to the end of 2021 by $1.1 trillion.

That’s the top line conclusion from a new study from analyst firm IDC, sponsored by Salesforce. The study polled a global audience of 1,028 enterprises, 429 of which were existing Salesforce customers.

Now clearly, as with all vendor-sponsored research, there’s an inherent assumption here that this is a self-affirming study. It would be a shock of epic proportions if Salesforce put its name to an analyst report that concluded that CRM and AI aren’t mutually beneficial!

That proviso in place, the IDC study offers up some interersting talking points and is couched in commendably ‘this is very early days’ language, although that doesn’t restrain some big number predictions, such as:

IDC’s forecast for cognitive and AI systems calls for the global market to jump from $7.9 billion last year to $46.3 billion in 2020.

Some other conclusions of note:

  • 28% of all respondents said their organizations have already adopted AI.
  • A further 41% say they will adopt it within two years.
  • More than 60% expect to have either AI projects or pilots in place this year.
  • 55% expect to have AI implementations in place by 2018.
  • 29% of the total sample said that 50% or more of their CRM activities were public-cloud based.
  • 46% of AI adopters report that more than 50% of their CRM activities are executed using the public cloud.
  • Around 34% of Salesforce customers report they are AI adopters.

Based on those numbers, IDC argues that its adoption profile predictions are realistic. The underlying message is that there’s an appetite for AI that’s waiting for vendors to deliver the products to satisfy it:

Analysts are reporting that vendor investment in embedded AI for enterprise applications has picked up considerably, even just in the last six months. By offering embedded AI, technology vendors – and especially cloud solution vendors – can make implementation a near-automatic event for most customers.

Some of the ways IDC predicts that AI will impact CRM activities include:

  • Speeding up sales cycles
  • Improving lead generation and qualification
  • Solving customer support problems faster
  • Helping companies improve brand campaigns and recognition
  • Lowering costs of support calls while increasing resolution rates
  • Lowering the cost of recruiting employees and partners
  • Increasing revenue from optimized product marketing
  • Optimizing pricing
  • Optimizing distribution logistics
  • Preventing loss through fraud detection.


So far, so good in terms of organisational bottom line. But the wider economic debate around AI has become dominated by the vexed question of whether it’s a threat or a boom to jobs currently performed by human beings. The IDC study notes:

IDC is well aware there is significant debate about the long-term impact of AI on jobs, and presents the forecast here as based on the opinions of surveyed respondents. It also represents a conservative view of how the additional revenues from forecasted financial improvements will be put to use. The forecast embodies an assumption that AI will lead to net-positive financial benefits, which will drive job growth. Some roles may be eliminated, others will be created or enhanced, not unlike the change in jobs in IT departments during the advent of the cloud.

But the overall conclusion from the forecast is positive:

Net new jobs associated with those revenues could, if respondent opinions bear out, reach more than 800,000 by 2021 in direct jobs, and 2 million if you add in indirect and induced jobs. This is a net-positive figure, in that it includes an estimate of jobs lost to automation from AI.

It’s a point that covers both private and public sectors, as Salesforce UK head Gavin Mee alludes to:

Over the next few years we will feel the impact of AI in almost every aspect of our lives- and the public sector will be no different. It has the potential to make every government department, council or agency, and every public sector employee work smarter and faster. By leveraging machine learning, public sector organisations will be able to further automate tasks, personalise experiences and improve decision making. We’re already seeing great use cases in the private sector, with benefits in terms of the end-user experience, as well as productivity and innovation. There’s no reason that the public sector shouldn’t benefit from this opportunity too.

This new data from IDC suggests AI will also augment and increase the productivity of employees and create new jobs in CRM-related fields across all industries. It’s vital that that we ensure the current and the future workforce have the digital skills to do these jobs. The existing government digital strategy and the modern industrial strategy are a good start and I hope the government’s focus on skills will continue. It’s also critical for organisations embracing AI, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector, to create and identify new ways to train workers to ensure they’re ready for this next wave of innovation.

My take

As stated above, any vendor-sponsored piece of research needs to be approached with a wariness of confirmation bias. But with conversations around AI adoption in both the private and public sectors opening up and every enterprise software vendor having its own pitch for the keynote presentation, all such studies are worth a look at present as consensus opinions are being formed. For what it’s worth, this particular study struck me as happily not of the ‘think of a number and treble it’ school of market scoping. And the applicability of AI tech to CRM is going to be one of the functional use cases that comes under most immediate scrutiny over the next few years.


Image credit - Think Digital Partners/IDC/Portrait Of Businessman Predicting Future With Crystal Ball © Andrey Popov -

Disclosure - Salesforce is the diamond sponsor of Think AI for Public Sector, a conference organised and run by diginomica and Think Digital Partners. At time of writing, Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica and diginomica/government.