Can vendors like Workday, Salesforce ever get enough AI?

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright July 17, 2018
Summary:
As Salesforce buys Datorama and Workday acquires stories.bi, we ask can enterprise application vendors ever get enough AI in their product portfolios?

Robot heads in a line © crimson - Fotolia.com

It seems there's no let-up in the stream of AI-related acquisitions by enterprise software vendors, with both Salesforce and Workday announcing new transactions this week. Salesforce has agreed to pay a rumored $800 million for AI-powered marketing analytics business Datorama, while Workday has bought up machine-augmented analytics startup stories.bi. They're the latest of a half-dozen or so acquisitions each vendor has made over the past few years in the field of AI and big data, indicative of their continuing quest to expand their data science prowess.

The latest acquisitions address different aspects of analytics. Datorama's secret sauce operates at the data layer, aggregating marketing data from various sources to provide a unified view, while stories.bi focuses on the user experience layer, delivering topline insights in a conversational summary.

Why Salesforce is buying Datorama

In a blog post, Datorama CEO and co-Founder Ran Sarig explains what his company brings to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud:

Our core mission [is] to help marketers integrate and gain insight from one single source of data truth. Datorama provides the leading cloud-based, AI-powered marketing intelligence and analytics platform for enterprises, agencies and publishers. Datorama enables more than 3,000 leading global agencies and brands–including PepsiCo, Ticketmaster, Trivago, Unilever, Pernod Ricard and Foursquare to make sense of all of their marketing data across campaigns and channels. By integrating and harmonizing this data, marketers can visualize, analyze, and take action on valuable real-time insights to optimize every marketing investment and activity.

Salesforce will add Datorama's "data integration, intelligence and analytics" into its Marketing Cloud, writes Sarig, who also reassures existing customers that Salesforce's resources will mean it can continue to evolve its offering with "greater speed and support."

This latest acquisition follows just a few months after Salesforce closed a mammoth $6.5 billion acquisition of integration vendor MuleSoft, but it seems even that mega-purchase isn't filling the more specialized data integration gap that Datorama caters for. Whereas MuleSoft's integration philosophy is set to have a big role connecting data and processes from Marketing Cloud to the other Salesforce clouds and beyond, Datorama's technology and AI smarts appear to be more focused on quickly making sense of diverse datasets within a specific business context. The use of machine learning to help automate that harmonization is a good example of how AI-driven pattern recognition can take some of the gruntwork out of common integration challenges.

Why Workday is buying stories.bi

A blog post by Peter Schlampp, VP of Workday Analytics, explains the novel approach stories.bi takes to presenting analytics:

Stories.bi specializes in augmented analytics, a powerful approach that leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to automate analysis and deliver insights into what’s happening in a business. Stories.bi takes this a step further by identifying topline trends, issues, or opportunities in the organization, and then delivers personalized insights to a business user in a conversational, headline form such as 'Actual shipments were $283,000 behind plan last quarter, 62% of which originate in Singapore.' From there, a user can go deeper to easily understand the drivers behind the headline — such as how this compares to previous quarters or the reasons for the change — and understand which actions they should take next.

This approach, he concludes, will enable Workday's "analytics products to be more intelligent and our UX to be more conversational." Unfortunately what he can't enlighten us about — because the acquisition has not yet formally closed — is how this will interact with the impending inclusion of Adaptive Insights business planning software into the Workday product portfolio.

However the fact that it is Schlampp announcing the acquisition gives us a clue, since he leads the big data analytics platform based on Workday's acquisition of Platfora two years ago. Now called Prism Analytics, this was positioned as "the most exciting project we’ve introduced, almost since the first product" by Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri in comments made in April, when he also talked up the future of conversational interfaces.

So the acquisition is in line with Workday's pursuit of what it calls a 'natural workspace' approach to interacting with enterprise applications and analytics in particular. It also reinforces the message, reiterated by Bhusri shortly after the Adaptive acquisition, that Workday continues to invest in Prism Analytics as strategic focus.

My take

While these two acquisitions have AI and analytics in common, they are very different from each other in terms of what they do. They're different also, for example, from the various new AI-enhanced features Salesforce introduced last week as part of its Service Cloud Einstein offering. My point being, AI is beginning to become pervasive across all aspects of enterprise applications, from user experience through process automation to data analytics and management, and that mainstreaming of the technology has sparked an acquisition spree that shows no sign of ending yet.