Between Einstein and Watson, Bluewolf boss sees AI as a 'now' technology

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan December 12, 2016
It's six months since IBM snapped up Salesforce professional services provider Bluewolf. It's been a busy time, says CEO Eric Berridge, but a productive one.
Eric Berridge

In a year in which Salesforce ramped up its acquisition activities, one transaction with enormous significance for the vendor’s ecosystem didn’t actually involve the CRM cloud firm itself. That was IBM’s takeover of Salesforce pureplay professional services firm Bluewolf.

Over six months later, Bluewolf CEO Eric Berridge remains enthused about the resulting impact:

It’s been refreshingly exciting. We closed the transaction back on 10 May, so we really are now a part of IBM. It’s important to note that when IBM bought us, it intentionally kept our brand intact. We are a separate legal entity. So at events such as Dreamforce, the Bluewolf is still the Bluewolf booth. But we are now an IBM company, so we can leverage the scale and global reach that IBM brings to the table.

In the past, the idea of Salesforce itself acquiring Bluewolf has been aired by analysts and commentators, but Berridge sees IBM as a better fit:

IBM has a history of really valuing professional services and that’s what we do. That’s what we’re passionate about. Salesforce has done an extremely good job of foregoing the temptations of services revenues and instead has built one of the strongest product companies. In a positive way, Salesforce is a product company, while IBM has a services culture.

The acquisition has had a positive impact on Bluewolf’s sales prospects as well:

In terms of customers coming down the pipeline, it’s about five times the size it would have been without the IBM partnership in place. I think we’re pulling each other in directions in which we have the most strengths. We are now having conversations with IBM’s largest customers globally, but we’re also bringing the IBM brand into the small and medium business market, where Salesforce has so much success. IBM wants us to play in that market. Just in the past 90 days alone, we’ve launched offerings into that space, such as Bluewolf Go.

Bluewolf Go was first announced at this year’s Dreamforce and offers, says Bluewolf:

  • Specific go-live packages for Sales Cloud and Service Cloud that are timeboxed, and built to a client’s very specific needs within either 30 or 60.
  • Prescriptive go-to-market frameworks that work to address typical functionality within Salesforce Clouds, including Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Salesforce CPQ, Field Service Lightning and Pardot.
  • Fixed fee solutions - $30k for 30 days option, $60k for 60 days option. 
  • Bluewolf Beyond, an agency-style managed service that works in live cloud environments on an annual basis to drive innovation.

Enterprises and SMBs

This SMB pitch is an important differentiator, argues Berridge:

That’s anti-‘big consulting’. If you look at the competition, like Accenture and Deloitte and CapGemini, they don’t want to play in that SMB space. IBM takes a different tack and wants to be relevant to the entire sales force.

The SMB play is one that is a prime example of ‘eating your own dog food’, he adds:

It’s actually the smaller organizations that are in the position to adopt more [Salesforce clouds]. We are a great example. We’re a 700 person organization within IBM and we run our entire business on top of Salesforce as a platform. We are pure Salesforce, wall-to-wall. We’ve been able to leverage almost everything and we can adopt things quickly.

Both the opportunity and the challenge for Salesforce is their larger customers, where adoption of multiple clouds is less than it is in smaller companies. [Salesforce President] Keith Block has done a good job in turning Salesforce into a solutions seller and [CEO] Marc [Benioff] has done a lot of work on CEO level meetings.

That said, the ‘big consulting’ aspect is also present now that IBM is part of the equation. Berridge explains:

We do get embedded into the kind of massive, multi-faceted deals that IBM drives through Global Business Solutions. They can use us as the driver of a deal when we bring a Salesforce conversation directly to the business. IBM Global Business Solutions has extremely strong relationships with the CIO, while we are often the voice speaking to the business.

In 2017, more and more conversations are likely to revolve around Artificial Intelligence (AI), with Bluewolf now sitting between IBM’s Watson tech and Salesforce’s Einstein, the latter pre-sold by Benioff as:  

AI for everyone…on par and capable to any other AI platform that you have seen like Watson and others.

So whose camp will Bluewolf be sitting in? Both, says Berridge:

AI via Einstein is increasingly exciting for our customers. It’s very elegant and simple. I was part of a focus group for the messaging around Einstein and spent time with Marc Benioff on that. When Salesforce launched Chatter, it was done very simply. Organizations had access to it, but it was left to them to turn on at their own pace, so it became more of a change management exercise than a technology one. Einstein has been built in the same way. It’s not going to be this massively complicated approach to AI. It won’t pack nearly the power of a true AI engine, like Watson.

The two are very complementary. There’s a massive exercise that goes into distilling massive amounts of data. Einstein is there in the business processes and is presented in the Salesforce UI. There is a larger enterprise imperative that requires something like Watson. Watson is designed to be the cognitive engine that can consume massive amounts of data and learn. Einstein is the perfect delivery mechanism for Watson as a back-end data store.

And Berridge is convinced that there will be appetite for Einstein among the Salesforce user base today:

This is a now technology. The way Salesforce has done this makes it adoptable to most organizations today. I think organizations need it. The truth of the matter is that most companies still struggle with CRM. They haven’t figured out how to get actionable intelligence into the hands of users. Just because they have a ton of data, they can’t assume that it’s valuable to users. Employees need a prescriptive action in front of a customer need. There’s a still a bit of a runway here, but that’s the basic premise of Einstein.

The Watson/Einstein co-existence makes IBM and Salesforce more likely partners than opponents, he reckons, certainly more so than the latter’s former BFF Microsoft. Berridge sees the decline of that relationship over the past 12 months as understandable:

I never really saw significant product integration. We’re not a big Office user so maybe it wasn’t targeted at me, but the Office/Salesforce integration didn’t seem to be as important as the inherent risk of having competitive CRM products and that’s what’s played out. Microsoft isn’t willing to give up on Dynamics, so it’s tough to have a partnership. If anything, the ability to IBM and Salesforce to partner is going to be a much more pragmatic journey than trying to go with Microsoft.

As Bluewolf, despite being part of IBM which has a significant SAP services practice within GBS, the intention is remain focused on Salesforce. Berridge concludes:

It’s really about co-existence. We see many deals building integration between SAP and Salesforce. We are a pureplay Salesforce shop.

My take

It’s only been six months or so, of course, but so far the IBM/Bluewolf mix looks like a potent one. So long as Salesforce remains content to leave the professional services space at arms length - and given the trouble taken to win over the major SIs, that seems likely - there’s huge opportunity to be tapped into.