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Salesforce chooses London for its first dedicated AI Center in a big vote of confidence in the UK

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 7, 2024
Summary:
With London Tech Week just around the corner, a major initiative from Salesforce...

Zahra Bahrololoumi
Zahra Bahrololoumi

On the eve of London Tech Week, Salesforce used its own London World Tour event to announce the opening of its first dedicated AI Center with the UK capital city as the chosen location.

Located in the Blue Fin Building in Southwark, the 40,000 square foot facility will be used to support AI training and up-skilling programs as well as fostering industry collaboration among tech companies, AI specialists, Salesforce partners, and customers.

The new center will formally open on 18 June with a free training session for around 100 developers as part of Salesforce’s ongoing AI Now Tour which is being staged at multiple locations around the world.

The decision to choose London as the host city for the first in what is expected to a be a chain of such AI Centers is a striking physical vote of confidence in the UK AI scene. Research by London & Partners, one of the driving forces behind London Tech Week, has found that some 77% of decision-makers at major international AI firns consider the city to be “more supportive of AI development than other major AI hubs,” according to Managing Director Janet Coyle.

Salesforce had previously committed to invest $4 billion in AI innovation in the UK over the next five years. To date, Salesforce Ventures, the firm’s venture capital arm, has invested over $200 million in UK AI firms, including Eleven Labs, provider of an AI-powered text-to-speech and voice generator, and the procurement platform AutoGen AI.

In the formal announcement of the new center, Zahra Bahrololoumi, CEO Salesforce UKI, stated:

AI has the potential to drive major growth for UK businesses – with the UK AI market predicted to reach over $1 trillion by 2035. To realize this opportunity, industry-leading experts must work together to develop innovative solutions and overcome obstacles. By locating Salesforce’s first AI Center in London, we are sending a clear message to customers and partners on AI: we are deeply committed to working closely together so that you can reap the rewards of this transformative technology, while ensuring it is a force for good.”

Skills

At the World Tour event later, Bahrololoumi expanded on her thoughts, saying she is “beyond excited” for the opening of the center:

It is a collaborative space where we can absolutely enable that collaboration between experts and customers and partners. That's not new to us, but just being able to have that space dedicated to be able to do that when we when we engage with our customers [is great]. You know, we don't just unleash tech and say, 'Off you go home'. We go through quite an involved process. We put [customers] through an immersion activity. We define a 'North Star', we paint a vision, we define a roadmap. We are very specific and practical about the steps to get there. To have this dedicated space to talk AI, to work on AI challenges, to work on business challenges that we solve with our capability I think is extraordinary. I think it's going to be absolutely pivotal to our growth. That's what I'm most excited about.

The center will also have an important role to play in relation to a theme close to Bahrololoumi’s heart - that of growing and developing skills:

We've made a commitment and a pledge to skill 100,000 developers globally. And so for us to be able to launch that with dedicated training and learning for 100+ developers on day one means we start as we mean to go on.

Election 

It’s an interesting time for the new center to open its doors as the UK is heading into a General Election vote on 4 July. All the main political parties will be setting out their proclaimed technology strategies, with the potential for the AI sector to be a major economic contributor certain to be a common theme. Salesforce hasn’t been afraid to engage with elections in the past - see Hillary Clinton’s appearance at Dreamforce prior to the 2016 US Presidential Election, for example. For her part, Bahrololoumi was carefully neutral when she said: 

When I think about the Government, I think most of the major parties - in fact, all of the major parties - do acknowledge that the ability to adopt technology is pivotal to our productivity, our growth, our economic health. My ask of any Government would be that that remains front and center.

But there’s one other specific ask that she has for whoever emerges as the new administration next month - and it’s back to that favorite theme again:

I will bang this drum. One in 10 of us feel equipped in the world of AI. Innovation is heading very quickly towards autonomous AI. We need to have the skills in this country to be able to adopt and use it in a responsible way, with the right controls and protocols. Any Government, I think, appreciates that. Most of the major parties do. So that would be my wish list. If there was one thing, it is the prioritization of skills.

My take

As noted above, a big endorsement of the potential of the London tech scene and the wider appeal of the UK as an AI industry hub. We’ve seen what AI innovation has done to, at least partially, tackle the so-called ‘doom spiral’ in San Francisco as start-ups flood into the city again. The UK has a great opportunity to tap into the AI boom, and whoever wins the election on 4 July needs to ensure that every incentive is given to make this happen. Going back to that London & Partners research, it's notable that nearly half (45%) of respondents cited supportive government incentives and policies tailored for AI development as London’s key advantage, while 44% highlighted access to international markets and global business opportunities as another significant benefit of being located in the capital. The win is there for the taking! 

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