CRM’s AI Singularity

businesspeople using artificial intelligence

Recently, Oracle and Microsoft jointly announced a cooperative pact to interoperate several of each other’s products to support Bing searches and other applications. This collaboration is not their first, but it is the biggest. The questions I have include whether this is significant and, if so, what it says about the future of CRM.

The joint announcement said, “Microsoft is using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) AI infrastructure, along with Microsoft Azure AI infrastructure, for inferencing of AI models that are being optimized to power Microsoft Bing conversational searches daily.”

Okay, it’s significant. No need to spend a lot of time on that question.

A lot of proprietary hardware is being opened to enable the competitors to configure truly large supercomputing landscapes to drive the AI future. One implication is that these two software companies are acting like hardware companies of old, though both these software behemoths have significant hardware salients.

Cryptocurrency Contrast

I can’t resist a quick sidebar.

Notice how very little of anything like this happened with crypto? The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noted a couple of years ago that crypto was then still a solution seeking a problem. The intervening years have only proved Krugman out as Sam Bankman-Fried awaits sentencing.

Forget the differing merits of crypto versus AI, and just consider the actors. Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Larry Ellison are well-seasoned veterans of the tech wars, each with decades of experience and the scars to prove it. Their companies’ collaboration says much about where they see the tech world evolving next, and it’s a vision that resembles Ray Kurzweil’s singularity.

AI’s purpose seems to be augmenting human thought and effort, something Kurzweil saw coming. AI takes a great deal of horsepower, not just storage, to pull off its magic — and since Oracle’s customers are also Microsoft’s customers and vice versa, neither could survive by telling customers that their products couldn’t work closely together.

A Strategic Defense Collaboration?

It also should be said, as I have too many times, that it appears that the new collaboration may be driven by a Defense Department contract that Microsoft won as prime contractor.

The deal is much bigger than Oracle and Microsoft alone, and it may represent the only point in history when such a collaboration between erstwhile rivals could happen. We could be watching as one arm of government, the Defense Department, brings together two competitors in a deal the Justice Department might ordinarily look askance at.

More specifically for CRM is how AI might be used to predict the future using a huge compute landscape. Accurately predicting the future in the middle of war has been a military necessity and quest, at least since the Greeks invaded Troy. We may be watching as technologies designed for one arena are deployed elsewhere in parallel.

Modern business needs accurate prediction as much as the military, and in this technologically rich time, you could almost be forgiven for reworking Bismarck’s dictum that war is politics by other means. But if business becomes war by other means, it leaves us with the uneasy feeling that customers might be the enemy.

The Double-Edged Sword of AI

Given the mess that social media has plunged us into, after an auspicious start that had many analysts, including me, singing its praises, I am a little shy of getting too far out front on AI.

My fear is that throughout society, AI will become a voice from everywhere saying the equivalent of, “Do you want fries with that?”

My hope is that AI is the thing that will finally take the lag time out of so many interactions between vendors and customers, making it effectively zero.

That lag time has been historically most pronounced in the sales process, where salespeople bombard you with offers for solving problems that you might only have foggy notions of. At the same time, the salespeople are juggling a ridiculous number of “opportunities” trying to figure out if any have life.

Wouldn’t it be great if some neutral authority was able to tell a buyer, “Hey, you really need something like this if you’re going to meet the CEO’s stretch goals for the year?” At the same time, wouldn’t it be great if some unbiased source told a sales rep, “These situations are non-starters, but this one has real promise?”

Of course, that would be great, and as a matter of fact, I’ve been searching for both kinds of technology since I was a little boy. With each iteration of CRM, we’ve gotten closer to these goals, yet we’re still very far away.

AI for Relationship Management

More than a few years ago, there was a VRM movement (vendor relationship management), but the distance between the need and the capability then remained vast. Who would pay for all the needed tech and labor? There was no good answer, and the idea of VRM, while plausible, couldn’t make it into the end zone.

Now, enter AI. The need is still there — to find a better way to engage vendors and prospects without so many dead ends that come with conventional sales. AI could fill that need, but at least a couple of things would have to happen.

First, there would be a loud hissing sound as air was let out of the sales balloon. In a world governed by AI, salespeople would be less necessary. Second, businesses would have to become comfortable having an in-house resource to tell managers what to buy.

Maybe we are a long way from all that, but it’s reasonable to expect the AI juggernaut to accelerate, so who knows what the world will look like at the end of this decade?

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

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