‘A company’s AI strategy is only as strong as its data strategy’

5 Jul 2024

Paul O'Sullivan. Image: Salesforce

Salesforce’s Paul O’Sullivan on why striking a balance between regulation and innovation is ‘critical’ for the AI revolution.

Paul O’Sullivan is SVP of solution engineering and chief technology officer at Salesforce UK and Ireland. O’Sullivan has worked in technology for 25 years, holding various managerial positions at companies including BlackBerry, Monitise, HSBC and Accenture.

He joined Salesforce in 2022 and now leads a team of 250 solution engineers.

“Our priority is to make our customers successful. As trends change, so too do our products which continue to evolve to be relevant and meet the expectations of our customers,” O’Sullivan told SiliconRepublic.com.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape and how are you addressing them?

Every customer I talk to knows they need to make major investments in AI now, to fuel growth and strengthen customer relationships. They see it as the tool to augment their people and drive more productivity but as businesses are looking to transform for the AI world, they have concerns around privacy, accuracy and safety.

At Salesforce, trust is our number one value, it’s not just something we say, it guides how we run our business and build our products. We’re integrating ethical guardrails like the Einstein Trust Layer into our products to promote responsible innovation and pre-empt potential issues.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation in a broad sense within your industry? How are you addressing it in your company?

No matter the company, CEOs and tech executives are focused on leveraging AI to improve productivity, efficiency and grow revenue, but a company’s AI strategy is only as strong as its data strategy, and that data has to be trusted. But more data brings more complexity – companies have more than 1,000 applications to run their business and without the right technologies and integrations, that’s an enormous challenge.

For AI to deliver real results for businesses, we need models grounded in a company’s own data – but today, most companies’ data is trapped in disconnected applications and silos, providing no value. The Einstein 1 platform is grounded in our customers’ own data allowing us to enable businesses to unlock incredible new insights and intelligence, and with Data Cloud, we’re helping customers unlock their trapped data and put it to work for their AI — and their business.

Getting the strategy of data right doesn’t only allow customers to put AI to work, but also allows them to truly transform. Many years ago, we applied the strangler pattern to decommission legacy systems. As we embark on this AI revolution, it’s another opportunity to streamline.

Click here to listen to Future Human: The Series.

Sustainability has become a key objective for businesses in recent years. What are your thoughts on how this can be addressed from an IT perspective?

The information and communication technology sector is responsible for up to 3.9pc of global emissions. These emissions are expected to rise as organisations increasingly rely on software to drive their operations and accelerate their digital transformation.

Last year, Salesforce launched Green Code, a new initiative to help reduce carbon emissions associated with the software development life cycle. Green Code features our newly-released sustainability best practices that help technologists – from UX designers and software developers to system architects and IT operations managers – accelerate the world’s journey to net zero.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

AI stands as the next transformative revolution, reshaping industries worldwide. The impact of AI draws parallels with historical shifts, ushering in predictive, conversational, generative and autonomous capabilities that are revolutionising work across industries.

This revolution brings forth new AI-driven business models and a global focus on balancing innovation with compliance and evolving digital skills. As AI proliferates, striking a balance between regulation and innovation becomes critical, ensuring trust and accountability in AI systems.

The evolving digital skills landscape necessitates upskilling in AI and data, while robust security measures are essential to safeguard against evolving cyberthreats. Looking ahead, the life cycle of AI will profoundly shape the business landscape, driven by incremental innovations and characterised by explosive growth, market expansion and eventual maturity.

Embracing change and fostering trust in AI systems will be key to unlocking its full potential and shaping a future defined by innovation and progress.

In addition to AI, I believe we will see a collection of emerging and traditional technologies coming together to reshape our future. For example, connected devices, augmented reality and new authentication approaches will be combined with AI for new customer experiences and interactions.

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