Salesforce Data Cloud Solve Indian Government’s Data Problem

At the recently held World Tour Essentials event in Mumbai, Salesforce, the leading CRM software provider, announced its entry into the public sector domain.

In a press conference, Salesforce India CEO and Chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya shared the company’s desire to bring its cloud and AI solutions to the government to help them deliver better citizen services to India’s populace.

Bhattacharya revealed that the company has formed a new division focusing on selling its solution to the Union government, the state governments, and Quasi-government agencies.

Under Bhattacharya, who was the first woman to be the Chairperson of the State Bank of India (SBI), Salesforce has grown significantly, recording a 50% revenue jump to INR 6,000 crore in FY 2023. The company’s employee count has also increased from around 2500 to over 10,000 in the country.

Given Salesforce India’s above-average performance, venturing into the public sector seems the next logical step. Nonetheless, announcing the public sector division was the easier part. The biggest test for Salesforce remains convincing the government to leverage its solutions.

( Salesforce press conference held in Jio World Convention Centre, Mumbai)

Government’s Appetite for Public Cloud

In an exclusive interview with AIM at the sidelines of the World Tour Essentials event, Bhattacharya said that Salesforce’s biggest challenge is that the majority of its critical services are on the cloud.

“We do have some on-prem solutions, such as the integration layer in Mulesoft or the graphic analytics layer in Tableau. But other than that, much of our solutions are cloud-based. We need to find out what is the appetite of the government in order to use the public cloud,” she said.

While major government agencies and departments are in dire need of digital transformation, the government has shown an appetite to leverage the cloud and has formed the National Cloud Initiative of India. The initiative, called Meghraj, aims to host various government applications and services on the cloud.

Moreover, the Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology (MeitY) has provided Cloud Service Provider (CSP) empanelment to public cloud companies like AWS. Notably, Salesforce leverages AWS’ cloud infrastructure.

Even though the company refrained from revealing much about this new division, Bhattacharya did say that it is still in its nascent stage and could take a couple of years before we see any possible outcomes. She also said that Salesforce has initiated talks with a few parties.

“The other thing, of course, is that we have to learn how to participate and respond to a request for proposals (RFPs) on time. These documents are often extensive and detailed, requiring a learning curve to understand the response process, which also involves collaborating with partners,” Bhattacharya said.

Data Cloud Could be a Seller for Salesforce

One of the biggest hindrances for many organisations is that most of the data is in silos, and this is even true for many government organisations.

Bringing scattered data together into a cohesive source and deriving meaningful insights remains a significant challenge. This is where Salesforce’s Data Cloud could prove to be a valuable tool when it tries to woo the government.

“Data Cloud isn’t something you need ages and ages to build. We have customers that have actually done it in the span of just 90 days and these are not small customers. These are large-scale customers, nothing in the scale of the government, but definitely large scale.

“When you leverage Data Cloud, it’s something where you are not really storing any data; you are merely getting intelligence from the pools of data that you already have and presenting it in real-time. That’s what it does and that’s something the government could possibly use or be interested in using,” she said.

Data Cloud is one of the fastest, if not the fastest growing, organic innovation to come out of Salesforce. In fact, the company is projected to make half a billion dollars in revenue from Data Cloud in just two years.

Moreover, it also does not matter where the data is sitting. “It’s irrelevant whether the data is stored in Snowflake, DataBricks, or elsewhere. Organisations have a wealth of additional data beyond their typical data warehouse, such as client email interactions, contact centre chats, social media profiles, and ongoing online interactions,” she pointed out.

The data, however, do need to be in digital form. In some government offices, some data could be in physical form. “If the data is not digital, then it becomes a challenge. “ If it is not digitised, we can help you digitise it and ensure that the data that’s coming in in the future stays in a digital format.”

Salesforce Public Sector Solutions go beyond Data Cloud, offering out-of-the-box apps tailored for rapid digital service delivery in government agencies.

Leveraging the Salesforce Einstein Platform, these solutions empower government organisations to future-proof their IT investments with citizen developer tools, AI, and automation. This approach enhances service agility and efficiency and supports digital transformation efforts.

Building Trust in AI

Over Time, multiple thinkers in the AI space, as well as many Salesforce spokespersons, have stressed the importance of building trust in AI.

The primary concerns, be it public or private sector enterprises, regarding trust in AI primarily revolve around the data. According to Bhattacharya, catering to the customer’s data requirement and ensuring there are no mishaps is the best way to build trust in AI.

“If we commit to ensuring data privacy and confidentiality, we must uphold that promise without compromise. It is imperative that our offerings reflect this commitment.

“Moreover, the government will have its own laws and regulations as to where it wants the data, how it wants it to be treated, what data can be accessed, and what data should not be accessed. How should it be masked when at rest? How should it be encrypted when in flight, so all of that has to be very assiduously met,” she said.

AI Needs a Global Compact

Bhattacharya also opines that AI today is mostly self-regulated. While some jurisdictions have some regulations, some don’t have any regulations at all. However, it requires a global compact.

“All countries should agree that for the good of mankind, this is akin to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We must now agree on principles and actions that benefit humanity collectively,” she said.

This does not have to be a regulatory body but a collective agreement where countries agree that ‘this is what we will do and this is what we will not do with AI.’

Interestingly, this is not the first time an idea like this has been conceived. Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, also shared similar thoughts.

He urged the US to establish a global organisation similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), focusing specifically on AI regulation.

His comments raised some concerns in India as technology’s impact and implications are shaped by human choices, values, and societal contexts. India also has unique socio-economic challenges, such as income inequality, poverty, and access to basic services.

Furthermore, if such a regulatory body is established, does India secure a seat at the table? If so, does it wield a significant voice in decision-making? Or will it be dominated by Western bureaucrats who will regulate the technology based on their country’s risks and concerns?

Bhattacharya believes India already has a strong voice in the global space. Also, today, the world itself is very interconnected. “You should go to Silicon Valley and see how many Indians are working there. Our chief engineer happens to be from Andhra. He’s obviously an expat and lives in the US, but he’s from India,” she pointed out.

Moreover, we can’t take an approach like China, which bans Western technologies. What is required is a collective approach in which all parties work together for the betterment of humanity.

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