Contrary to the bleak picture painted by critics, a new IDC study of more than 1,000 organisations worldwide shows that AI will be in the workplace "sooner than we think", and will have a positive impact on productivity, revenues, and job creation.
From 2017 to 2021, the Salesforce-sponsored study predicts that AI-powered CRM activities will boost business revenue by $1.1 trillion, and create more than 800,000 direct jobs and 2 million indirect jobs globally, surpassing those lost to AI-driven automation.
The business revenue boost will be led primarily by increased productivity and lowered expenses due to automation, which account for $121 billion and $265 billion of the $1.1 trillion sum, respectively, according to the study.
Keith Block, vice chairman and COO at Salesforce, said the impact of AI for the CRM market will be "profound" in that it will enable "new levels of productivity".
"The convergence of increased computing power, big data, and breakthroughs in machine learning have meant artificial intelligence is set to transform the lives of workers, especially those that are already using CRM technology, by helping them be more productive in their development of more meaningful connections with customers," added Robert Wickham, RVP of Innovation and Digital Transformation at Salesforce APAC.
"What IDC's research shows is the picture is more nuanced than doom and gloom predictions."
While the trillion-dollar figure might appear far-fetched to some, the A Trillion-Dollar Boost: The Economic Impact of AI on Customer Relationship Management report states that it's a "conservative" prediction, because a lot of resources go into IT implementations.
"The spending on IT software, services, and hardware itself is often small compared with spending on staff (IT and operational), operations, non-IT capital goods, and more. In fact, spending on external IT -- which now permeates most enterprises in the world -- represents less than 1 percent of the world's business revenue and generally less than 5 percent in even the most IT-rich enterprises," the IDC-Salesforce report states.
"IDC research shows that even in cloud-based solutions, any single implementation will require additional spending -- on other cloud services, consulting, networking, security, and more."
Block recommended that companies looking to embrace AI should create new workforce development programs to equip employees with the skills necessary in the future.
The study also estimates that Salesforce customers will account for $293 billion, or about 26 percent, of this revenue boost, and more than 155,000, or about 19 percent, of the net-new jobs by 2021.
2018 will be a landmark year for AI adoption, according to the IDC-Salesforce study, with more than 40 percent of the organisations surveyed indicating that they will adopt AI within the next two years.
The types of AI that these organisations are looking to adopt include machine learning (25 percent), text analysis (27 percent), voice/speech recognition (30 percent), and advanced numerical analysis (31 percent).
IDC expects worldwide spending on "Cognitive/AI systems" -- which includes hardware, software, and services -- to grow from around $8 billion in 2016 to $46 billion in 2020.
The research firm also forecast that 75 percent of enterprise and ISV development will include AI or machine-learning functionality in at least one application. AI-powered CRM activities -- such as accelerating sales cycles, improving lead generation and qualification, personalising marketing campaigns, and reducing customer support expenses through chatbots -- will cover a large spectrum of use cases, according to IDC.
The United States is expected to lead the way in new business revenue growth through AI implementation, accounting for $596 billion of the $1.1 trillion GDP impact, followed by Japan at $91 billion; Germany at $62 billion; the United Kingdom at $55 billion; and France at $50 billion.
Australia came in last, with the study estimating that AI-powered CRM activities will create more than 16,000 new direct jobs and AU$19 billion in increased revenue over the next five years. Improved productivity in Australia accounts for $4 billion of the revenue boost.
The CRM giant itself has invested heavily in artificial intelligence, announcing in May a new $100 million Salesforce Platform Fund aimed at accelerating the development of artificial intelligence-powered applications and components on the Salesforce platform.
The company has also been boosting its AI capabilities, integrating its "Einstein AI" technology with its various clouds as an add-on in March. It also launched Einstein Vision, a set of APIs that allow developers to bring image recognition to customer relationship management and build AI-powered apps.
In May, Salesforce revealed that it was testing a version of its Einstein AI service internally to help project sales and give guidance.
In Salesforce's first-quarter earnings conference call, CEO Marc Benioff said an internal version of the Einstein Guidance feature has made the AI another member of the management team.
"Every question that I possibly could have, I'm able to ask Einstein. And I think for a CEO, typically the way it works is, of course, you have various people, mostly politicians and bureaucrats, in your staff meeting who are telling you what they want to tell you to kind of get you to believe what they want you to believe," Benioff said in the earnings conference call.
"Einstein comes without bias. So because it's just based on the data, and it's a very exciting next-generation tool. And to have Einstein guidance has transformed me as a CEO."
It's not clear, however, when the Einstein Guidance feature will be rolled out broadly.
Salesforce is not the only CRM vendor investing in AI; Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle are also betting on the AI-powered CRM market, especially as enterprise data explodes, making it more compelling for sales and marketing teams to have access to intelligent tools that can sift through that data, and identify and tailor experiences to the prospects with the highest propensity to make a purchase.