IBM/Salesforce Deal – A Sign of Things to Come?

I’m a huge fan of Watson and the technology behind it. This is an interesting partnership on a few different levels – and it raises some questions as well.

Essentially, the overall partnership between IBM and Salesforce is one of adding new intelligence and machine learning to customers that are shared between the two providers. Presumably, you can combine the information in your systems and then turn Watson loose on it to learn more things about what makes your company tick, what works, where some areas for improvement are, etc.

Clearly, I’m over-simplifying. Here’s a link to a much more official summary.

At first I read this and was pretty impressed and excited. This is something that could net some very interesting learning about a customer base and could help companies pay more attention to things that customers want and need. The opportunities to be “better” are pretty substantial here.

I want to say up front that I’m not a big conspiracy theorist. I do, however, pay close attention to slippery-slope type things that happen. The automation stuff, security things, all of that.

That said, after I first read about it, then considered it and thought about what it all meant, I keep coming back to data sharing without opt-in data privacy and security. Now, I don’t doubt for a second that IBM and Salesforce can and will deal with the security issue. But the use of data across providers like that – in this case, very interesting.

I wonder though if this is leading more and more to a place where it’s just ok to, once you have a customer’s data (or a portion of it), you can share it with other service providers you use? To me, it’s one thing to use a CRM where you’re just putting information into a system for tracking and management and communications. But when you start combining their information with other services behind the scenes, and sharing that information back and forth and…

It makes me both excited at the possibilities and uneasy at the data sharing issues. Of course I’m not referring to just this deal in all of this. It’s more that it paves the way and points out that we still haven’t figured out “who owns your information” and what can be done with it.

We have had clients writing into their agreements that their information cannot leave the US in terms of storage. That means we help them pick cloud service centers located domestically. I wonder, if they’re using a service provider they’ve contracted with that combines their information behind the scenes to provide better service, how much control over where that second tier (or beyond) is stored? Is analyzed? Is used? You’d like to think that it’ll be protected with vim and vigor (never really thought I’d use that in the context of a SSWUG post, but there it is). I just don’t know that we can really expect that because it is so uncharted right now.

Perhaps we need to start thinking about “combined” data or data outcomes and what expectations are for their use? I can’t even imagine trying to legislate that, and I’m not really even calling for that. But I think we need to
be considering it as we expand on the tools and systems and solutions we apply to information acquired from our constituents.