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AI advances can slow a Salesforce cloud migration

Showing incremental improvement and investing over time are keys to successful cloud implementations, especially in government.

Many organizations -- especially government agencies -- still operate under years-old legacy systems, not because those systems work well, but because they are familiar. So, making the case for a Salesforce cloud migration, combined with new technologies like artificial intelligence, creates another layer of diffidence.

Wagish Bhartiya, senior director of software as a service and cloud solutions at REI Systems Inc., based in Sterling, Va., sees this firsthand. He implements Salesforce cloud migrations and other cloud-based products from Microsoft, Amazon and other tech companies for government agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), NASA, Federal Emergency Medical Agency (FEMA), the Department of Energy, and several state and local departments.

"There's a general fear or distrust of new technology, because [government organizations] have used certain tools for so long," Bhartiya said. "That's exacerbated by newer technology, like mobile or AI. AI also introduces an interesting rub, because on the face of it, it looks like you're replacing jobs with technology, and that's not something you do in government."

In addition, publically funded organizations typically don't have a lot of money to invest in new, sometimes daunting technologies like cloud migration. More than 75% of the total budget for IT in fiscal year 2015 for government agencies went to maintaining legacy systems, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

'A performance dashboard on steroids'

While Bhartiya has implemented Service Cloud to assist with case management and contact-center problems, he and his customers are playing a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the new Service Cloud Einstein features.

[Salesforce] will improve the power underneath it, but right now, it's too early and very basic.
Wagish Bhartiyasenior director of SaaS and cloud solutions, REI Systems

"[Salesforce] is planting the seed and will improve the power underneath it, but right now, it's too early and very basic," Bhartiya said. "What I view [Service Cloud Einstein] as is it's a performance dashboard on steroids, with the ability to extend it further."

Moving government agencies to the cloud is already a substantial hurdle for a company like REI Systems. A control factor when it comes to data is prominent in every organization, but when the data may have national security implications or confidentiality requirements, there tends to be more of a pause when asked to implement a Salesforce cloud migration.

"One of the challenges is having data reside in government data centers and not in the cloud," Bhartiya said. "It's an idea that is more common in government, but still exists in the commercial space that if we don't have our data on premise[s], then we lose control of it."

From reactive to proactive customer service

Despite governmental agencies' inclination to stay with the technology they have, the Service Cloud Einstein upgrades could prove to be beneficial -- between an Einstein Supervisor feature that allows for administration-level employees to see omnichannel insights and analytics and view agent availability in real time, to a Case Management feature that can identify high-priority cases and get them routed to the correct agent quicker.

"The thing about a contact center, if you can shave a minute or even 30 seconds off a call, it goes right to the bottom line," said Sheryl Kingstone, research director for customer experience and commerce for 451 Research. "The ROI on the insight is critical when talking about customer service in the contact-center space."

And while government agencies like DHHS and FEMA lack traditional customers in the consumer sense, being able to capably respond to the public that your department serves is a vital responsibility.

"Customer service is moving from what has historically been a reactive industry to a proactive one and, ultimately, a predictive service," said Michael Ramsey, senior vice president of product management for Service Cloud at Salesforce.

Starting small and showing value

If a Salesforce cloud migration can offer quick return on investment for government agencies and other organizations that are wary of adoption, it will go a long way in increasing that incremental investment.

"One of the things I think we'll see an uptick and less of a pushback is in the crunching or processing of a lot of data -- those time-intensive tasks," Bhartiya said. "If those systems can get smarter and bring that service to help the average user -- in government, I'm trying to avoid looking bad, and if this technology can help me get in front of a problem, then that's a good thing."

Between that institutional fear of changing technology and uncertain budget futures for many governmental departments, implementing new technology isn't a high priority. But Bhartiya said he believes a system like Salesforce Service Cloud Einstein could help departments update their processes incrementally, rather than by one large financial investment.

"What Salesforce is hoping is that, as a new customer, you don't have to spend millions of dollars on Day 1," Bhartiya said. "You can spend $10,000 or $20,000 and get something in there and incrementally growing. By starting small and showing value quickly is the way to change that model."

Salesforce Service Cloud pricing ranges from $75 per user, per month for Lightning Professional; to $150 per user, per month for Lightning Enterprise; and $300 per user, per month for Lightning Unlimited.

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