Artificial Intelligence / Career

What Is the UK Salesforce AI Centre?

By Lauren Westwood

Since its announcement during London World Tour, we’ve heard a lot about the launch of Salesforce’s brand-new AI Centre. With so much of our day-to-day working lives taking place digitally, it’s nice (and relatively novel) to have something tangible to connect with; a physical space to facilitate real-time, in-person collaboration. 

We were invited to attend the official opening of the AI Centre on June 18 – complete with ribbon cutting ceremony, panel discussions, and hands-on workshops for over a hundred Salesforce Developers and Admins. So let’s take a closer look…

The AI Centre: What, Where, and Why?

In a nutshell, the AI Centre has been presented as a vibrant community hub for all things AI! With Salesforce investing $4 billion in the UK over the next few years, it’s great to see some of this investment in action. During London World Tour, Zahra Bahrololoumi CBE (Salesforce CEO for UK and Ireland) talked enthusiastically about her vision for this collaborative, hands-on space – a scalable concept that can be replicated and adapted elsewhere.

“I really want this to be a thriving hub where people are exchanging ideas, solving challenges, solving issues. I want it to feel like it’s owned by our ecosystem.” Zahra Bahrololoumi – CEO of Salesforce for UK and Ireland

So what does this hub actually look like? Well, from a real estate point of view, this looks like 40,000 square feet of office space, with room for up to 300 people at a time – all housed within the slick, glass-encased Blue Fin building in central London. 

Your nearest tube station? You’ve got Waterloo to the south and Blackfriars to the north – both major transport hubs. Your view? The Tate Modern, the Thames, and St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s fair to say that as far as locations go, Salesforce have chosen well with Blue Fin, “a building that encourages culture and a place where people come together”. And what’s more, by housing the centre somewhere other than Salesforce Tower, the community can really start to take ownership.

There’s a real sense of commitment to the physical aspects of ‘place’. Joining a panel discussion during the recent launch, Relina Bulchandani (EVP, Real Estate and Workplace Services at Salesforce) talked more about the community that’s fueling this venture, as well as the fluid, feedback-driven nature of what will hopefully become a “network of these different centres”. 

“We want to bring people together in real life. This AI Centre in the UK is really about the power of place and bringing together different folks to create new outcomes. This is a learning lab. We’re not coming in with all the programming and answers. We want to learn, iterate, tweak, and then take this to other markets.”

Located on a single floor with plenty of natural daylight, it’s certainly an impressive space to behold. Relina speaks further about the “intentionality” behind the centre, which boasts four multi-purpose zones that can be reconfigured as breakout or conference spaces. It feels like there is a lot of room for growth here, with an overriding message of: let’s get started and see how this goes. It’s clear that feedback from the community is a big part of what will drive this hub going forward, with people at its heart: 

“Feedback coming out of the pandemic, even from our own employees, the number one ask was to get together in real life and connect with each other.” Relina Bulchandani – EVP, Real Estate and Workplace Services at Salesforce

Credit: Ian Plested

It’s fair to say that Paul O’Sullivan (Head of Salesforce UK AI Centre and UK & Ireland Chief Technology Officer) has been a driving force behind the creation of the AI Centre. Paul talks about “living our values” whilst pushing boundaries and being “bold”. But there is also the sense that this is a work in progress – an evolving, moveable feast that will, in the near future, enjoy shared ownership with the community. 

“We’re still shaping all of the content and the different sessions, from the foundational knowledge that’s required to apply AI safely, all the way through to the very complex stuff. We want the really meaningful things to happen here in the AI Centre. We want to be able to bring thought leadership and organisations together to collaborate on key topics.”

So how can the AI Centre be amplified with digital content, especially for those living outside London? Paul and his team have considered a variety of approaches, including streaming live sessions and offering on-demand content. 

“We want to make sure we have an inclusive environment that’s accessible for everybody irrespective of location across the UK.”

And how about the practicalities of visiting in person? Asked if anyone can pop in, the response is to “stay tuned!” But this doesn’t feel like avoidance; instead, it speaks more to the flexibility and the transparency of the space. With a fully booked agenda until September, there’s plenty going on, and with that, plenty of opportunities for community feedback to influence the shape of things to come. 

Why the UK – And Why London?

Walk down any street in central London and you’ll get an idea of just how diverse and vibrant this city is. This diversity is one of many reasons why the UK’s capital is well primed for hosting responsibilities. 

Also in attendance at the AI Centre launch was Janet Coyle CBE, the Managing Director of Grow London at London & Partner. Describing London as “one of the best places in the world to do business”, Janet talks about the city’s deep talent pools. 

“We have 27 universities that have AI courses, so as well as upskilling the current workforce, there’s a good, healthy pipeline for the future. Also, because London has a very diverse workforce – 230 languages are spoken here – that’s really appealing wherever you are in the world if you’re looking to move into a European city. And yes it’s a great place to live, that’s why we find that a lot of companies want to expand here.”

This focus on the rich environment that London offers is mirrored in the AI Centre’s mission to prioritize the education of young people – an effort to ensure that the current digital skills gap doesn’t turn into a chasm: 

“We’ve got plans not only to bring to our customers, industry experts, and partners, but we also want to broaden out to universities and high schools to make sure we are building a generation for the future and equipping them with the knowledge and skills they require.” Paul O’Sullivan – Head of Salesforce UK AI Centre and UK & Ireland Chief Technology Officer

Credit: Ian Plested

What Does the Community Think? 

It’s early days, but the community has already had its first taste of the space; over a hundred Salesforce professionals attended the launch, including Louise Lockie, independent consultant, Women in Tech leader, and Salesforce MVP (Hall of Fame). Here’s what Louise had to say about the new hub:

“I was thrilled to attend the opening of the Salesforce UK AI Centre and participate in the hands-on training covering Data Cloud, Prompt Builder, and Einstein Copilot. Alongside the massive scissors and the ribbon cutting photo op, the day was packed full of hands-on learning and was the first time many folks had a chance to try out Data Cloud and Copilot.

“I welcome future hands-on training sessions at the centre and am delighted that Salesforce has chosen London as its base. As the leader of the London Salesforce Women in Tech group, I’ll certainly be recommending my members join as many sessions as possible, to not waste these fantastic (free) learning opportunities.”

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to get excited about shiny, new things – and this new centre in the Blue Fin building is certainly shiny! AI has generated far more than conversation (and the odd haiku!); it’s generated new policies and regulations; new qualifications and research projects; entirely new career paths! It’s also generated meaningful discourse and real change. So it makes all the sense in the world to provide a real space in which to harness these conversations and turn them into action.

Will it work? It’s a little too early to tell. But the foundations of the centre – community and collaboration – have been key pillars for Salesforce since the very beginning. We’re excited to see what comes next.

Watch – no – visit this space!

The Author

Lauren Westwood

Lauren is the Content Director at Salesforce Ben.

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