“Analytics is no longer a back-office function, but rather a front-office imperative,” says Amruta Moktali, Salesforce’s Vice President of Product Management for Salesforce Analytics. Amruta has a long background in data science and is leading data-driven innovation at Salesforce.

Before Salesforce, she was head of product at Topsy Labs, the social search and analytics company. Topsy was acquired by Apple and is now part of Apple Search technology. Prior to that, Amruta worked at Microsoft, where she worked on several products, including Bing, which she had a hand in shaping with the Powerset team.

In conjunction with International Women’s Month, we are doing a series of stories featuring women leaders at Salesforce. We caught up with Amruta for an interview. Here are her thoughts.

What originally got you interested in technology and brought you to Salesforce?

I grew up around technology. My dad is in the mechanical industry, so my introduction to technology pretty much started with conveyor belts and vibrating screens. I studied computer engineering as well as computer science, and being technical was simply an organic part of me. I started my career in technology, and have never worked outside the field.

However, I did start my career focused on consumer technology, and then when I came to the San Francisco Bay Area, I encountered two people who worked at Salesforce. One was my hiring manager. Two things that attracted me to Salesforce were the culture and how this company thinks about technology — approaching it strongly from a customer perspective.  

What are you working on that is helping to drive Salesforce’s technology and innovation goals?

One of the things that companies are struggling with is the data explosion around them. Today, making informed decisions requires being data-driven but most companies are struggling to achieve this. My focus in Salesforce, with the Einstein Analytics Platform,  is to enable our customers to bridge this gap and most importantly make everyone in their organization empowered to make data driven decisions. We are building a platform so that everyone can make smart, data-driven decisions and infusing it with the power of AI that gives them that edge over the others.

The field of analytics has changed dramatically in recent years. What are some of the biggest changes from your perspective?

One of the biggest change is that analytics is no longer a back-office function, but rather a front-office imperative. Every business user is now becoming empowered by analytics, and artificial intelligence is increasingly driving advancements in analytics.

For example, analytics has been very separated from the business process in the past and usually required IT or data science involvement. That is what has changed. Now analytics has become approachable, and  finally business users are empowered to explore their data and get answers to their questions themselves. We just announced a new feature, Conversational Queries, that I've been so excited to share -- it lets users type a question in a conversational way and get an answer. Analytics has come a long way, and now we have made analytics more  human.

Additionally, analytics is seeing drastic change with the onset of AI, where now business users can not only get predictions, recommendations and explanations, but also proactively get insights to help make the right decisions.

Equality is one of our company’s core values, and International Women’s Month is here. What are your thoughts on equality and the opportunities and challenges for women in today’s workforce?

Salesforce is an example of how companies can approach the equality agenda in the right way. Equality is not just a checkbox for Salesforce but a value that every employee embodies. You can see it through our programs, and our equality leader Tony Prophet. We are doing a remarkable job.

In terms of challenges that women still face in the workplace, I think even if we have a seat at the table,  women often dismissed or ignored. Sometimes their ability to lead becomes undermined through stereotypes and sometimes their seats at the table are attributed to their gender rather than their capabilities.  

What we can do to help is make sure that we are not only sponsoring women but giving them voices. We must instill in them the confidence and provide support to stand up for themselves in the workforce. This doesn’t just mean women helping women, it means men helping women, too.

What is the best career advice you’ve received?

Being encouraged to believe in myself, and being encouraged to not doubt or second-guess what I can do. One of my earliest managers provided this encouragement.

Looking into the future, what are some of the technology trends that you think will drive the most change?

AI is going to be at the forefront of many changes that will have a big impact. Every field, from services to healthcare to manufacturing, will be impacted. Interestingly AI is not new. It’s been around for a very very long time. It’s just that we are now seeing very innovative mainstream applications since system processing powers can now support them. AI is capable of giving automated responses to questions and a lot of bot-oriented functionality, and that will drive a lot of change.

Among other technologies that are really bubbling up, blockchain will be very disruptive. It will take a few years to become mainstream, but it has a lot of promise. For instance, I was chatting with my relative in India and blockchain would be awesome to help issues involving tracking and payments for the new GST taxes implemented there. Device innovation is also moving very quickly. From wearable devices to droids, our devices are becoming much smarter. We have some very interesting years ahead of us. For those who watch the show Black Mirror, some of what is seen there is not that far away.

What is at the top of your music playlist?

Right now, I am listening to the soundtrack to the movie Sing, because my daughter loves it. She has me play it all the time. I used to sing myself when I was a kid — Indian classical music. I have a lot of that on my playlist, too.