Dropbox CEO Drew Houston sees a big change coming to business software

Drew Houston Sun ValleyGetty / Drew AngererDropbox CEO Drew Houston

A huge shift is taking place in the business software market and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston knows it: software needs to be smarter and more predictive.

According to a report in The Information, Houston reiterated this notion at the Allen & Co. annual Sun Valley conference this week, saying machine learning capabilities that enable more sophisticated data analysis and automated predictive behaviour is “something you sprinkle on products to make them better as opposed to a new platform or product.”

He pointed out hiring machine learning experts has become “more important” as a result, and they will play bigger roles as software like Dropbox seek ways to automate a lot of functionalities, such as notifications and messages, in the future, the report said.

Houston’s comment is in-line with the trend that’s been going on in the broader business software landscape.

Salesforce, for example, has been doubling down on its machine learning capabilities by acquiring a bunch of artificial intelligence startups lately. Its CEO Marc Benioff once said, “This will be the huge shift going forward, which is that everybody wants systems that are smarter, everybody wants systems that are more predictive.”

Even Slack, the hot-shot business communication app, has created a new machine learning team recently, under the goal of building data analytics features on top of its software. “Weaving in an intelligent layer is a huge opportunity to enhance the product for people who use Slack and the platform for developers who build on top of it,” Noah Weiss, who’s leading Slack’s Search, Learning, and Intelligence group, wrote recently.

Perhaps that explains why VC investments in artificial intelligence startups have exploded in recent years. According to CB Insights, both the number of deals and amount of funding in AI startups reached new record highs in 2015.

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