Salesforce cofounder Parker Harris, right, with CEO Marc Benioff at Salesforce's 2015 Dreamforce conference.

Salesforce cofounder Parker Harris, right, with CEO Marc Benioff at Salesforce’s 2015 Dreamforce conference.

Artificial intelligence is reshaping Salesforce in the same way that mobile and social did in years past.

The company thrived in the transition to mobile computing with custom apps for smartphones and succeeded in social with messaging service Chatter as well as tools for tracking internet ads. Now, Salesforce is embracing AI to automate sales leads and make customer service smarter.

On Wednesday, Salesforce introduced new AI services that third-party developers can weave into their applications.

How did this internal trend start?

Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO, issued an edict of sorts a couple years ago telling his staff that “everything needs to be powered by AI,” said Parker Harris, the company’s co-founder and product strategy chief, in an interview with CNBC.

“He said, ‘You know what — we need to have AI in all of our clouds,'” Harris said.

Historically, Benioff has played the role of idea guy at the cloud software company, while the work of implementing ideas has fallen to Harris.

With AI, Salesforce engineers were doing some testing, but the efforts were propelled forward through a flurry of deals. The company acquired BeyondCore, Implisit Insights, MinHash, PredictionIO and most importantly MetaMind. Recent acquisitions Demandware and Krux also had some AI projects in the works, Harris said.