Microsoft Announces Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise
At the company’s Ignite conference in Florida, Microsoft announced a new Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise. This is a product meant for business voice assistant use. Companies will be able to take advantage of Cortana’s natural language processing to develop custom skills. Javier Soltero, Microsoft corporate vice president overseeing Cortana told Mashable:
It’s allowing enterprises to build experiences that take advantage of the free-form aspect of ambient [computing]. By allowing these enterprise workflows to be expressed through natural language or voice, interesting things start happening. Many of them were about filling in forms, but with the ability use natural language to ask questions and take action, you can converse about an activity.
Microsoft’s John Roach commented in a blog post today about a recent application for a Cortana-enabled IT help desk bot developed by an internal company team.
“As a proof of concept, IT developers at Microsoft used the enterprise platform to create an IT help desk skill that enables Cortana to file tickets for employees who are having computer problems and connect them to someone who can help…Now, a simple, natural language verbal request to Cortana frees Microsoft employees ‘to stay in the flow of what they are doing,’ [Soltero] added.”
Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise is currently available only in a private preview. You can apply for early access here. No information is available yet on a general availability release date.
What about the bot framework?
Microsoft Bot Framework already allows companies to build and connect intelligent bots, or agents, to interact with users of popular services like text, SMS, Skype, and Office 365 mail. Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise is based on the bot framework and the Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding feature. Therefore, if a company is already using the bots, they will be able to use the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to upgrade its capabilities. Soltero said:
We can take, say, a customer-service bot that is specific to your enterprise and add the element of natural language and the ability to operate across multiple devices.
Sticking With B2B
In August 2017, Amazon and Microsoft announced that the companies would integrate Alexa and Cortana. One year later, that integration was rolled out to consumers. Alexa offers Cortana features after connecting to your Microsoft account and saying “Alexa, talk to Cortana.” Similarly, Cortana users can invoke Alexa through Windows 10 devices. The pairing brings together the leading smart speaker-based consumer voice assistant by market share with the most used enterprise voice assistant.
A 2016 Voicebot analysis suggested that Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Hound and others would logically begin pursuing specialization in either business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) use cases. The voice assistant use case landscape is so large that no one solution will be expert in everything in the near term, or ever. As a result, the big players were predicted to focus in on where they have particular assets and expertise. Microsoft has deep roots and capabilities in business productivity. The Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise will make it easier for companies to integrate Cortana into business processes.
This approach is logical considering Microsoft’s deep roots in enterprise computing, an advantage it has over Amazon and Google. If Microsoft really wants Cortana to succeed, targeting their largest audience first might be the only way to do it. At the initial release of Cortana, Microsoft discussed their ideas for a Cortana integrated business toolkit: Cortana would have complete access to a company’s data, and would be able to optimize the productivity of a worker based on analysis of that data. Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise is a step toward realizing that vision.