Tag Archives: Cortana

Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

 Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

The Gallery is a community site. Many of the contributions are from Microsoft directly. Individual community members can make contributions to the Gallery as well.

The “Solutions” are particularly interesting. Let’s say you’ve searched and found Data Warehousing and Modern BI on Azure:

Deploying a Solution from the Gallery

What makes these solutions pretty appealing is the “Deploy” button. They’re packaged up to deploy all (or most) of the components into your Azure environment. I admit I’d like to see some fine-tuning of this deployment process as it progresses through the public preview. Here’s a quick rundown what to expect.

1|Create new deployment:

CISGallery Deployment 1 Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

The most important thing in step 1 above is that your deployment name ends up being your resource group. The resource group is created as soon as you click the Create button (so if you change your mind on naming, you’ll have to go manually delete the RG). Also note that you’re only allowed 9 characters, which makes it hard to implement a good naming convention. (Have I ever mentioned how fond I am of naming conventions?!?)

Resource groups are an incredibly important concept in Azure. They are a way to logically organize related resources which (usually) have the same lifecycle and are managed together. All items within a single resource group are included in an ARM template. Resource groups can serve as a boundary for security/permissions at the RG level, and can be used to track the cost of a solution. So, it’s extremely important to plan out resource group structure in your real environment. In our situation here, having all of these related resources for testing/learning purposes is perfect.

2|Provide configuration parameters:

CISGallery Deployment 2 Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

In step 2 above, the only thing we need to specify is a user and password. This will be the server admin for both Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Data Warehouse which are provisioned. It will use SQL authentication.

As soon as you hit the Next button, the solution is provisioning.

3|Resource provisioning (automated):

 Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

In step 3 above we see the progress. Depending on the type of resource, it may take a little while.

4|Done:

CISGallery Deployment 4 Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

When provisioning is complete, as shown in step 4 above (partial screenshot), you get a list of what was created and instructions for follow-up steps. For instance, in this solution our next steps are to go and create an Azure Service Principal and then create the Azure Analysis Services model (via PowerShell script saved in an Azure runbook provided by the solution).

They also send an e-mail to confirm the deployment:

 Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

If we pop over to the Azure portal and review what was provisioned so far, we see the following:

 Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

We had no options along the way for selecting names for resources, so we have a lot of auto-generated suffixes for our resource names. This is ok for purely learning scenarios, but not my preference if we’re starting a true project with a pre-configured solution. Following an existing naming convention is impossible with solutions (at this point anyway). A wish list item I have is for the solution deployment UI to display the proposed names for each resource and let us alter if desired before the provisioning begins.

The deployment also doesn’t prompt for which subscription to deploy to (if you have multiple subscriptions like I do). The deployment did go to the subscription I wanted, however, it would be really nice to have that as a selection to make sure it’s not just luck.

We aren’t prompted to select scale levels during deployment. From what I can tell, it chooses the lowest possible scale (I noted that the SQL Data Warehouse was provisioned with 100 DWUs, and the SQLDB had 5 DTUs).

To minimize cost, don’t forget to pause what you can (such as the SQL Data Warehouse) when you’re not using it. The HDInsight piece of this will be the most expensive, and it cannot be paused, so you might want to learn & experiment with that first then de-provision HDInsight in order to save on cost. If you’re done with the whole solution, you can just delete the resource group (in which case all resources within it will be deleted permanently).

Referring to Documentation for Deployed Solutions

You can find each of your deployed solutions here: https://start.cortanaintelligence.com/Deployments

From this view, you can refer back to the documentation for a solution deployment (which is the same info presented in Step 4 when it was finished provisioning).

You can also ‘Clean up Deployments’ which is a nice feature. The clean up operation first deletes each individual resource, then it deletes the resource group:

 Deploying Solutions from the Cortana Intelligence Gallery

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Microsoft gives away 100,000 questions and answers to advance virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana

ms marco 780x520 Microsoft gives away 100,000 questions and answers to advance virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana

Ask Google Assistant or Cortana something like “What’s 4 +4?” today and you’re likely to hear “8.” Ask a more difficult question, like “What did the ancient Greeks eat?” and chances are, instead of answering the question directly, you will likely get pointed toward a website for you to sift through to find an answer to your question.

Microsoft Machine Reading Comprehension (MS MARCO), a dataset of 100,000 questions and answers made available to researchers for the first time today, was made to change that.

By open-sourcing a dataset with answers written by humans, Microsoft hopes MS MARCO can make breakthroughs in artificial intelligence research, and begin to help AI read and understand language like humans would.

That way, instead of having to read through a website to find the answer to your question, you can ask a search engine or virtual assistant, and they will skim documents and websites like humans do, then provide a complex or nuanced answer.

The 100,000 questions and answers were made based on questions asked by real people to the Bing search engine or Cortana virtual assistant. Answers provided by MS MARCO were drawn from more than 200,000 documents or websites and summarized by a human.

“The team chose the anonymized questions based on the queries they thought would be more interesting to researchers. In addition, the answers were written by humans, based on real web pages, and verified for accuracy,” said a Microsoft blog post announcing the release of MS MARCO.

Many datasets used to train natural language processing today have notable shortcomings, the eight-person team that compiled MS MARCO argued in a paper published last month on open research publication arxiv.org.

Most datasets used to train natural language processing (NLP) today do not use questions posed by real people, and they tend to draw upon resources like Wikipedia instead of the less polished but more realistic questions from real people.

MS MARCO is available to businesses and researchers, but datasets available to download for free are for non-commercial use.

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Hey Cortana, Integrate with CRM!

Yes, that’s right. Microsoft’s virtual assistant, Cortana, is now integrated with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. If you’re using Windows 10 on your PC or mobile device and your organization is set up with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, it’s easy to set up and get started.

1. Open Cortana.

Open Cortana Hey Cortana, Integrate with CRM!

2. Click the hamburger control in the upper left-hand corner.

hamburger Hey Cortana, Integrate with CRM!

3. Open Notebook.

Notebook Hey Cortana, Integrate with CRM!

4. Select Connected Accounts.

Connected Accounts Hey Cortana, Integrate with CRM!

5. Select Dynamics CRM.

Dynamics CRM Hey Cortana, Integrate with CRM!

6. Click the Connect button and follow the prompts.

Connect Hey Cortana, Integrate with CRM!

Once connected, you’ll be able to use Cortana to execute commands such as “CRM open account called Contoso” or “CRM show my active accounts.” You can even set reminders, schedule appointments, search for records or manage a task list.

Beringer Associates is a leading Microsoft Gold Certified Partner specializing in Microsoft Dynamics CRM and CRM for Distribution. We also provide expert Managed IT Services, Backup and Disaster Recovery, Cloud Based Computing and Unified Communication Systems.

by Beringer Associates

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Setting Up a PC for Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite Development

Some development aspects of the Cortana Intelligence Suite can occur in the Azure Portal. There are also some additional client tools which are helpful, or potentially required, to fully create solutions. This is a quick checklist of tools you probably want to install on a development machine for purposes of working on the analytics, BI, and/or data warehousing elements of Azure.

1. SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS)

The latest version of SSMS is recommended for compatibility with Azure services, as well as backwards compatible with all SQL Server versions back to 2008.

Download SSMS:  https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/mt238290.aspx

2. Visual Studio 2015

The latest 2015 version of Visual Studio is recommended for full functionality for the newest components. If you choose to do a customized VS installation, be sure to select the option to install Microsoft Web Developer Tools. (If you don’t, when you try to install the Azure SDK later it won’t install properly because prerequisites are missing. Yeah, yeah, I’ve been there.)

If you don’t have a license available, look into using the VS Community edition.

Download VS 2015: https://www.visualstudio.com/downloads/download-visual-studio-vs 

Note: in addition to “Visual Studio 2015,” there’s also a “Visual Studio 15 Preview.” The 15 Preview is *not* the same thing as Visual Studio 2015, even though 15 is in its name. So, just watch out for that in terms of naming.


3. SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) for Visual Studio 2015

Here’s is where you gain the ability to create BI projects: SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). These SQL Server BI projects aren’t considered part of Cortana Intelligence Suite, but if you’re creating an analytics, BI, and/or data warehousing solution you may need at least one of types of BI projects as part of the overall solution.

With the latest version of SSDT for VS 2015, you’ll also be able to interact with all versions of SQL Server, as well as Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Data Warehouse.

Example of what an Azure SQL Data Warehouse cloud resource looks like from within Visual Studio (SSDT):

 Setting Up a PC for Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite Development

4. Azure SDK

The Azure SDK sets up lots of libraries; the main features we are looking for from the Azure SDK right away are (a) the ability to use the Cloud Explorer within Visual Studio, and (b) the ability to create ARM template projects for automated deployment purposes. In addition to the Server Explorer we get from Visual Studio, the Cloud Explorer from the SDK gives us another way to interact with our resources in Azure. 

Example of what the Cloud Explorer pane looks like in Visual Studio (by Resource Group, and by Resource Type):

 Setting Up a PC for Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite Development

Example of what you’ll see related to Azure Resource Groups after the Azure SDK is installed:

 Setting Up a PC for Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite Development

Example of various QuickStart project types available (none of these are directly related to Cortana Intelligence Suite, but might factor into your overall solution):

 Setting Up a PC for Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite Development

5.  Relevant Visual Studio Extensions

These are important extensions for working with Cortana Intelligence Suite at this time:
-Microsoft Azure Data Lake Tools for Visual Studio 2015 <–Automatically installed as part of the Azure SDK
-Microsoft Azure HDInsight Tools for Visual Studio 2015 <–Automatically installed as part of the Azure SDK
-Microsoft Azure Data Factory Tools for Visual Studio 2015

At the time of this writing (June 2016), Azure Data Factory Tools are not automatically installed with the Azure SDK. That will probably change at some point I would guess.

Example of the Cortana Intelligence Suite projects you’ll see after the Azure extensions are installed (a U-SQL project is associated with the Azure Data Lake Analytics service):

 Setting Up a PC for Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite Development

6.  Microsoft Azure Storage Explorer and/or AzCopy

I really like the new standalone Azure Storage Explorer for uploading and downloading files to Azure Storage. AzCopy is another alternative – AzCopy is a command line utility instead of a graphical UI, so it’s better suited for automation and scripting purposes. 

Example of what Azure Storage Explorer looks like:

 Setting Up a PC for Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite Development

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Building Blocks of Cortana Intelligence Suite in Azure

 Building Blocks of Cortana Intelligence Suite in Azure

I’ve been really enjoying learning more and talking with customers about hybrid analytics and data warehousing solutions. The services which are evolving as part of the Cortana Intelligence Suite are really amazing. I’ve put together a new presentation called the Building Blocks of Cortana Intelligence Suite.

I’ll be presenting it for the first time at SQL Saturday Atlanta in May, followed up by the Charlotte BI Group and Carolina IT Pro Group in June. This will be a fast-moving introductory session wherein I’ll introduce each component of the suite and discuss its purpose and use cases. I’ll also call out important requirements for expertise, such as key tools and languages.

Each section will wrap up with an example of the ‘building blocks’ to formulate a solution. Although these ‘building blocks’ examples are greatly simplified, my hope is it will generate ideas for how the different Azure components can fit together for formulating hybrid solutions. 

The materials will changing over time as I refine the presentation and as new capabilities in Azure evolve and mature, so check back later for updates.

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What is the Cortana Intelligence Suite?

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Microsoft could build a life-sized Cortana for HoloLens

One of the more interesting parts of the Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality initiative is the way Microsoft is listening to the public to direct some of its early-stage app development for the platform, through the Share Your Idea website launched earlier this month.

One of the top three ideas on the site, based on votes, is called Cortana in Person. Cortana, of course, is Microsoft’s personal digital assistant that plays a starring role in Windows 10. She’s a Siri competitor that, as gamers will know, was derived from the Cortana artificial intelligence character in the Halo series of games.

“Hologram of Cortana from Halo who you can talk to and interact with,” forum user LookItsKris wrote in his description of the idea for Cortana in Person. “Works in the same way as Cortana on desktop/phone. Get answers to questions etc. Maybe ask a question on HoloLens and answers come through on phone? Possibilities are endless.”

“Dude, that would be so awesome. A real-life Cortana,” commenter H4rmonicAn4rchy wrote. “Who wouldn’t want that?!”

Because Microsoft will actually build the top three ideas from the site, there is a chance that Microsoft will bring the idea to life for HoloLens, whose $ 3,000 development kits will be shipping in the first quarter of 2016.

Given that the HoloLens headset will be running Windows 10, just like Windows-based PCs and eventually phones, it’s not hard to imagine Microsoft getting behind the idea of bringing Cortana to HoloLens. Then it becomes simply a matter of what form she would take.

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Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

Azure Data Catalog is one of the components of the Cortana Analytics Suite.  This post is as of September 2015; at this time the Azure Data Catalog is still in public preview so we can expect many changes coming soon.

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

If you saw the data catalog that was part of V1 Power BI (for Office 365), then you are familiar with the first iteration of this tool. Customer feedback was good, but that they didn’t want to go through the trouble of registering data sources for use with just one application. So that’s the motivation for pulling it out of being a Power BI feature and into being a full-fledged element of the Cortana Analytics Suite.

The Azure Data Catalog is two things:

  • Enterprise-wide catalog in Azure that enables self-service discovery of data from any source (on prem or cloud, Microsoft or non-Microsoft, structured or non-structured)
  • A metadata repository that allows users to register, annotate, discover, understand, and consume data sources

I’m very excited to have a metadata repository like this which can save people time, help find the info they need, share what the data means as well as issues and advice, and potentially decrease duplication of effort for things which already exist. Check out this Azure Documentation page for some very useful scenarios and use cases for Azure Data Catalog:  https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/data-catalog-common-scenarios/.
    
The primary activities in the Azure Data Catalog: Publish (aka Register), Discover, and Annotate. The publishing process currently uses a click-once app in a web browser, and the discovery and annotation process is done via a web page (unless you prefer to use the open APIs).

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

Publishing / Registering Data Sources in Azure Data Catalog

When a user registers a data source, the catalog extracts out the connection string and metadata for column names and data types.  It also will extract descriptions / extended properties if present in the source. Optionally, the person handling the data source registration can choose to show a preview of the data (up to 20 records), and/or a profile of the data. Other than the optional 20-record preview, none of the actual data contents are moved to Azure – it’s metadata only.

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

The above screen shot shows the data sources supported currently in the public preview. Due to customer feedback, the development team started with on-premises SQL Server (relational) and Analysis Services (both multidimensional and tabular). It’s also very interesting that Reporting Services reports can be cataloged here as well.

Lots more data sources will be coming soon – their aim is to be able to register all enterprise data sources after all. The list of supported sources can be found here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/data-catalog-frequently-asked-questions/.

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

Discovering Data Sources in Azure Data Catalog

When looking for a data source that has been registered, users can search by term, tag, object type, source type, and/or an expert assigned as having knowledge of the source. (This expert can be a person or perhaps a support group.)

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

The web interface includes nice functionality to select multiple items on a page and assign tags, for instance, to them all at once.

If the “Include Preview” checkbox was selected when the data source was initially registered, this is what the Preview pane looks like:

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

Note that individual columns can possess their own tags and descriptions for search ability (in addition to the tags and descriptions at the database & table levels). This is what the Columns pane looks like:

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

If the “Include Data Profile” checkbox was selected when the data source was initially registered, then table and column profiling is done with respect to number of rows, number of distinct values, min & max values, number of nulls, etc. Following is what the Data Profile pane looks like:

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite

Annotating Data Sources in Azure Data Catalog

Users are encouraged to make annotations about usefulness, column meanings, friendly names, etc. The development team refers to this as a crowdsourcing approach because anyone can contribute useful information that may be of great assistance & time savings to colleagues.

Tags can also be used very effectively. For example, I saw a demo recently where an e-mail address column was annotated with a PII tag to alert users to use caution when distributing personally identifiable information.

If users of the Azure Data Catalog make the time investment to add rich information related to data sources, then this type of metadata tool can be extremely helpful to self-service users who are searching for the correct data to use. 

 Overview of Azure Data Catalog in the Cortana Analytics Suite


Things to Know about Azure Data Catalog

There is a web portal interface to Azure Data Catalog is located at http://azuredatacatalog.com. However, there are also open APIs as well if you would rather integrate the publishing, discovering, and annotation activities with a custom application. 

The Azure Data Catalog permits a data source to be registered only once. This was a purposeful design decision to avoid duplicates. Visibility to a select number of objects (ex: views for particular sets of users) can be set with security (in the Standard version only, not the free version).

Currently the system allows only a single Data Catalog per Azure subscription. The design team has envisioned the Azure Data Catalog as being enterprise-level, so permitting departmental use would diminish the value. It’ll be interesting to see over time how the subscription model tends to align within decentralized customer organizations.

The default for a new data source is for this metadata (and data preview, if selected) to be available to everyone. Visibility can be set to specific users and groups (Standard version only, not the free version).

There is a free version, and a paid version that is referred to as the Standard version. The free version shows all registered data sources to all users – if you need to restrict visibility by users & groups, that requires the Standard version. The free version allows up to a max of 50 users, whereas the Standard version is unlimited and is priced (as of Sept 2015) at $ 50/per month/per 100 users. Pricing details are here:  https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/data-catalog/.

If a user doesn’t have permission to access a data source, the Standard version (not free version) allows you to submit a request to gain access to that particular data.

Azure Active Directory integration is required. You cannot use a Microsoft account (ex: user@outlook.com) with Azure Data Catalog. Also, you have to log into the portal on a machine where you are logged in as the Windows user. For most users this won’t be an issue (for me, it means I need to remote desktop into a VM where I can log in with an Azure AD account that my Azure test environment will understand & I launch the Azure Data Catalog web portal from within the RDP session).

Anyone can try to register a data source. However, for it to be successful, the person registering needs to be able to read the schema for the underlying data source (i.e., read definition permission). If the checkbox to show a preview is selected, the person registering also needs select permissions on the underlying data source.

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Microsoft bulks up Salesforce with Cortana voice search and Power BI dashboards

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella today unveiled a new integration of its Cortana Analytics Suite into Salesforce, bringing natural-language voice search, predictive analytics, and dashboards.

Microsoft has developed the integration in partnership with independent startup Alpine Metrics.

Nadella attempted to use the new integration onstage during a demo by opening up the Cortana personal digital assistant on a PC running Windows 10 and stating, “Show me my most at-risk opportunities.”

Cortana misinterpreted his voice query three times — the first time, she thought he’d said, “Show me to buy milk at an opportunity” — but Nadella’s supporters backstage were able to bring up information in Salesforce in response to his query.


From VentureBeat

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Salespeople will be able to run queries on their Sales Cloud instances simply by speaking. Power BI will provide dashboards and charts that can appear in Salesforce. Sales Cloud will get sales forecasts using predictive analytics as a result of the integration, too. And while the speech recognition might be the exciting part, the forecasts are likely the most important part.

“I’m told one of most subjective things in the world is salespeople’s estimates of their ability to close a deal,” Nadella said.

logo placeholder 160x160 Microsoft bulks up Salesforce with Cortana voice search and Power BI dashboards

News of the new integrations, which came during a keynote at Salesforce’s 2015 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, comes just hours after Microsoft and Salesforce announced a deeper partnership to deliver several new product integrations.

Cortana Analytics Suite is a wide-ranging portfolio of tools that companies can use to store, analyze, and act on data, with Microsoft’s Cortana personal digital assistant playing a key role. The first Cortana Analytics Suite launch turned Cortana into a front end for Microsoft’s Power BI business intelligence software. Now Cortana will work on top of non-Microsoft software.

Microsoft Corporation is a public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through … read more »

Salesforce, the Customer Success Platform and world’s #1 CRM, empowers companies to connect with their customers in a whole new way. The company’s platform and application services include: Salesforce Sales Cloud, the world’s #1 sale… read more »

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What is the Cortana Analytics Suite?

Since I’m a data nut, I’m intrigued with Microsoft’s new offering referred to as the Cortana Analytics Suite (which I’ll call CAS for short).

First things first, CAS is not a product in and of itself, though it will have its own pricing. CAS can be thought of as a bundle of integrated products and services. It’s somewhat similar to the idea of the Office suite or the SQL Server suite, both of which contain various components that are interoperable (at least to a certain extent). I get the feeling with CAS that interoperability/integration will be a huge emphasis. Another big emphasis will be on the availability of templates and preconfigured solutions in CAS which should accelerate and simplify development for particular scenarios.

Since CAS isn’t officially available yet, most of what can be found right now are marketing materials – though most of the components are available individually now and have varying levels of technical documentation available. I’m excited to be attending the CAS Workshop in September in Seattle, where I’m hoping to learn a lot more about the integration points, interoperability, accelerators, and overall capabilities.

What are the Components of Cortana Analytics Suite?

Knowing this is a bundle of tools with an emphasis on integration and automation, for the purpose of advanced analytics, what are the components of the suite? 

 What is the Cortana Analytics Suite?

The documentation lists the following as elements of Cortana Analytics Suite:

  • Azure Machine Learning
  • Azure HDInsight
  • Azure Stream Analytics
  • Azure Data Lake
  • Azure SQL Data Warehouse
  • Azure Data Catalog
  • Azure Data Factory
  • Azure Event Hub
  • Power BI
  • Cortana
  • Face, vision, speech and text analytics
  • Preconfigured solutions for recommendations, forecasting, churn, etc.

There are other Azure components that will play a part in data-oriented solutions as well; I’m showing some of these key components in the image above (in orange towards the bottom) even though they aren’t “officially” part of Cortana Analytics Suite.

Why is Cortana in the Name?

One of my first questions when this was announced:  Why is Cortana in the name? The idea here is that the personal assistant, Cortana, will be able to provide information upon request or proactively. Something such as:  “Hey Cortana, what is the total of yesterday’s sales?” appears to be the next evolutionary step of the Q&A natural language capabilities first seen in Power BI. A public demo indicated that Power BI will be just one way to expose data to Cortana.

 What is the Cortana Analytics Suite?

Source for image: July 2015 Webinar by Joseph Sirosh

Here’s a very interesting quote from a TechCrunch article:

“As for Cortana, which is the Microsoft voice-driven personal assistant tool in Windows 10, it’s a small part of the solution, but Sirosh says Microsoft named the suite after it because it symbolizes the contextualized intelligence that the company hopes to deliver across the entire suite.”

So, we have an extremely broad platform with Cortana Analytics Suite. Stay tuned for my follow-up posts where we start looking at the individual components.

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Blog – SQL Chick

21 things that people wish Cortana could do

Microsoft’s Cortana personal digital assistant is now working on PCs running Windows 10, not just Windows Phones. That means Cortana is a lot more visible as a competitor to Apple’s Siri and Google Now.

Cortana certainly has her share of tricks. As I’ve discovered in recent weeks, Cortana can tell time, show stock prices, open applications, display the status of a flight, define words, and run queries in Microsoft’s Bing search engine, to name just a few of her capabilities.

But Cortana could stand to get a whole lot smarter in order to look attractive relative to the competition — especially as it goes cross-platform to iOS and Android.

Here’s a roundup of the top 21 requests Microsoft has received on its Cortana UserVoice page — with duplicates and implemented features removed — along with some thoughts on each point from me.

  1. Allow Cortana to work offline. (This is especially important for people using Cortana on Windows Phone, but even if it’s on a laptop, it would still be a major improvement. Currently when you ask Cortana something when a PC is in airplane mode, she’ll give you an error message. “I can’t connect at the moment,” she says. “Try again in a little bit.”
  2. Remember where you parked your car. Google Now can do this, and Siri has a patent to do it, but Cortana can’t do it (yet).
  3. Let users select Cortana’s voice. This might not sound like a big deal, but users do like to put in their preferences, and right now, there isn’t a whole lot you can do here. Our former editor in chief, Dylan Tweney, would really like Cortana to use Scarlett Johansson’s voice, but Microsoft won’t indulge him in that regard quite yet.
  4. Give Cortana contextual awareness for answering questions. You can get an answer to your question, but if you want to ask a follow-up question in certain circumstances, Cortana won’t always help you. For example, if you ask for the weather and then get a widget in response, if you ask “What about tomorrow?” you’ll find yourself punted to a page of Bing search results for “What about tomorrow?” And that won’t help you very much.
  5. Let Cortana answer calls and send text messages. You can send text messages through a phone on Cortana on desktop, but you can’t send texts through other apps at the moment. And right not you can’t have Cortana actually answer your phone calls. But that would be cool. Perhaps one day you’ll be able to program it to provide canned messages to callers. Right now, though, there’s nothing like that.
  6. Allow Cortana to perform “If this, then that”-style functions. Right now Cortana can take some instructions, but she’s not very good at accepting rules that she can follow. For instance, if you wanted to send a Facebook message to yourself every time you received an email, Cortana couldn’t help you with that. Some users would like that sort of rule-setting to be part of Cortana’s feature set.
  7. Have Cortana wish you happy birthday on your special day. That wouldn’t be so hard, would it? Perhaps Cortana could start asking users to provide their birthday if they want. Right now, Cortana’s Notebook has no place for you to put that information.
  8. A holographic version of Cortana through Microsoft’s HoloLens headset. HoloLens isn’t commercially available yet, but once it is, a sweet three-dimensional version of Cortana would be much more visually compelling than the little blue circle that many people know as Cortana today.
  9. Give Cortana a way to call you by a nickname. Currently you can tell Cortana what to call you, but you can’t give it a nickname as an additional identifier.
  10. Interact with whatever is currently onscreen. Google Now on Tap, when it becomes available for the first time in Android M, will allow people to take actions based on the information that’s on the screen at any given time — for instance, if you’re reading the Wikipedia article about Tom Waits, you should be able to play Tom Waits in a music streaming app like Spotify — and Cortana currently has no way to compete against that feature.
  11. Allow Cortana to run with GPS turned off. This is a largely mobile-centric feature request — battery consumption is one key issue here. In the Privacy section of Settings on Windows 10, you’ll see the culprit: “Location history must be on for Cortana to work.” That could be a bummer for some users.
  12. Let your Cortana talk to other people’s Cortanas. Imagine what would be possible if two or more parties opt in to this sort of integration. Location-based alerting — “Tell me when Mark Sullivan gets to the newsroom,” for example — is just one thing that might be possible with this sort of addition to Cortana.
  13. Hey Cortana! Look at this! A voice- or text-activated command to peek through the device’s camera and rely on an image recognition tool like Bing Vision could bring a whole new set of applications for Cortana.
  14. Make Cortana work in other countries. Microsoft has relied heavily on locals to make Cortana work in a way that’s suitable to the local population of each country where it’s been rolled out. But clearly people around the world want access to Cortana, and Microsoft is gradually enabling the personal digital assistant in more and more countries. So people will just have to be patient.
  15. Translate. Right now Cortana has some translation savvy, but she could get better in that deparmebt. I was able to get text and spoken translations from English for short passages in Spanish, French, German, Hebrew, and Russian — simply the languages I thought of off the top of my head, nothing special about them — but if you’re looking for a full-on translation tool for several sentences, you may be better off using the Bing Translator service. “I’m still brushing up on my translation skills,” Cortana told me in response to one of my translation queries.
  16. Customize measurement settings, like showing the weather in Fahrenheit or Celsius. Microsoft has built Cortana with ample amounts of localization, but that doesn’t account for preferences that go against customary standards for certain countries. Microsoft could do more on this front.
  17. Keep Cortana from listening for “Hey Cortana” anytime the phone is face down. Now that Cortana works on mobile and desktop, Microsoft could ensure that the phone and the PC don’t both respond when you call Cortana by the “Hey Cortana” greeting.
  18. Disassociate language from region. Some users want to be able to use Cortana with languages that might not be the default for their countries. In Germany, for instance, some people want to use Cortana in English, but they can’t right now.
  19. Put Cortana in auto-listen mode when the device is plugged in. Rather than wait for you to say “Hey Cortana” or click the icon or hit the Win key + C, perhaps Cortana could just be listening at all times when a PC or phone is plugged in. An always-on Cortana could be a battery drain on mobile, but if it’s plugged in — like in a car, for instance — Cortana could become more accessible.
  20. Set your Quiet Hours based on your location. Right now, you can turn the Quiet Hours option on and off — to minimize how much notifications disturb you — in the Action Center of Windows 10, or in the little notification icon on the taskbar. But Cortana could stand to get the ability to customize when Quiet Hours based on when you’re at certain places. For example, when you’re at work, it might be nice to keep notifications from popping up.
  21. Provide news through RSS feeds. Right now, news on Cortana only comes from certain sources. Giving Cortana RSS feeds to follow might make news notifications more relevant. Google Now, for its part, lets you know when new content appears on sites you’ve visited before, but Cortana is not quite there at this point.

Whew. Clearly, there’s no shortage of things that Microsoft can do to improve Cortana.

To find even more suggestions for Cortana, check out the full UserVoice page dedicated to her here.

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