Microsoft drops plans to integrate Cortana with Dynamics 365

Microsoft won't be integrating Cortana with its Dynamics 365 ERP/CRM services, after all. So far, at least, officials aren't saying why.

Microsoft has dropped plans to integrate its Cortana personal digital assistant with its Dynamics 365 ERP/CRM services.

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Microsoft officials made the announcement about the discontinuation in a very short blog post on January 5, as first noted by MSDynamicsWorld.com.

The blog post in its entirety:

"After carefully consideration, we've decided to discontinue the Cortana integration preview feature. Dynamics 365 will no longer appear in Cortana's notebook, and Cortana will no longer prompt users with relevant information about sales activities, accounts, opportunities, and meetings.

"We welcome your feedback and ideas."

The preview of Cortana integration was available as part of Dynamics 365 Online version 9.X and 8.X and Dynamics CRM Online 2016 Update.

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There's no explanation regarding why Microsoft dropped its Cortana integration plans for Dynamics 365. I've asked company officials to see if they'll say more. No word back so far.

Microsoft had been touting the coming Cortana-Dynamics 365 integration to its partners as a key differentiator as recently as this past Summer.

Microsoft seemingly has been trying to more clearly position Cortana over the past several months.As originally introduced, Cortana was basically a prettier front end for Bing search. By doing this, Microsoft didn't make it clear that Cortana also was a key piece of Microsoft's plan to infuse its apps and services with intelligence provided by AI services on the back end.

Recently, the company seems to be trying to build search in a way that optimizes users' ability to search on the Web, within apps and locally. At the same time, it has been building Cortana smarts into applications and services like Skype, Edge, Office and Outlook. I had thought integrating Cortana with Dynamics 365 was part of this new plan, but given the cancellation, apparently not (?).

Despite the cancellation of Cortana integration, Microsoft is continuing work to add more AI technologies to Dynamics 365.

As MSDyanmicsWorld noted, the Customer Insights module of Dynamics 365 adds predictive modeling to sales and service activities. And Microsoft has demonstrated image recognition driven by Azure services as a future add-in possibility for Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations.

At Ignite in Septmeber, Microsoft showed off some new virtual support agent technology it branded as "Dynamics 365 AI Solutions." However, rather confusingly, the underlying technology has no connection with Dynamics 365 products. These agents are custom built by Microsoft for enterprise customers using Microsoft's Knowledge Graph, Bing data, and Microsoft machine-reading technology.

What's today's move mean for Cortana? Good question. Microsoft's personal digital assistant is falling behind its competitors. At the end of last year, there were only 250 Cortana skills available, compared to Alexa's 25,000. Microsoft's best hope for Cortana seems/seemed to be to get it integrated into more first- and third-party applications and services.

Update (January 5, 2 pm ET): One seemingly in-the-know contact who asked not to be identified said incompatibilities between Dynamics 365 and Cortana may be the reason for the decision to drop integration between the two.

That person said Cortana doesn't work with Active Directory for authentication (it uses MSA), while Dynamics 365 is very tied to it. This meant Cortana didn't work well for enterprises vested in Active Directory.

In the meantime, maybe we'll see more Alexa skills for using Dynamics 365....

Update No. 2 (January 5, 7 pm ET): Microsoft has rewritten its blog post on the discontinuation, noting that Cortana still will somehow figure into the Dynamics 365 picture -- but offering no specifics on when or how.

The new blog post says:

"We are working to deliver a robust and scalable digital assistant experience across all of our Dynamics 365 offerings. This includes natural language integration for customers and partners across multiple channels including Cortana. To that end, we are discontinuing the current Cortana integration preview feature that was made available for Dynamics 365 and we are focusing on building a new long term intelligent solution experience, which will include Cortana digital assistant integration."

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