Microsoft inches closer to releasing its AI-powered Scheduler bot

Microsoft is working to make meeting-scheduling more simple and seamless with its Calendar.help bot, which soon will be renamed Scheduler.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

In 2016, Microsoft announced an AI-powered bot called Calendar.help. Since then, the bot, which uses Cortana to help users schedule meetings, entered private preview. It looks like Microsoft is about ready to make that chatbot -- renamed Scheduler -- generally available.

The Scheduler.microsoft.com URL now redirects to calendar.help. And there are a couple of AI-powered scheduling sessions slated for Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft's IT-pro-focused conference happening the first week of November.

One such session calls Scheduler a "digital assistant." From the description:

"We've been working to create a digital assistant that can help you schedule meetings so there are no more back and forth emails. Learn how you can delegate the creation of your meetings to Scheduler. Scheduler uses natural language processing to understand your needs and negotiate an appropriate time with your invitees, find you a room, and add an online meeting."

A recent Microsoft job posting also mentioned the coming Scheduler assistant. From that posting:

"Our team is building a conversational scheduling assistant for busy professionals that democratizes the value of a personal executive assistant to everyone to meet their time management needs. Scheduler (https://scheduler.microsoft.com aka Calendar.help) is pioneering efforts on digital assistants, natural language understanding, intelligent time management, resource coordination, and machine learning."

The job posting mentions that Scheduler will use "intelligence substrate services," such as LUIS and the Bot Framework, under the covers.

Improving meeting scheduling is a big piece of Microsoft's goal to improve meetings all-up. Microsoft has been promising for months that it will replace the Meetings app in Teams and a new calendar application. This originally was going to happen in April 2019. The Office 365 roadmap site now says this will be an October 2019 deliverable. (Update: Thanks to @LCansby on Twitter, it seems this actually started happening in August. Maybe the October date is when all O365 users will get the new Calendar app?)

I asked Microsoft today if that date was still on track and I was told by a spokesperson that the company had "nothing more to share beyond what's in the roadmap." I also asked if the coming Scheduler bot would be part of the new Teams meetings experience and was told by the same spokesperson that Microsoft had "nothing more to share."

I've had a request in for a while to join the calendar.help preview. (Still no invitation. Ahem.) But last week, I received an email from a colleague who used the service to help schedule a meeting between us. That person cc:'d Cortana@calendar.help, which summoned Cortana to go back-and-forth to schedule a time that worked. The person included specifics about the meeting, such as its length and our preferred method of connection to make the process even more seamless.

Microsoft Research has been working on Calendar.help since at least February 2015. Microsoft developed Calendar.help by combining pieces from Microsoft Research, Outlook, Cortana, and Genee, a company Microsoft acquired in 2016. Microsoft officials said previously that calendar.help works with Office 365, Outlook.com and/or Google calendar.

In other bot/assistant news, Oracle announced today that its AI assistant is now available in Microsoft Teams. Teams and Office 365 users can get Oracle's digital assistant from the Microsoft Teams app store. The Oracle Digital Assistant will allow users to query Oracle cloud apps, like CX and HCM, via a bot conversation.

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