Microsoft tries again to win developers with new Cortana Enterprise Skills Kit

Microsoft is working on a new enterprise-focused skills kit for Cortana, based on its Bot Framework, which can be used to build skills and agents for business use.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is working on a new Skills Kit for Cortana, its personal digital assistant, which is focused on helping business users build "company-specific" skills. Microsoft is taking the wraps off its Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise kit at its Ignite IT pro conference in Orlando this week.

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This new Skills Kit is different from the Cortana Skills Kit that the company delivered last year. That original Cortana Skills Kit was more focused on attracting developers interested in building consumer-facing skills for Cortana. But over the past year, Microsoft execs have decided to no longer position Cortana as a digital assistant akin to Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. Microsoft, instead, is trying to pivot Cortana to be an "assistance aide," rather than simply a voice-enabled persona.

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The Enterprise Skills Kit is meant to help businesses use Cortana to improve workforce productivity. The new Enterprise Skills Kit for Cortana is currently available to developers by invitation only. It will be available "more broadly in the near future," officials said.

The Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise uses the Microsoft Bot Framework (which just hit its own Version 4 milestone this week) and the Azure Cognitive Services language-understanding (LUIS) technology. It will allow developers to build skills and agents, test them with users and manage deployment.

Credit: Microsoft

The skills which developers can build using the Enterprise Skills Kit will be able to be controlled using Azure Active Directory, so that enterprise developers can determine when those skills are deployed and who can access them. Microsoft isn't revealing a list of enterprise skills that developers can build using the new skills kit. But officials did offer some potential scenarios which could be enabled via these kinds of skills, such as scheduling an office cleaning by human resources.

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Microsoft also has developed an IT help desk skill using the Enterprise Skills Kit, that will allow Cortana to file tickets for employees with computer problems and connect them with someone to help.

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Even though Microsoft is targeting this developer kit at enterprises, company officials continue to deny the company is throwing in the towel in terms of Cortana also having consumer appeal. Officials reiterated this week that usage of workplace skills can translate into using other Cortana skills outside work.

At the end of 2017, only 230 skills had been developed for Cortana, with almost none of these being enterprise/business-focused skills.

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