Microsoft has been working on the creation of a meeting scheduling service since 2016. Yesterday, June 8, the company announced that it was starting to deploy this Scheduler service, in English, for Microsoft 365.
Microsoft’s Scheduler allows Cortana to act as a front-end to schedule meetings with people outside a user’s organization. Microsoft is also rolling out other Cortana voice functionality for Outlook on iOS starting today.
Scheduler started out as an AI-powered bot called Calendar.help. Microsoft renamed this technology “Scheduler” in 2019. Microsoft’s goal was to launch this service in 2020, but the date has been postponed due to the pandemic.
Scheduler uses Cortana to negotiate a meeting time. The service allows users to formulate natural language queries, such as “Find me a time for lunch with Paul next week”, to schedule a date. The service checks the availability of each attendee and exchanges emails before sending out invitations. Scheduler can also reschedule and cancel appointments.
In cases where the technology is not sufficient to meet a meeting scheduling request, Microsoft will rely on humans to resolve any inconsistencies or necessary clarifications. “The human assistance that supports Cortana is part of Microsoft’s vendor privacy and assurance standards and is linked to our privacy statement,” the company said on its blog, noting that even though human assistants have access to it. entire email conversations, they will not have access to links or attachments.
A complementary service
Administrators will need to enable Scheduler using a PowerShell commandlet in order to create a custom mailbox and configure it to handle meeting requests. Users can purchase Scheduler through the Microsoft 365 Control Center. Even if an organization already has Cortana for Windows 10 and / or Cortana Info Messaging enabled, users must purchase and activate Scheduler separately.
Scheduler will be available in addition to most Microsoft 365 licenses with a Microsoft Exchange Online subscription. The service will cost around $ 10 per user per month, with an annual commitment.
If you are wondering if Scheduler is going to replace the FindTime feature in Outlook, the answer is no. Microsoft points out that FindTime is still considered an “active” feature in Outlook, although it requires more manual planning and intervention.
New Outlook voice commands
Microsoft is also starting to roll out new voice capabilities for Outlook for iOS, starting today. They were announced in February.
These new features allow users to use their voice to schedule meetings and compose emails in the mobile version of Outlook. To do this, you must hold the “+” sign on the Outlook application, then click on the microphone icon for “Use voice”. It is then possible to question Cortana, for example by asking “when will my next meeting take place?” », Or by asking him to invite new guests.
Users will also be able to vocally request things like “attach latest budget to meeting invitation,” and Microsoft Graph will attach the appropriate document. In addition, the dictation function, already available in Word and Outlook, will also be available on the iOS versions.
A “first step towards a complete conversation experience”
Conversational AI technology with Cortana is something Microsoft already highlighted at its Build 2019 conference. At the time, the company was pushing how users would be able to get Cortana to understand and to respond to “turn-based” types of interactions. This capability will begin rolling out in Outlook for iOS “for email, calendar, and search in the coming weeks.”
Microsoft is putting forward the ability for users to manage their time, schedule events and meetings in Outlook, add participants to meeting invitations, and compose messages using just their voice, as a “first.” step towards a complete conversation experience ”.
Microsoft says the advanced voice features announced today will all “soon” be available in Outlook Mobile for Android. On a related note, Microsoft Office for Android has a new voice capture feature for live speech-to-text transcription, which can be tested by Office users.