Web collaboration consultant, public speaker and Microsoft Press Author. @resing on twitter

A Conversation with Alexa about SharePoint

If you could talk to you Amazon Echo about SharePoint, what would you discuss? Conversation as a Platform (CaaP) is a hot topic in technology in 2016. The Echo device just celebrated it’s second birthday, Facebook Messenger just launched a new commerce model and millions in China are using messaging apps to transfer money every day.

My Story with Personal Digital Agents

I’ve been exploring conversations with personal digital agents like Alexa, Siri and Cortana for more than 2 years now. We signed up for the Amazon Echo in beta and have enjoyed having Alexa in our living room. Every morning, she tells us the weather. We ask Alexa to set timers, play songs from Spotify, tell us jokes, read a news briefing while I eat breakfast and occasionally answers factual questions like, “What’s the population of China?”, “What’s the capital of Washington?”, or “How far is it from Seattle, Washington to San Antonio, Texas?”

I even included Siri, Cortana and Alexa in my 2015 14 Day Video Challenge on Day 12, “Our Devices are Listening to Us.”

After arriving at Microsoft Headquarters as a new employee in April 2016, I was inspired to explore this space more. Microsoft’s third, and current CEO, Satya Nadella, is a very positive person who challenges us all to learn and do more. And, he’s a big believer in the power of conversation as a new way of interacting with devices. Since becoming CEO, he’s changed the annual summer corporate event from a large gathering in a stadium or arena to a global hackathon challenge. In its third year, in 2016, it became the largest live hackathon event ever.

Picture of Tom in his Hackathon jacket with the 1st place trophy

1st Place in the Business Category!

The hackathon team I joined won 1st place in the Business category. As a group, we explored the power of the Microsoft Cloud as an engine for popular digital assistants. My main contribution was editing and recording the 3-minute video required for the prize entry. One of my teammates recently published a code sample on github, MeetingBot, with an introductory Channel 9 video. When you connect a digital assistant to the Microsoft Graph through conversation, a whole world of opportunity opens. Getting information about upcoming meetings and sending messages to the attendees are only the tip of the iceberg.

1st frame of Channel 9 video

“Alexa, read me Nate’s last news post”

How would this hack apply to SharePoint? I’ve been focused on how SharePoint can help organizations collaborate for more than 10 years now. SharePoint’s usage growth continues with the expansion of the audience in Office 365. And the product is introducing innovations at the quickest pace ever. What would it look like if I had a conversation with my digital assistant about SharePoint?

I love writing for the web and I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. With Facebook and Twitter, more people are writing for the web today than ever before. The variety of channels is still increasing and so is the ease of access. At work, the tools are behind. SharePoint and other, web-powered software and services, provide an easy to use platform for sharing and dialog. Team news, recently added to SharePoint Online and the mobile app for iOS, is one of the newest methods of sharing. It’s easy to create a visually rich post with news in SharePoint. With tools like this, it will be easier than ever to share and discover at work.

Tom talking to Alexa

I’ve already seen 1st hand how Amazon’s personal digital assistant can be connected to the Microsoft Graph. Today, a developer can write a service that reads team news from SharePoint out loud through an Amazon Echo. Soon, you’ll be able to interact with your intranet across the digital assistant of your choice, whether it’s Siri on your iPhone connected to your car by Bluetooth, Cortana on your laptop or Ok, Google on Android powered devices.

Picture the Future You Want to Happen

Want to get hands-on with the future of technology? Pull the MeetingBot sample code and use it in the Bot Framework channel of your choice. Extend the example to read the title and biography of the attendees of your next meeting.

If you’re not comfortable with downloading and compiling code, don’t let that stop you. Experiment with the digital agents available to you today. You probably have an agent ready to respond in your pocket and on your desk. You can order a pizza from an agent on Facebook Messenger, just to see how well that works. You can pair your iPhone to your car by Bluetooth, hold the home button down and ask Siri to send a text message. You can ask Cortana on your Xbox to launch a game or turn off the console.

None of these are perfect experiences today. Siri or “Ok Google” over Bluetooth are probably the most commonly available, now. They are rapidly improving. If you tried one of these 6 months ago, it may be much different today. 6 months from now, who knows what they will be able to do? If you’re not thinking about what they can do for you, someone else will be! 🙂

Reference

3 Comments
  1. Great post! Thanks for writing this Tom. Tom has been a big part of the winning team and how we think about the future of Bots and Digital Assistants at Microsoft. I think it really speaks to the new leadership that anyone with a great idea, passion, and hard work can get their ideas in front of the right people and make a difference.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Paul! It really is inspiring to see the leadership and the innovation. Thanks for leading the Hackathon project and recruiting me to participate.

Leave a Reply