Cortana Intelligence – revisited – Part IV

Dashboard, Visualizations
and Intelligence

Microsoft put 5 different categories of tools and solutions under the Cortana umbrella. In the first post we discussed about the “Information Management” part, in the second we focused on “Big data stores”. And there is a post on “Machine learning and advanced analytics”.

In this post we group the last two together: “Dashboards and visualizations” and the “Intelligence” offering.

Dashboards and visualizations


We can be brief on this topic: this is all about Power BI. The Power BI family is focused on providing dashboards, reports and analytics. It has two members:

  • Power BI that comes in three flavors: a web browser version, a desktop version and an embedded version specifically for apps on mobile devices. You can build your reports with the desktop or browser version and use them in any of the target platforms. Note that not all options are available in the browser (cloud) version.
    You can sign up and test it for free.
  • SQL Server Analysis Services: for building the models and providing the data.

Correction: the SQL SAS is not referenced anymore since 10/10/2016…



Cognitive Services

The Cognitive Services is a collection of (REST) APIs to provide insights in texts and images for example. This is a very exiting area of the Cortana offering and Microsoft is putting more and more functionality in it. At the time of writing (October 2016) there were following categories available:

  • Vision: to analyze pictures and movies to recognize pattern or emotions, faces,…
  • Speech: to convert text to speech and vice versa, voice recognition (who is speaking) and CRIS.
  • Language: for detecting and correcting spelling mistakes, using voice to command apps. Specific APIs for Linguistic and Text  analytics (text mining and word and topic parsing).
  • Knowledge: exploring for example relationships between academic papers and journals. It also allows to extend the knowledge of people based on the context and events. In this set of APIs you also find the recommenders functions that allow for providing (very) personalized content.
  • Search: This is the API offering around Microsoft’s Bing: auto-suggest, image and video search (finding images or videos on the net), news search and the general “web” search.


  • Most of the APIs are still under preview, meaning that parameters (input) and results (output) might change over time.
  • All Bing related functionality is available.


There is one offering that is under “Private Preview”, it is the Custom Recognition Intelligent Service called CRIS. It requires an invitation. We are currently awaiting our acceptance ! It should offer the possibility to customize the language model of the recognition app the to style or environment of the speaker.

To be continued…


Please note that a lot of the functionality is still in preview, meaning that the pricing models will probably change also. For the moment (October 2016) most of the functionality is offered in two flavours:

  • Free: with usually a limitation on the number of transactions (a “call” to the function) per month.
  • For a transaction fee: where you have usually a limitation on the number of transactions per second and a price per number of transactions (for example 10 transaction per second, pricing could be 1.5$ for 1000 transactions, no limitations in time).
  • For a monthly fee: where you can have x transactions  per month.

The Bot Framework

A (Microsoft) Bot is a piece of software that provides basic I/O; they have language and dialog skills; they must be performant, responsive and scalable; and they must connect to users – ideally in any conversation experience and language the user chooses. The primary interface for these interactions is email, text, cards, buttons or voice.

The Bot Framework is a collection of tools to create these pieces of software. It is basically and SDK (software development kit) that allows developers to create and run Bots. A second part of the “Bot Framework” is the Bot Directory. It is a publicly accessible list of all the bots registered with Bot Framework that have been submitted and reviewed. Each bot has its own contact card which includes the bot name, publisher, description, and the channels on which it is available.

There is an interesting one called the AzureBot, that can assist you in managing your azure subscription, watch the video here on Channel 9.azurebot


Channels, also called communication channels are ways in which you Bot can communicate to other pieces of software. Currently (summer ’16) following channels are supported:

  1. Text/sms
  2. Office 365 mail
  3. Skype (auto-configured)
  4. Slack
  5. GroupMe
  6. Telegram
  7. Facebook Messenger
  8. Kik
  9. Web (auto-configured, embeddable)
  10. Direct Line (API to host your bot in your app)

In the post Microsoft states that it is continuously working on making more channels available. Currently most of the Bots in the directory have a high “fun” factor.

Cortana Integration

Cortana Integration is all about “extending” the Cortana assistant as we know it on Windows 10 or Windows Mobile or Android.

Basically you can extend Cortana with Actions or Voice commands. Actions can be presented to the user on either the Cortana canvas or in a notification from Cortana Assistant, or they can be executed directly by Cortana through delegation. The user context that triggers an Action is defined through one or more insights. An insight is specific info about a user that Cortana has been given permission to access.

Voice commands are one or more phrases that Cortana recognizes (from speech or text input) as a request to perform a task using a specific app.

A sample from Build this year:

Bing Predicts

According to the website, “Bing predicts augments your enterprise data with Microsoft’s unique corpus of search, social, and web data sets to build smarter solutions. Gain unique insights such as localized consumer preferences, user sentiment and customer demographics. Built by the same team that built the Bing Predicts experience”.

Unfortunately, clicking on the link gave us the message that this feature is not available in our region:


We hope to get more info on this soon…


PowerBI is going to become a major player in dashboarding and visualizing data on all (or at least a lot of) platforms. For what we have seen, this is a great product.

For the Intelligence services things are more cloudy: we can see a pattern appearing where MS will offer “intelligence” APIs but it is not 100% clear yet if these services will all be built on top of the Bing offering and what the features and performance will be. A lot of them are currently (Oct 2016) still under development.