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Microsoft expands Cortana to power cloud-based predictive analytics

At its worldwide partner conference, Microsoft showed that Cortana is more than a talking search engine with the introduction of cloud-based data analytics

Microsoft has broadened the appeal of its Cortana digital personal assistant tool to predictive business analytics.

Cortana, which started out as the voice on the Windows Phone smartphone, is powered by a text analysis engine and machine learning.

It will come as standard on Windows 10, when the operating system (OS) is released on July 29 2015.

But Microsoft now plans to incorporate the technology into cloud-based analytics services that can exploit big data, in a similar way to how IBM Watson is now being used.

In a blog post at the company’s worldwide partner conference in San Francisco, Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice-president, for cloud and enterprise at Microsoft, wrote: "Data is now the key strategic business asset. 

"Every device, every customer, every activity – everything that’s happening in the world around us – is producing incredibly rich data that can help us create new experiences, new efficiencies, new business models and even new inventions. Leveraging this data can be the differentiator for a business."

Through a service called Cortana Analytics Suite – available later in the year – Microsoft plans to combine big data and analytics capabilities to help enterprises transform their data. 

Numoto said: "With Cortana Analytics, we are taking years of research and innovation, spanning technology and infrastructure for advanced analytics, including capabilities like machine learning, big data storage and processing in the cloud – as well as perceptual intelligence such as vision, face and speech recognition – with the goal of helping enterprise customers make better, faster decisions to accelerate their speed of business."

Early adopter applications

It supports applications such as real-time recommendations, customer churn forecasting, fraud detection and predictive maintenance, said Numoto. 

In the US, one early adopter, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System, has created a predictive analytics application called ImagineCare using the Cortana Analytics Suite. This uses predictive analytics, to create treatment plans for patients based on the individual patient’s history and profile and patterns observed from a broad corpus of data, Numoto said. 

"ImagineCare aims to significantly enhance patient outcomes by predicting the probability of catastrophic events – such as heart attacks and emergency re-admissions – before they happen," he said.

Read more about Microsoft analytics

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The company has also partnered with Informatica and Cognizant, as part of its strategy to enable third parties to develop business applications for the Cortana Analytics Suite. 

The Informatica Cloud for Microsoft Azure will allow customers to use the power of Cortana Analytics from their existing information management infrastructure and business processes, according to Microsoft TechNet’s Machine Learning blog

Systems integrator and consulting firm Cognizant, plans to host its BigDecisions analytics platform on Azure, integrating it with Cortana Analytics.

Microsoft said Cognizant had developed a proof of concept healthcare application that uses wearable devices to continuously monitor patients remotely. Using Azure to implement an internet of things scenario, the system connects to patients’ wearable devices, collects vital statistics in near real-time and links to clinicians' visualisation tools and emergency response system.

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