Microsoft To Buy Genee, An Artificially Intelligent Calendaring App

Microsoft Office 365 customers might soon find it easier to schedule their busy days, thanks to the acquisition of an artificially intelligent personal assistant that helps users manage hectic professional calendars.

Microsoft Monday announced a deal, at an undisclosed price, to buy Genee, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup founded in 2014 that employs advanced technologies like natural language processing and self-learning optimization algorithms.

Those artificial intelligence capabilities achieve an experience in which "interacting with a virtual assistant is just like interacting with a human one," wrote Rajesh Jha, corporate vice president of Outlook and Office 365, on Microsoft's blog.

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Genee's address can be included just like any other recipient on an email, with instructions to the service dictated in plain language directly in the text. Genee can then decide on the best time for a meeting, confirm those appointments and sync calendars accordingly, and even reschedule meetings when conflicts appear.

Microsoft partners told CRN the smart scheduler could be a boon for Office 365 resellers.

Matt Scherocman, president of Interlink Cloud Advisors, a Microsoft partner based in Cincinnati, told CRN he hopes to see a tight integration with Cortana as Microsoft's virtual assistant faces increasingly stiff competition from Google Now and Apple's Siri.

The acquisition makes a lot of sense, he said, when considered in light of Microsoft's recent focus on beefing up its identity management capabilities.

"They know that if the logins are coming from their servers, it becomes much more likely that the user will look to their services first," Scherocman said, adding, "calendaring is the same way. "

Under Microsoft's umbrella, Genee will enable greater functionality around a critical Office 365 workload.

"The place where the user has their primary calendar is where their day evolves from," Scherocman told CRN.

Reed Wiedower, chief technology officer at New Signature, a Microsoft partner based in Washington, D.C., said he looks forward to seeing the new capabilities Genee adds to Microsoft's virtual personal assistant.

One concern New Signature sees among customers adapting to new technologies — especially digital personal assistants — involves their desire to continue working with existing tools and services rather than switching modalities, Wiedower said.

Cortana, by offering capabilities such as tracking packages being delivered by UPS or FedEx, helps users avoid some of those struggles. In a similar fashion, Genee, once integrated into the Microsoft product suite, will allow customers to take advantage of smart scheduling while using the email service they're already comfortable with, he said.

Services that require customers to run different apps tend to see lower usage because they involve "switching one’s context," Wiedower told CRN.

But Wiedower said "the really cool part of this acquisition" comes out of the potential to integrate with Office 365 Graph, a gateway to various APIs that access Microsoft features.

"Essentially every email and document being opened could be used with Genee to provide real-time interactions with other employees and customers," Wiedower said. "I can’t wait to cc Genee on an email and say in the body 'Genee, be sure to send Joseph a copy of the latest New Signature information deck' and have that deck be procured, encrypted with Azure RMS, and sent out automatically."

Once that capability exists, it will provide the sort of "magical moment’ around which Microsoft has been "increasingly building their brand," Wiedower told CRN.

Charles Lee and Ben Cheung, Genee's co-founders, said on the company's website the service in its current form will be ended on Sept. 1, but existing calendar entries will be preserved.

The company raised $1.45 million in an earlier financing round.