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How to Create a Cortana Skill for Your Business

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Microsoft's artificial intelligence, which is built into Windows 10, could be the business tool you've been dreaming of.

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockCortana now has skills, giving it the same type of quickie voice actions found with Amazon's Alexa. Microsoft recently unveiled the Cortana Skills Kit, which gives the digital assistant the ability to tap into third-party actions.

Cortana has some catching up to do, however, particularly with the upward of 10,000 skills that Alexa currently has. Cortana is also different animal when you consider its hardware base.

MORE: Best Business Uses for Amazon's Alexa

Cortana comes built-in to Windows 10, which can serve as a springboard to getting users to use the mobile app to keep their life in sync. Microsoft is pushing Cortana closer to the smart home space thanks to the Harman Kardon speaker. While Cortana is very capable, there's a steep hill to climb without a robust ecosystem of third-party skills

Behind the skills

At Build, Microsoft said the new Skills Kit is designed to expand what the company's digital personal assistant can do. While Alexa began as a home assistant and is moving beyond to other devices, Microsoft hopes that Cortana will be the type of service that is with you everywhere.

"Our vision for Cortana has always been to create a digital personal assistant that's available to users across all their devices, whenever and wherever they may need an extra hand to be more productive and get things done," said Gurpreet Singh Pall, the partner director of program management for the Bing and Cortana ecosystem, in a company blog post. "With the new Cortana Skills Kit, developers can join in delivering that vision and reach millions of Cortana users across platforms including Windows 10, Android, iOS and soon on even more devices and form factors — such as Xbox, the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker and inside cars and mixed reality devices." To get an idea of what Microsoft is after, you can check out some of the current skills available. They include the ability to order a Domino's Pizza, get the forecast from Dark Sky, or make a reservation from OpenTable.

The amount of skills isn't that vast yet, but there are some that might make your life a little easier.The amount of skills isn't that vast yet, but there are some that might make your life a little easier.

Getting started

Microsoft says that to create a Cortana skill, developers will need to tap into the Microsoft Bot Framework and publish it to the new Cortana Channel. This will bring speech capabilities to those skills. Microsoft says that Cortana has 145 million monthly users for you to connect with.

Additionally, developers can access the and input intelligence with the company's Cognitive Services. The Bot Framework exists not only due to Cortana, but the connected apps that Microsoft uses for conversation. For example, conversational bots exist in Skype and Microsoft Teams.

When it comes to a type of skill, ideally it should be something that involves a quick action and is memorable. Users often ask Cortana to check flights, get reminders about things, or to get a snippet of information that is faster with voice than typing out a search query.

The biggest challenge with the rise of digital assistants is the interface. With Cortana, your user may be interacting on Windows 10, the mobile app, or one day on an Echo-like speaker. Actions that inform or offer a bit of humor or delight (there's a skill that tells you a bedtime story) are going to be the ones to gain traction in these early times of Microsoft's Cortana efforts.

The Cortana Skills Set is currently in a public preview. Microsoft says the code works across devices, so your commands for Cortana can work whether the user is on Windows 10, iOS or a "headless device" like the new Harman Kardon speaker.