man on bench reading a newspaper
PHOTO: Roman Kraft

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft announced on May 20 it was buying conversational artificial intelligence start-up Semantic Machines to improve its "conversational AI" efforts. According to a blog post by David Ku, CVP and chief technology officer of Microsoft AI and research, Berkeley, Calif.-based Semantic uses the power of machine learning to enable users to discover, access and interact with information and services in a much more natural way, and with significantly less effort. 

The acquisition will enhance the performance of Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant, as well as its Azure Bot Service, which is used by 300,000 developers.

Semantic's website describes its solution as moving beyond the command-based language currently understood by Siri, Cortana and Google to dialog-based conversations which allow people to express complex ideas. According to Ku, the development of conversational AI is key to its digital workplace strategy, with Semantic Machines’ development strategy dovetailing neatly with that of Microsoft. Ku said Microsoft’s view of the future digital workplace is one where computers can see, hear talk and understand as humans. The principal Microsoft offerings in this area are Cortana and Xiaoice, an advanced natural language chat-bot developed by Microsoft.

In 2016, the company took a big step towards realizing this vision of conversational computing with the introduction of a framework for developing bots and the release of pre-built Cognitive Services for infusing speech recognition and natural language understanding into intelligent assistants.

When the acquisition is finalized, Ku explained Microsoft plans to establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces. “Combining Semantic Machines’ technology with Microsoft’s own AI advances, we aim to deliver powerful, natural and more productive user experiences that will take conversational computing to a new level,” he said.

Top SharePoint Influencers Announced

Meanwhile, with the SharePoint Conference taking place this week in Las Vegas, a new edition of SharePoint due in the summer and another major SharePoint conference taking place in Seattle this August, Boston-based harmon.ie announced its annual list of top SharePoint influencers. Harmon.ie co-founder and vice president of product strategy David Lavenda said in a statement the list responded to the “renewed” prominence SharePoint plays in Microsoft’s digital workplace strategy. The full list included 25 influencers in the area, but here are the Top 10:

  1. Christian Buckley, CEO, CollabTalk — @buckleyplanet
  2. Mark RackleyPartner, Chief Strategy Officer, PAIT Group — @mrackley
  3. Joel Oleson, Senior IT Manager, Blizzard Entertainment — @joeoleson
  4. Ragnar Heil, Microsoft Alliance Manager for EMEA, Metalogix — @ragnarh
  5. Marc Anderson, Co-Founder and President, Sympraxis Consulting — @sympmarc
  6. Sean McDonough, CTO, Bitstream Consulting — @Spmcdonough
  7. Vlad Catrinescu, Product Evangelist, Sales Executive, Valo Intranet — @Vladcatrinescu
  8. Wictor Wilén, Global Digital Workplace CoE, Avanade — @Wictor
  9. Dux Raymond Sy, CMO, Avepoint — @MeetDux
  10. Jeff Willinger, Vice President of Digital Inspiration, Rightpoint — @Jwillie

According to Lavenda, the 2018 top 25 influencers make it their passion to spend time educating the IT community about SharePoint, enterprise collaboration and digital workplace innovation. “We’re celebrating Microsoft’s renewed focus on SharePoint by recognizing the independent evangelists and experts who help SharePoint customers better understand and embrace new innovation on the horizon,” he said.

The top 25 SharePoint influencers were selected based on a quantitative scoring of their influence using social tools, as well as feedback from the SharePoint user community on the individuals that they looked to most frequently for guidance in the SharePoint world. Selection was also based on each professional’s SharePoint knowledge and business interactions.

Orion Labs Offers Voice Access To Android Devices

Also this week, San Francisco-based Orion Labs, provider of a voice-enabled platform for real-time workforce communication and collaboration, is extending its reach by adding Orion AppTalk access for all Android devices. The new AppTalk feature allows workers with Android devices to use the Orion mobile application as a push-to-talk (PTT) tool to help facilitate easy communications with other AppTalk users, whether on iOS or Android device.

AppTalk can be used by teams across a range of industries to collaborate with colleagues in real time, regardless of their location or device’s operating system. Orion’s enterprise customers can also use AppTalk to provide employees with an alternative way to access bots and other productivity-enhancing features, via a voice command.

Orion Labs CEO and co-founder, Jesse Robbins, said voice is becoming ‘the new user interface” for organizations in many industries. The introduction of the new AppTalk enables enterprises to choose whatever device suits their workload and offer that device across the enterprise. It also enables them build voice-driven digital workplaces putting voice-activated apps and bots at the center of the enterprise.

Hugo’s Team Meeting App Goes Public

Meanwhile, San Francisco-based productivity software company Hugo has announced the public launch of what it describes as "the first true" team meeting note solution. 

The note solution connects teams through integrations with common workplace tools (Slack, Asana, Salesforce and more), allowing those present in meetings to take notes, change them into action items, and share them with relevant parties, regardless of whether or not they were present in the meeting. Hugo also syncs with calendars, prompts teams for their notes and turns those notes into team updates and actions in other tools. It automatically links notes to contacts and companies in the meeting, allows agendas to be created and shared.

BetterCloud Partners With Okta

Elsewhere, New York City-based BetterCloud, which builds a SaaS operations management platform, has announced a partnership with San Francisco-based Okta, which provides identity management for the enterprise, to build a connector for Okta. The new integration offers users security for mission-critical SaaS applications. Joint customers can now define, execute and manage policies for both identity and access and application configuration and data management.

Shreyas Sadalgi, chief business strategy officer of BetterCloud, explained in a statement that businesses have reached a tipping point with SaaS, where applications are now a common system of record for many organizations. The Okta and BetterCloud partnership provides complementary controls around managing identity and access and operations for SaaS applications.

Parsable Raises $40M

Finally, San Francisco-based Parsable announced it has finalized a $40 million Series C investment round to bring its Connected Worker platform to more global enterprises. The investment round was led by Future Fund Lightspeed Venture Partners.

The Connected Worker platform brings high tech solutions to deskless industrial workers who still rely heavily on paper-based business processes. It works on almost any smartphone or tablet and is designed to enter information while walking around in environments where a desktop PC or laptop wouldn’t be practical.

The company claims 30,000 registered users and 30 enterprise customers, including Ecolab, Schlumberger, Silgan and Shell, on the platform.