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Can Microsoft Cortana for iOS, Android be put to work?

Microsoft Cortana will soon run on iOS and Android, but enterprises don't have a clear picture of how digital assistants will make their mark in the business world.

As Microsoft expands access to Cortana for iOS and Android, the business value of digital assistants is beginning to emerge.

Microsoft will soon offer a Cortana app for Apple iOS and Google Android in addition to Windows phones. A Phone Companion app will be built into the upcoming Windows 10 OS to help users connect their Windows PCs to Windows, iOS or Android phones.

The Cortana app for iOS and Android will do most of the things Cortana does on Windows 10 PCs or Windows Phones, including setting reminders. Everything that appears in Cortana's Notebook will appear on all enabled devices with changes synced. In addition, the companion app will help you finish a task on your phone that you may have started on your PC.

However, Cortana for iOS and Android won't initially do things like toggle settings or open apps as it can in Windows, Microsoft said. Also, initializing Cortana hands-free by saying "Hey Cortana" won't be available on iOS or Android either because it requires special integration with the device's microphone.

Are Cortana and Siri employable?

While Cortana and Apple's Siri digital assistants are useful for consumers, the business value hasn't been fully fleshed out.

Processes could be done more efficiently using these voice-directed tools, but the technology isn't quite there, said Eric Klein, senior mobility analyst at VDC Research Group Inc. in Natick, Mass.

"There's potential, but it's definitely super-early and I don't think anyone has come up with a great way to demonstrate the value proposition of something like that from a business context yet," Klein said.

Cortana and Siri are used by consumers today for short bits of information like checking what time a flight is going to land, and it would make sense to extrapolate those practices out to business, said Alan Lepofsky, principal analyst with Constellation Research in Toronto.

"This is the most important thing happening in the collaboration market right now," Lepofsky said.

Vendors are already starting to trickle out enterprise-centric versions of digital assistants. For example, IBM has said its Verse email product will include Watson analytics to bring intelligent assistance to the inbox, although that isn't in the product today, Lepofsky noted.

Nothing has been done to automate a piece of my day. This is where intelligence comes in.
Alan Lepofskyanalyst, Constellation Research

Between Watson, Cortana, Siri and Google Now, the opportunity is there for vendors to create something that could improve business workflows. For example, Cortana could be used to pull up a file stored in Microsoft OneDrive or SharePoint, Lepofsky said.

In addition to email and easier file storage location, digital assistants may aid employee productivity in the future by scheduling meetings and creating automated responses to repeated questions, providing location-based recommendations or recommendations for prioritizing tasks, Lepofsky said.

For example, the way Google Now shows restaurants and movie recommendations to consumers could be extended to location-based recommendations on customers, prospects and colleagues. "All we've added is new ways to do things," Lepofsky said. "Nothing has been done to automate a piece of my day. This is where intelligence comes in."

Citrix also plans to deliver a digital assistant of sorts through integration with Amazon's Echo voice command device. A future product, Citrix Workspace Hub, was demonstrated at this month's Citrix Synergy conference and included the ability to connect to Octoblu workflows and use Amazon Echo to send messages to connected users, Klein said.

"It looked like the first business-oriented use of [Amazon Echo] and people were wowed by it," Klein said.

The Phone Companion app for Windows users will come as part of a new Windows 10 Insider Preview build in a few weeks, Microsoft said. Meanwhile, the Cortana companion for Android will arrive in late June and for iOS later this year.

There is no timetable yet for a release of Citrix's Workspace Hub, the company said.

Jake O'Donnell is the news writer for SearchConsumerization.com and Search VirtualDesktop.com. He can be reached at jodonnell@techtarget.com. Follow him on Twitter @JakeODonnell_TT.

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