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Assessing intelligent speakers for Microsoft Teams

Companies are exploring Cortana to beef up their Microsoft Teams meetings as more workers are brought into the office. The virtual assistant has some unique features.

Advancements in voice recognition software, natural language processing and intelligent devices have encouraged tech companies to promote a new way for users to interact with computers or systems: voice.

As a result, smart speakers -- perhaps more accurately described as voice assistants -- in people's homes are bringing a new level of convenience as they are used for everything from ordering groceries to controlling lights and temperatures. Now, enterprises are beginning to take advantage of these gadgets, with particular attention paid to their use in conference and meeting rooms.

Intelligent speakers for Microsoft Teams

Case in point: Microsoft made an early attempt to drive adoption of Cortana by corporate and home users by embedding the virtual assistant in most Windows 10 and 11 machines. With Cortana embedded into the Windows OS, the assistant could interact with Microsoft 365 services, read the latest headlines and get the weather.

Now, the company has partnered with three smart speaker vendors to incorporate Cortana voice activation in their devices for use in Teams Rooms meetings. Jabra PanaCast 50, Logitech Rally microphones and Bose Videobar VB1 can now all be managed through voice commands through Cortana.

The key commands available in intelligent speakers that go beyond standard smart devices include the following:

  • scheduling a meeting
  • starting a meeting
  • calling someone by name
  • sending a message
  • opening a new document
  • opening a list of upcoming events

However, the new intelligent speakers for Microsoft Teams offer additional capabilities powered by Cortana, including the following:

  • support for voice profiles where the system recognizes each individual person in the meeting -- up to 10 people;
  • the ability to transcribe spoken words and associate them with the detected individual person making those remarks;
  • integration with Microsoft Teams to automatically collect all meeting notes;
  • touchless experience to join or end meetings hosted in Microsoft Teams; and
  • strong security protections via voice profiles to ensure the privacy and protection of individuals using the platform.

Teams admins also have control over these devices, which comply with Office 365 privacy, security and compliance. Admins can control who in the organization can use Cortana voice assistance at a user or tenant level. Admins can also use Microsoft PowerShell to manage Cortana policies, such as enabling a wake word or disabling use of the virtual assistant.

As the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic's effects continue to wane, companies are bringing more people back into the office and convening more in-person meetings. Voice assistants play an important role to help participants communicate and collaborate more efficiently. For companies that have standardized on Teams in meeting rooms, adoption of intelligent speakers for Microsoft Teams may become the norm.

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