10 November 2016

Microsoft Office 365 is expected to benefit from the acquisition of the artificial intelligence service which can automatically set up coffee meets and more.

Productivity and scheduling startup Genee announced its acquisition by tech giant Microsoft. In a blog post, Genee pointed out that it has “been two and a half years since we let Genee out of the bottle.” The service aims to optimize and coordinate meeting scheduling processes by utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), chat bots, and natural language processing. Genee’s own service will cease operations from September 1, 2016.

As a result, users who made calendar entries through Genee will still have access to them. The app will just not send reminders and agendas to users, meaning that users will have to (at least temporarily) rely on more old-fashioned methods to get their reminders. Even though it was launched two years ago, Genee interestingly thanked users who took part in “Genee's private and public betas.” The blog post did not suggest any alternatives that users could employ in the meantime.

Genee Co-Founders, Ben Cheung and Charles Lee, claimed that they viewed Microsoft as “the leader in personal and enterprise productivity, AI, and virtual assistant technologies.” The co-founders further added that they “look forward to bringing our passion and expertise to a team that is committed to delivering cutting-edge language and intelligence services.”

Microsoft Corporate VP of Outlook and Office 365, Rajesh Jha, authored an official Microsoft blog post, praising Genee’s natural language processing and optimized decision-making algorithms. He said that with Genee’s solution, “interacting with a virtual assistant is just like interacting with a human one.” Mr. Jha gave the example of meeting a customer for coffee, whereby users simply need to CC Genee in the email sent to the customer. Genee will look at key words and phrases to determine an appropriate meeting time, and will email the customer with free time slots in the calendar, as well as preferences. It can also send out invites on the user’s behalf.

It is not entirely clear whether Microsoft will keep Genee's name or branding when integrating the service into Office 365. It will be interesting to see if the auto-scheduling AI service is called Genee or some variant of Office 365. Microsoft Corporation might be better off keeping the original branding, but the company might choose to revamp the branding to make it seem like the acquisition was an original idea.

Regardless of the name, the service will certainly add to Microsoft Office 365’s repertoire. The feature can be particularly useful when combined with outlook to schedule meetings. This will also make the Microsoft’s subscription-based offering more attractive. Users will get more options for their money, and Genee’s services will arguably be available to a much wider audience as a result.

This also adds to Microsoft’s acquisition of other services such as Swiftkey, and LinkedIn, the professional social network. Unlike those acquisitions, Genee might require some tweaking before the masses can use it. For example, users should easily be able to turn off the auto-scheduling feature if they do not want every email discussion to turn into a scheduled meeting. This can happen if key phrases happen to be present in a conversation, even if the sender or recipient does not plan to initiate a meet-up. Microsoft will hope that Genee’s AI is advanced enough to take care of such an issue should it arise.

All in all, the acquisition seems like a smart one. It is good to see Microsoft explaining the reasons behind the purchase; Apple tends to give a quite generic answer about how it habitually acquires smaller companies from time to time. Microsoft hopes that Genee’s features will encourage business and other users to update their calendars frequently, in turn using Office 365’s other products more as a result. It remains to be seen how successful it will be.