When Clippy, Microsoft’s paper-clip assistant, disappeared in 1998, it was hardly missed; it was both annoying and offered little value to users. Zip forward 16 years: Microsoft has just introduced Cortana, a new personal digital assistant that the firm will launch on Windows Phone in the coming months. Powered by Bing, and about two years in the making, Cortana will be important if Microsoft gets it right. Here’s why it’s an exciting development:

  • Mobile-first is a growing enterprise strategy. The whole idea of creating a mobile-first enterprise strategy has taken root in many enterprises, as they recognize that users now expect any information or service they desire to be available to them, in context and at their moment of need. Users are cognitively and behaviorally ready to embrace wearable technology as an extension of mobility — and to weave it into their business processes. My colleague JP Gownder shares his views on wearables here.
  • Personalized mobile services will be more important than ever. Vertical industries like healthcare, public safety (first responders), and oil and gas are already experimenting with wearables. If Microsoft gets it right, Cortana could become the mobile app engine for information exchange and collaboration. The combination of a voice-activated digital assistant, GPS, and real-time analytics means that users can make quicker decisions in highly contextual situations — a process that will only get smarter over time. Apple has updated Siri, and Google has Google Now. Microsoft’s introduction of Cortana means the personalized services battle has only just begun.
  • It can have a cross-platform impact. Microsoft sees itself as a challenger rather than a dominant player in the mobile space, and Cortana is a key piece of its strategy to recapture non-Windows users. The Cortana developer community should request that Microsoft open it up across platforms, as Cortana could have a major impact if it becomes available on a number of platforms: Windows, iOS, Android, and even BlackBerry. The potential adoption for Windows Phone has already grown with the free licensing that Microsoft announced at BUILD.

A digital concierge will no longer just be a fancy app that reads out road directions in automobiles; when used strategically in highly contextual mobile enterprise environments, it will improve the customer experience. Do you agree?