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Microsoft today announced Cortana Analytics Suite, a new package of data storage, information management, machine learning, and business intelligence software in a single convenient monthly subscription. Microsoft’s Cortana personal digital assistant, until now available to consumers on mobile devices and PCs, is part of the new package, designed to give non-technical people a simple interface that can let them ask questions of data and receive answers in response.

Microsoft executives are unveiling the product today at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando, Fla.

It feels like Microsoft is throwing in everything but the kitchen sink from its data portfolio for this new suite. But Microsoft is doing it for a reason.

“We actually found customers are stitching all of these pieces together to do a lot of these integrated scenarios that cover everything from looking at what happened in the past to predicting to driving some specific actions within an automated system,” Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president of information management and machine learning at Microsoft, told VentureBeat in an interview. “When we step back, then if we brought these things together in an integrated suite that worked very well together, it makes for a lot of high-value scenarios.”

Everything in the Cortana Analytics Suite.

Above: Everything in the Cortana Analytics Suite.

Image Credit: Screen shot

Packaging up software for many layers of the data stack is not particularly surprising. But what does stand out is the integration of Cortana. Initially people will be able to use Cortana to use speech to ask natural-language questions about data loaded into Microsoft’s Power BI business intelligence software, Sirosh said. Cortana will come back with the direct answer to a person’s question, not just a dashboard of charts.

Using Cortana as a tool for modifying a predictive model in Azure Machine Learning, or configuring the new Azure SQL Data Warehouse, is not what Microsoft is focusing on at the moment — and in fact, that might not ever happen.

“We believe that developers need significantly more flexibility than that,” Sirosh said. “Nobody would want to program C# with Cortana.”

But — Microsoft does have a real, live personal digital assistant in Cortana, and with today’s launch, Microsoft is conveying that it’s fully open to layering it on top of enterprise software — and potentially moving ahead of Apple, with Siri, and Google, with Google Now, in that regard. And that’s pretty exciting.

Here’s a video demonstrating some capabilities of the new Cortana Analytics Suite:

Find out more about the Cortana Analytics Suite in this blog post from Microsoft corporate vice president for cloud and enterprise Takeshi Numoto.

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