In the future, your workplace just might have an administrative assistant named Cortana. That’s the name of the voice-activated artificial intelligence program that comes with Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, and an optional business intelligence package allows the AI to answer complex organizational questions in natural language. Stephen Deming, a partner solution advisor for Microsoft, says that for instance, you could say: “Cortana, can you give me the performance of Product X over the past year? I see we had a significant downturn in sales for November. What contributed to that downturn?”

As long as an organization had the relevant data stored in databases spreadsheets that Microsoft’s cloud computing platform could access, Cortana is actually able to answer a question like that. It may sound like sci-fi, but it’s reality today.

Deming will speak about how technology is changing the way we work at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, June 29, at the Nassau Club from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Also speaking at the event will be Dave Dorsett of Bristol-Myers Squibb. Tickets are $25 for members, $40 for non-members.For more information, call 609-924-1776 or visit www.princetonchamber.org.

For a company that uses Microsoft products, the information that Cortana needed to answer the sales query could have been generated or accessed on desktop computers, smartphones, tablets running Windows, or even one of its competing operating systems like Android or Macinstosh. Someone could have made that sales spreadsheet a few minutes ago with an iPad while sitting at their kitchen table 1,000 miles away.

“From Microsoft’s point of view, we refer to this as the modern desktop experience,” Deming says. “We are seeing and acknowledging the change in the marketplace from people looking for solutions that address a particular need, and therefore willing to use whatever they can get to address that need, to now the end users being in control of their experience. They want to be able to define what devices they use and where they use those devices.”

Deming says that to enable that kind of flexibility, Microsoft has had to make big changes to its operating system and productivity software in the past several years. There has been a heavy emphasis on cloud technology and cross-platform sharing so that work is not slowed down by switching between programs. All of this can help someone working on a project to stay on task.

“If I’m inspired to do something, and I can get everything done when I’m inspired, I can do a better job,” Deming says. “Some people refer to that as being on a roll. When I’m on a roll, I’m able to do a better job, and I can stay on a roll if I don’t have the barrier of not being able to access just that one more piece of information I need to complete a task. I’m able to do my job better tan ever before because the technology supports it.”

Deming’s job involves explaining to customers how Microsoft technology can improve productivity. If he is in a meeting with a customer, and that person asked him about an obscure software feature, he would like to be able to answer the question right away instead of saying “I’ll get back to you.” Deming says the ability to access his coworkers’ documents, or even discretely message them, enables him to get the information he needs much quicker.

“We all understand the power of social media,” he said. “In this new work world, I need to be able to connect to other people and resources just as easily for business as I do for my personal social world.”

Microsoft’s latest round of products, like Windows 10 and its heavily touted cloud storage service, offers this kind of connectivity, as do competing products made by Apple and Google. For example, it’s possible to see a document that other people in your company have worked on, see the authors of the document, and send messages back and forth with them, all without changing what program you’re using.

All of this connectivity, however, does have a downside. “You can never get away from work now,” Deming says. “It follows you everywhere.”

Deming is the son of a mother who was a computer analyst and a father who worked on radar systems for Western General, so he grew up travelling around the world to various military bases. “Both of my parents had a passion for technology,” Deming says. Deming’s background is in hardware design and engineering, but early in his career he switched to software training. Overall, he has been in the computer business for 30 years. Before joining Microsoft 15 years ago, Deming was the IT manager for a small business.

He has seen firsthand how the highly connected world that Microsoft and other companies have helped create has changed life for the average worker. For example, since he works from home when not on the road, he finds himself ordering groceries from an on-demand service. “Because I’m a home worker and not necessarily going past the store, now the store is coming to me,” he said.

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