AI-Powered Cortana Scheduler Service Shuts on September 1, 2023
In summer 2021, Microsoft launched Scheduler, an AI-powered (Cortana) service to make it easier for users to schedule meetings. The roots of Scheduler were in the Calendar.Help service (a Microsoft Research project), and the new offering built on the experience gained with helping people to find the right time for meetings. I liked the service and thought that it worked well when I used it to schedule some meetings (Figure 1). However, I don’t ever schedule very large or complex meetings, so I’m not the target audience for the solution.
The extra bells and whistles in Scheduler came with a $10/user/month fee for anyone who wanted to use it to schedule meetings. In addition, organizations needed to configure a special account and mailbox with an Exchange Online license, which also came with a monthly cost.
Roll forward a year and Microsoft decided that the world is not ready for Scheduler, or at least, insufficient Microsoft 365 customers consider the offering compelling enough to pay the extra fee. On September 1, message center notification MC424413 announced the retirement of the Scheduler service effective September 1, 2023.
Rationalization or Sales Effort
One way to look at the announcement is that it’s Microsoft rationalizing the (sometimes bewildering) range of add-on licenses and options they sell for Microsoft 365, like the recent notification about the retirement of Kaizala (due to take effect on August 31, 2023).
Another might be that this is simply a realization that the monthly fee was pitched too high. Microsoft emphasized that the Scheduler service wasn’t for everyone – just those who take care of scheduling complex meetings that might involve many people spread over multiple time zones. The justification for the high cost of the add-on was the amount of time Scheduler could save meeting organizers by handling meeting arrangements.
However, it’s sometimes not easy for organizations to identify the people who need add-ons like Scheduler, or if the need to use something like Scheduler exists. I imagine that the sales effort to convince customers to buy the Scheduler add-on was quite high and the outcome was that too few of the 270 million Office 365 paid seats ended up with Scheduler licenses.
Microsoft isn’t saying what drove their decision to retire Scheduler. The sole hint in MC424413 is that they “may bundle some of these features with another offering in the future.” This could mean anything from a revamped Scheduler-like service offered at a lower per-user price to bundling Scheduler as a service plan in a high-end product like Office 365 E5 or Microsoft 365 E5. There’s already over 60 service plans bundled into Office 365 E5, so one more wouldn’t make much difference and adding a service like Scheduler to Office 365 E5 might convince more customers to upgrade existing licenses to use E5. In their FY22 Q4 results, Microsoft reported that 12% of the Office 365 base use E5. Given the scale of Office 365, adding a few extra percentage points to that figure is hugely profitable.
No Real Surprise
Apart from how soon after introduction the axe fell, I’m not surprised that Microsoft is withdrawing Scheduler. It’s useful functionality with a relatively high price tag that interests relatively few people. Those who organize big meetings will see value, but most Office 365 users don’t need to do that and therefore have no need for Scheduler. I expect it will turn up in another place, but who knows when and what guise it will take.
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