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Microsoft 365 Copilot: an intelligent virtual assistant for modern work
How will Artificial Intelligence (AI) transform the workplace with Microsoft 365 Copilot?
In March 2023, Microsoft introduced Microsoft 365 Copilot – an AI-enabled virtual assistant that works across the Microsoft 365 suite. Their promise was to revolutionize the way companies operate within the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. Copilot was designed to help professionals with a wide range of goals, from mundane administrative duties to complex data analysis. Later in May 2023, Microsoft launched an exclusive early access program, inviting 600 companies to be the first to experience the potential of this instrument. While the date of its broader release remains undisclosed, anticipation for Copilot’s full public launch continues to grow. In the meantime, let’s explore why Microsoft 365 Copilot is thought to become a game-changer in the world of modern work and how businesses can best prepare for its integration.
What are the components of Microsoft 365 Copilot?
Three critical elements lie at the core of Copilot, fueling its intelligence and efficiency within the Microsoft 365 ecosystem: Large Language Models (LLMs), Microsoft Search, and Microsoft Graph. Leveraging LLMs hosted in the Microsoft Cloud through Azure OpenAI service, Copilot gains natural language understanding and processing capabilities. And because of this, it delivers personalized and secure resources to each user, while safeguarding data and providing a responsive experience. Data security and privacy are paramount concerns for enterprises adopting AI-driven solutions like Copilot. It is crucial to mention that according to Microsoft’s statement, user data within the tenant, including emails, calendars, chats, and other sensitive information, is not utilized to train the foundation models of Copilot. This commitment by Microsoft should ensure that user data remains protected and confidential.
Integration with Microsoft Search and Microsoft Graph enables Copilot to retrieve relevant data and insights while comprehending the organization’s internal structure and relationships. Copilot leverages Microsoft Search to seek and find relevant information according to a specific prompt. At the same time, Microsoft Graph contains a company’s data, including corporate messages, meetings, calendars, and other office documents. Here is a quick recap of Copilot’s components:
How does Microsoft 365 Copilot work?
As we mentioned before, Copilot is built on a foundation of LLMs, which in turn, leans on a company’s data from Microsoft Graph and connects it with the user through Microsoft 365 Search. LLMs are pre-trained on vast amounts of data from public sources so that users can easily interact with them and gain new knowledge. Employees can chat with LLMs through prompts – statements and/or questions that are linked to a specific context. Various options exist on how to create an effective prompt for a system.
Copilot works as an ever-present digital assistant that accompanies users across their journeys in different applications such as Teams, Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, etc. In this way, it increases users’ productivity across the entire ecosystem and can be impactfully leveraged in everyday tasks. Here is a closer look at the multiple capabilities Copilot brings to the table:Also, Microsoft provides an additional option for testing Copilot through Business Chat, an interactive messaging platform that facilitates real-time text-based conversations. Within these conversations, users can access valuable insights derived from their company’s internal data. For instance, by crafting a prompt such as “Describe several opportunities to increase our product’s outreach using a [Filename A],” a wealth of options becomes instantly available. Users can seamlessly integrate these insights into various communication channels like meetings, emails, and documents, sparking further discussions and driving collaboration. The following example illustrates how Business Chat functions:Figure 1. Business Chat offers convenient real-time access to Microsoft 365 Copilot’s advanced capabilities.
Yet, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that the release comes with a caveat. Copilot will be offered to commercial customers at a price of $30 per user per month. This pricing will apply to Microsoft 365 E3, E5, Business Standard, and Business Premium customers once the instrument becomes broadly available. This is a substantial increase in cost. It raises questions for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) about the feasibility of integrating Copilot into their workflows until a more accessible pricing arrangement is established.
At the same time, Microsoft will face stiff competition with other technology behemoths like Google and Salesforce that continue to add AI-powered features as well. This tension could eventually lead to Microsoft making sufficient pricing adjustments to remain competitive. While the initial pricing structure presents challenges, it also beckons opportunities for Microsoft to refine its offering and foster an environment where SMEs can confidently use AI tools.
What are the Microsoft 365 Copilot plugins?
Shortly after the limited roll-out of Copilot, Microsoft introduced a extensibility model with plugins, unlocking new possibilities for users and developers alike. Plugins offer the opportunity to integrate third-party solutions seamlessly into Copilot, expanding its functionality and enhancing its value across various industries and use cases. From specialized data analysis tools to industry-specific applications, they empower users to access a wide range of additional features.
This thriving ecosystem of plugins improves Copilot’s value proposition and fosters a culture of collaboration within the Microsoft 365 community. Developers and companies can share their plugins with others and contribute to a rich library of tools that can benefit the broader user base. And, thousands of new plugins are to be released later this year. Here is a list of ones that are now available for integration with Copilot:Figure 2. A list of plugin partners as of May 2023.
On top of all this, there is an opportunity for companies to further benefit from Microsoft Graph using the Semantic Index for Copilot. It streamlines the search for similarities within existing content and does not rely solely upon keyword index. Instead, the Semantic Index browses through relationships and concepts, swiftly finding relevant results. This unique capability empowers Copilot to deliver highly personalized responses that offer users a more tailored and efficient experience. Developers can also deploy Microsoft Graph connectors and tap into the full potential of the Semantic Index for Copilot.
Use cases of Microsoft 365 Copilot
As we mentioned before, Copilot simplifies the foundational processes that employees face at work. Sales specialists are undoubtedly among those who can leverage Copilot to improve the sales process, as they often find themselves engaged in repetitive tasks that consume valuable time and resources. For instance, routine activities such as follow-up creations and email communications can be automated with Copilot. According to a recent Microsoft survey, 70% of the sellers who used Sales Copilot admit the solution helped them increase productivity.
Supply chain management
As organizations strive for more agile and data-driven procurement strategies, Copilot emerges as an indispensable tool in the procurement specialist’s toolkit. It informs specialists about high-impact or low-impact alterations, namely changes in quantities or delivery dates, and provides relevant feedback. With its help, professionals can adjust their decision-making according to each specific case and use the generated knowledge for emails and Microsoft Teams’ discussions. Furthermore, armed with such comprehensive information, they can confidently strategize and negotiate with suppliers.
Customer support can be tedious for many professionals, with lots of information requiring their attention and focus. Copilot assists with this challenge as it helps pinpoint customer problems and finds relevant solutions within the internal knowledge databases. Additionally, the virtual assistant creates responses and analyzes cases swiftly and seamlessly so that more customers can receive timely and accurate support. Last but not least, with predefined and custom prompts, Copilot enables agents to craft expertly written and personalized email responses in a fraction of the time.
How to prepare for Microsoft 365 Copilot integration
Although numerous companies are eager to experience Copilot for the first time, its integration requires some good footwork. Successfully incorporating Microsoft 365 Copilot into an organization’s workflow demands careful planning, clear cut customization, and attention to detail. From preparing your data for seamless search and retrieval to establishing robust access controls, each of these steps is essential in maximizing the benefits of this AI-powered virtual assistant:
- Prepare information for search
Before implementing Copilot, it is crucial to organize and prepare the organization’s information for efficient search and retrieval. This includes optimizing metadata, file structures, and data organization to enhance Copilot’s effectiveness.
- Set the right information access controls
Ensure that the proper access controls are in place to safeguard sensitive information. Define user permissions and roles to regulate Copilot’s access to data and maintain data security.
- Enhance the visibility of information sharing
Gain a clear understanding of how information is shared within the company. This helps identify potential oversharing and refines sharing practices to maintain data privacy.
- Finetune prerequisites
Customize Copilot’s settings and configurations based on your organization’s needs. Fine-tuning prerequisites allows you to align Copilot with your specific business processes and requirements.
- Establish Microsoft 365 Copilot licenses
Procure the necessary licenses for Copilot to guarantee that the AI assistant is readily available to individuals across the organization.
Businesses can also create a center of excellence that will embody a hub of expertise and best practices surrounding Microsoft 365 Copilot. Through collaborative efforts and continuous improvement, it can become the nucleus for empowering employees to embrace Copilot and to utilize its features to their full potential.
There’s more to come
As the AI-drive pressure mounts, digital heavyweights like Microsoft will continue to work on new capabilities for their products. So we can definitely expect more developments in the story of Microsoft 365 Copilot. Will the steep price on Copilot go down? How will the integration of third-party plugins impact the functionality and versatility of Copilot? In what ways will Copilot evolve to cater to the ever-changing needs of the modern workplace? Organizations still have time to prepare for their adoption of emerging AI-enabled tools, although this AI assistant’s general availability is looming on the horizon. It seems that today’s workplace will be experiencing a dynamic and transformative journey in the near future. If you are interested in learning more about the latest advancements in this field, contact us.
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