How Copilot in Microsoft 365 Will Impact Productivity
It didn't take long for Microsoft to follow up on the March 14 launch of GPT-4. During an online event held two days after OpenAI's release, Microsoft announced it was pulling the technology into Microsoft 365 under the name Copilot.
Microsoft described Copilot as "the most powerful productivity tool on the planet." In short, Copilot works as an assistant within Microsoft 365 to help people write documents, build presentations and build PivotTables in Excel. It also came with a new chat experience called Business Chat.
This is just the beginning, according to the Redmond, Wash.-based company, noting that GPT-4 had already been delivering Bing results since the company confirmed its $10 billion investment into GPT-4's parent company, San Francisco-based OpenAI.
It is hard to imagine all the ways GPT-4 might be useful in the work environment, but it is clear that Microsoft will continue to integrate it throughout its product portfolio in the name of increasing productivity.
Microsoft's First Steps with GPT-4
Microsoft MVP Kevin McDonnell believes Copilot is only a first step for Microsoft. He expects the company to bring more AI personal productivity solutions into the mix in the same way that Viva has brought together employee experience AI solutions under a common brand.
This will take a little time to settle, he said, but with Copilot for Power Platform, Viva Engage and Dynamics already announced, we can expect to see it in SharePoint, Microsoft Lists and more soon. He is also hoping to see it powering timesheets in the company's project management software, Project.
For end users this means a more consistent experience across the Microsoft stack, which will require learning which prompts create the best results. Those prompts, he said, should work across multiple systems.
“The hype and excitement across the whole of Microsoft's services will be a great power for consistency and this can only be a good thing for end users [who are] often confused about what to use when,” he said.
He also noted that while people initially thought of ChatGPT as a glorified search tool, allowing people to ask and receive an easy-to-understand answer, the reality is that generative AI is more often about framing responses in the right way. Whether that is constructing a slide deck in PowerPoint that summarizes a large document, writing a long email in a simple way in Outlook or extracting the value from a set of data in Excel, Copilot will make it easier for everyone to get their point across well, he said.
The other major benefit, he added, is the announcement of Business Chat in Teams. Business Chat will use Microsoft Graph to cross internal silos, surfacing your current work, your previous work and your colleague's work and knowledge. Business Chat can be set up to send reminders based on calendar events after cross-checking with what you might have promised to do in chat and emails, helping people focus.
The latter point — helping people focus — leads to something that's only briefly been touched on, and that's how the technology will help all employees, regardless of their accessibility needs, continued McDonnell. Neurodivergent employees in particular stand to benefit, as the software can help to gather thoughts and put them across in a more structured way, which can be an absolute game changer.
However, McDonnell foresees a backlash shortly after the hype has died down. “Many people will have made assumptions around what can be delivered and when the reality is not fully realized, there will be a big disappointment initially,” he said.
We can already see this in part with the critical coverage of the new Bing search results. “Gradually this has settled down and for many, me included, it has now become part of my natural flow, especially with the mobile app now working," McDonnell added.
McDonnell's other big prediction is that Prompt Engineering will become the big next trend. The ease of use for Open AI services through Chat GPT, Bing and now Copilot masks the multitude of other uses, given the proper prompts. "This will evolve as more frameworks wrap around this to nudge people to providing the right prompts to get towards what is wanted. Experts that evolve into this space will be particularly helpful so if you are looking for a new role, get prompting,” he said.
The Wider Microsoft Environment
Integrating GPT technology into Microsoft solutions will result in several technical enhancements contributing to a higher ROI for users of the suite, said Sam Hamway, research analyst covering enterprise applications at Miami-based Nucleus Research. One such enhancements includes advanced natural language processing. The integration of GPT technology will make it possible for applications within the Microsoft ecosystem to better understand, interpret and generate human-like language, improving the user experience across various applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Teams.
He added that GPT integration could also facilitate more sophisticated context-aware assistance within applications, enabling the AI to provide relevant suggestions, auto-completions, or recommendations based on users' specific needs.
For organizations seeking improved productivity, Hamway pointed to some obvious gains including:
1. AI-powered language understanding
AI-powered language understanding can expedite tasks such as email drafting, document creation and data analysis, leading to more efficient time management.
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2. Cost reduction
By automating repetitive tasks and streamlining workflows, GPT technology can help reduce labor costs, allowing businesses to more effectively allocate resources.
3. Enhanced decision-making
The AI assistance can facilitate informed decision-making by analyzing complex data, identifying patterns and recommending solutions, leading to better business outcomes.
“As AI becomes more integrated into Microsoft 365 and other productivity suites, we can expect the development of specialized AI models tailored to specific industries or business functions,” Hamway said. “These customized AI solutions will provide more targeted and relevant assistance to users, significantly enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in various domains."
He added that the deep integration of AI into productivity tools may lead to shifts in workforce dynamics. While AI-driven automation could displace some jobs, it could also create new opportunities for professionals skilled in AI, data analysis and related fields. As a result, he said, organizations will need to invest in employee reskilling and upskilling to adapt to these changes.
He added that as AI becomes more integrated into productivity tools, companies like Microsoft will need to navigate the trade-offs between leveraging the benefits of AI and addressing the associated risks, including tackling ethical considerations, such as ensuring transparency, fairness and accountability in AI systems, and ensuring that AI-powered tools do not exacerbate existing biases or contribute to the digital divide.
Skills and Communications
For Andrew Pope, partner and consultant with Sydney-based Designing Collaboration, Copilot could help employees in three principal areas.
1. Basic skill improvements
In cases where workers lack digital skills, he said, 40% are too embarrassed to ask for help — particularly with mundane tasks. Features like analyzing Excel data without having to know formulas will be an obvious boost for the less tech savvy. It will not change the world, he said, but it will ease the digital learning experience.
2. Connecting answers and people
He said this will also be a game changer in terms of productivity. A huge barrier at the moment is not being able to know who to ask and where to find information. Being able to surface people, knowledge and information instantly will have a huge impact on day-to-day work.
3. Predicting responses
Copilot could be a big help to internal communications professionals, he continued. With Copilot, anyone posting in Communities in Viva Engage can craft better, more relevant posts based on what predicted questions, sentiment and reaction will be.
He told us: “Copilot answering your questions before you’ve even asked them based on what you’re working on — I can see scenarios where suggested connections with people who may have experience in this area are surfaced and associated information, processes and knowledge specific to that being offered.”
What is less certain is its capacity to author content. Nevertheless, he said, using Copilot to surface topics, sentiment and potential questions will be very valuable, at least in the short-term.
The broader business impact is to be determined, he concluded. "It will certainly put pressure for organizations to adopt, although this may be something to wait for," Pope said. "It seems that this is more of a concept than a product right now — the opportunities for AI to make a difference have been articulated but until we’ve had time to use it and for the product to be refined, it’s hard to predict the impact in the first instance.”
About the Author
David is a European-based journalist of 35 years who has spent the last 15 following the development of workplace technologies, from the early days of document management, enterprise content management and content services. Now, with the development of new remote and hybrid work models, he covers the evolution of technologies that enable collaboration, communications and work and has recently spent a great deal of time exploring the far reaches of AI, generative AI and General AI.