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How Microsoft Copilot Could Help End Users Fly Through Tasks

In aviation, the copilot, also known as the first officer, is trained and qualified to fly the plane in the event of an emergency or to provide the pilot a break. The copilot is essentially a backup pilot who’s onboard to take command when the pilot can’t. The copilot ensures a safe flight by assisting the pilot through the mission-critical tasks such as planning, performance monitoring, communication and coordination 

Microsoft Copilot: Helping End Users Fly Through Their Work

Microsoft’s vision for a business copilot is focused on helping you “fly through” standard business tasks, increasing your efficiency, and your organizations overall productivity.

Microsoft 365 Copilot works within the Microsoft 365 apps using generative artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models (LLM) to help you create or refine text and images more quickly. Below are a series of illustrated examples that highlight specific functions available in Copilot. (These examples are all from Microsoft’s Copilot site which features a large amount of graphics, videos and explanations regarding Copilot’s capabilities.)

Used within Word or Outlook, Copilot helps you quickly compose or edit text on a particular topic: . Provide a prompt, reference other corporate documents, and click go. For example, the following graphic shows how a user can ask Copilot to create a product proposal using meeting notes from a recent meeting along with a product roadmap document.

Source: Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot—A whole new way to work

In Outlook, you can have Copilot draft an email to a colleague asking if they could fill in as a presenter at the last minute.

Source: Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot—A whole new way to work

In PowerPoint, Copilot can create a complete presentation, including text and images, based on the content in another document.

Source: Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot—A whole new way to work

Copilot in Excel can create complex formulas based on a description of what you are trying to accomplish, analyze data sets and comment on specific trends it discovers.

Source: Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot—A whole new way to work

In all the cases where Copilot generates content, you remain in charge; you are the pilot. You are prompted to review any Copilot output and can choose to keep it, adjust it, or ask Copilot to regenerate a different version.

Copilot can summarize information from a long Teams chat thread. You can ask specified questions about an on-going conversation, including having Copilot organize key discussion poin

Source: Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot—A whole new way to work

Copilot can also summarize Team calls. With this capability when you place or receive a Teams call you get real-time summarization and insights during the call. Copilot in Teams Phone works for both PSTN and VoIP calls. 

Source: Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot—A whole new way to work

Finally, Copilot can summarize emails, chats, and documents related to a particular topic through a new Copilot business chat in Teams. For example, you can chat with Copilot and inquire if anything new happened on a particular project yesterday.

Source: Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot—A whole new way to work


How Does Copilot Work?

Copilot’s large language models are not trained on customer content or on individual prompts. Copilot uses “grounding,, a process of using large language models (LLMs) along with information that is use-case specific, relevant, and not available as part of the LLM’s trained knowledge. Grounding is crucial for ensuring the quality, accuracy, and relevance of the generated output. Copilot accesses data available to the user via the Microsoft Graph to both pre-process input to and post-process output from the Copilot LLM. (As noted later in this article, Microsoft says that an organization's data is kept secure and private.)

[Editor's Note: You can download our guide to "grounding" and other AI terms here.]

For instance, if I were to ask a question from within Word, Teams, PowerPoint, Excel, or Outlook, my user prompt would be pre-processed by Copilot “grounding” my prompt using my relevant emails, documents, meetings, chats, calendar, and contacts via the Microsoft Graph. (Editor’s Note: The following graphics are screen captures from The Copilot System: Explained by Microsoft.This article provides a complete architecture diagram of how Microsoft 365 Copilot works)

This modified prompt, with my key context detail, is then sent to the Copilot LLM. 

The Copilot LLM produces a response which is then further grounded. The response also has security checks, responsible AI checks, and compliance/privacy checks applied before the results is returned to me in the app where the prompt originated. The response may also include commands that control the app to execute specific commands based on my prompt. 

Data Protection Within the Copilot

Beyond the financial implications, security, compliance, and data sovereignty are critical considerations.

For years, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella emphasized the importance of trust, including “trust” as an exponent in his tech intensity formula:

Tech Intensity = (Tech Adoption x Tech Capability) ^ Trust

This focus on trust as more than a multiplier, and the supporting business practices adopted by Microsoft, resonated with many small, medium, and large organizations across every sector.

Microsoft was clear: Your data is your data. Full stop.

If your organization uses Microsoft 365, there is a good chance most of your intellectual property has already been entrusted to the Microsoft cloud, in Outlook emails, Team chats, OneDrive files, OneNote notes, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and PowerPoint presentations.

Copilot honors all the standard Microsoft enterprise-grade security, privacy, identity, compliance rules. Specifically:

  • Copilot uses your existing Microsoft 365 security, privacy, identity, and compliance policies.
  • Your organization’s data is logically isolated and protected within your Microsoft 365 tenant.
  • Copilot respects individual and group permission policies setup for your tenant.
  • Customer data (including prompts, responses, and data accessed through the Microsoft Graph) is not used to train the foundation LLMs that Copilot uses.
  • Copilot does not use OpenAI’s publicly available services. All processing is achieved using Azure OpenAI services.

Even with those protective mechanisms, there is a chance that Copilot will uncover circumstances where current data is overshared. Oversharing is when content is intentionally or accidentally shared beyond the needed audience. As part of preparing to implement Copilot, an organization should make use of new SharePoint, OneDrive, and Teams content management and security tools. Microsoft suggests administrators use its Syntex service to prevent oversharing. Microsoft Purview Information Protection can also help manage data classifications within an organization.


What Value Does a User Get for $30 Per Month?

At the Microsoft Inspire 2023 conference, we learned the cost for Copilot’s productivity enhancement: $30/user/month. What do users get for that money? Consider the value it brings to someone's workflow – but first, consider which unified communications platform's features really help someone do their job. Cisco/Webex, Zoom, RingCentral, and Microsoft all touted hundreds of new features in their 2023 Enterprise Connect keynotes. Nicole Herskowitz, during her keynote, highlighted the over 400+ features that were added to Teams in the past year.

Leading UC&C vendors all announced AI-powered noise cancellation (each as if it were unique to their product). Then background blur, background replacement, animated backgrounds, reactions, filters, avatars, AI-video-framing, transcription, translation, and more.

AI-powered, crisper imagery and clearer sound does not necessarily deliver better business outcomes. Similarly, blurred backgrounds, avatars, the new (and perplexing!) Maybelline filters, and other in-meeting tweaks are difficult to connect directly to improved productivity or efficiency.

In contrast, it is easy to imagine the Copilot generative AI helping you complete a task faster. Having Copilot take accurate meeting or call notes surely saves time. It is also easy to imagine Copilot business chat helping you catch up faster after time out of the office.

For me, I would happily pay $30 a month if Copilot helped me create articles (like this one) faster or could help me more quickly generate one of the many PowerPoint presentations I deliver every year.

Any sales professional who could make just one additional sale, through better note taking, email writing, or faster proposal generation, might be well served by spending $360 for a year of Copilot.


Hiring a Copilot Can be Confusing

This article has focused on Microsoft 365 Copilot, which currently is available via an invitation-only, paid preview program that includes an initial wave of 600 customers worldwide. Copilot is expected to be generally available early in 2024.

Microsoft has created additional Copilots, some of which require separate licensing:

  • Copilot for GitHub which is focused on helping professional software developers accelerate development. Requires an organization or enterprise GitHub account and a separate license (starting at $19/user/month).
  • Copilot in Power Automate which assists in creating automated workflows using natural language (currently in preview).
  • Microsoft Sales Copilot which is designed to help sales professionals streamline selling processes and CRM updates (Viva Sales was rebranded as Microsoft Sales Copilot in July 2023). Microsoft previously announced that Copilot will be previewing later this year in Viva Glint, Viva Goals, Viva Engage, and Viva Topics. Some Viva features require additional licensing.
  • Microsoft Dynamics 365 Copilot which brings AI to both CRM and ERP and may or may not overlap what is now called Microsoft Sales Copilot.
  • Copilot for Windows provides AI capabilities directly in the operating system.

In addition, a Teams Premium license is currently required in order to enable Teams post-meeting recaps, which Microsoft calls intelligent meeting recap. Hopefully this will be rationalized and included as part of the Microsoft 365 Copilot licensing. 

In future NoJitter articles, I will explore how to get the most from Copilot and how to monitor Copilot usage. Please reach out to me on LinkedIn if there are specific questions or issues you would like to see me address.