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Your Guide to Piloting Microsoft Copilot

In aviation the copilot, more formally the “first officer”, is the second in command to the captain, or pilot, of the aircraft. The copilot is not an apprentice; they are a fully trained professional pilot who shares the flying duties with the pilot. The pilot may make critical decisions regarding the flight, but in practice, the pilot and copilot usually work collaboratively, and there won't be a need for the pilot to "pull rank."

Microsoft has adopted the term “copilot” to refer to its growing number of AI companions, all powered by large language models. While there has been strong focus on the various capabilities of these copilots, as the pilot you must play a key role in successfully “flying” generative AI within your communication or collaboration tools.


Choosing Your Copilot

First you need to choose a copilot. By my count, there are now eight Microsoft Copilots.

(A quick note – “copilot” with a lowercase “c” refers to the general idea of a generative AI-powered assistant, while “Copilot” with an uppercase “c” refers to a specific Microsoft offering.)

Here's what each Copilot does:

Microsoft Copilot (formerly known as “Bing Chat”) – a free version of Copilot available in Edge or Chrome browsers. Unlike search engines, Copilot with Bing summarizes results from multiple sources into a single natural language response. Copilot allows you to ask questions in a conversational mode, and you can ask follow-up questions to refine an initial response. Copilot is also available as a free mobile app, for both Apple and Android devices. The mobile app makes it easy to ask questions about specific visual images. (I took a picture of my Siberian Husky Kai and Copilot correctly responded that “This delightful canine appears to be a Siberian Husky,” along with providing additional breed information.)

Copilot for Github – the original copilot focused on helping programmers code. Copilot for Github was released in 2021 and has since been adopted by more than 37,000 businesses, including one in every three Fortune 500 companies. Copilot for Github is free for verified teachers and students, and has paid plans including $10/month for individuals, $19/user/month for businesses, and $39/user/month for enterprises.

Copilot for Microsoft 365 – the primary Copilot many business users will use. This Copilot is integrated directly into Teams, Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, and other Microsoft 365 apps. Copilot for M365 inherits the security, compliance, and privacy policies you’ve set up in Microsoft 365 and your data never leaves its secure partition and is never used for training purposes. With Copilot for M365, answers are anchored in your business context and grounded using your business content. Copilot for M365 is priced at $30/user/month as an add-on to any E3, E5, A3, A5, M365 Business Standard, or M365 Business Premium license. An annual commitment is required.

Copilot Pro – a consumer-facing copilot for individuals with a Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscription. Copilot Pro provides capabilities integrated with Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, but notably not Teams. Copilot Pro also provides priority access to GPT-4 and GPT-4 Turbo during peak times, along with 100 boosts to create faster images using Designer (which is powered by DALLE 3). Copilot Pro is priced at $20/user/month (in addition to the cost of the Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscription).

Copilot for Sales – This Copilot is designed to connect to customer relationship management (CRM) systems to provide sales insights and AI-enable sales workflows. Copilot for Sales is designed to work with Salesforce Sales Cloud and Dynamics 365 Sales but can be configured to connect to other sales solutions. This Copilot is available for $50/user/month (which includes Copilot for M365) or as a $20/user/month add-on for users who already have Copilot for M365; an annual commitment is required.

Copilot for Services – Designed to support contact center agents, Copilot for Service can help summarize previous dialogues, generate answers from knowledge base articles or other documentation, and can assist creating post-call notes. Out-of-the-box integrations are provided for Salesforce, ServiceNow, and Zendesk. You can also integrate it with your existing website, files, and other data sources. Copilot for Service is priced the same as Copilot for Sales: $50/user/month or as a $20/user/month add-on for users who already have Copilot M365; an annual commitment is required.

Copilot for Viva – Microsoft has been adding Copilot capabilities to the various Viva modules. At present these capabilities are still in preview and a separate license, beyond the Viva licensing, is not required to enable these features. Administrators can enable Copilot in the Viva admin center(s).

Side note: When I asked Copilot “How many different copilots has Microsoft announced?” it answered seven, failing to include Copilot Pro. Even AI doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with the speed at which Microsoft is adding new Copilots!


Pre-flight Check: Do You Know Where Your Data Is?

Regardless of the copilot you choose, before taking flight with AI, it is important to understand where and how your data may be shared.

In a business context, confidential or private information might be included in users’ prompts. For example, “please summarize the key points in this document” could expose your organization’s proprietary information, or a customer’s information. The inadvertent release of company-confidential data is an issue that arises when users make use of publicly available AI. In comparison, prompts entered via Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365, the data they retrieve, and the generated Copilot responses all remain within your existing Microsoft 365 service boundary. Copilot for Microsoft 365 uses Azure OpenAI services for processing, not OpenAI’s publicly available services.

With the paid versions of Microsoft Copilot your data never leaves its secure partition and is never used for training purposes.

Things become more complex if you enable Copilot to access the web or install plugins that extend the capabilities of Copilot. Admins and users have controls that manage Copilots use of web content.

While using Copilot does not change existing permissions on files or folders, there is an increased possibility that Copilot in responding to a prompt may uncover information which does not have stringent access or permissions. This possibility arises because Copilot leverages a new index, the semantic index, that combines company data via the Microsoft Graph. While the semantic index respects security policies in the Microsoft Graph so that when a user issues a prompt in Microsoft Copilot, it's always in the security context of the user, and only content that a user has access to is returned, Copilot is more likely to “discover” content improperly shared.

In order to prevent inadvertent “oversharing”, ahead of deploying Copilot, it is recommended that you audit permissions assigned to OneDrive and SharePoint folders. Microsoft suggests using Purview to strengthen data security and compliance through the use of sensitivity labels and data classification.

With respect to data residency, Copilot for M365 calls to the LLM are routed to the closest data centers in the region, but also can call into other regions where capacity is available during high utilization periods. For EU customers, traffic stays within the EU Data Boundary. M365 multi-geo capabilities for Copilot will be available later in 2024.


Flying with AI

The promise of an AI copilot is that you, the worker/pilot, get to your intended destination, achieve a positive business outcome, with less effort, or more quickly.

To help your organization soar to new heights, it is important to understand that while your Copilot may be fully capable of flying, as the pilot you must make the critical decisions. This includes …

  1. Accepting that every Copilot (as with all large language models) can make mistakes. The results may sound good and be structured in well-written sentences; however, you are responsible for checking the sources. Copilot includes clickable reference markers you can and should use to review source materials. Copilot also reminds users they are the pilot by including “AI-generated content may be incorrect” along with generated responses.
  1. Further to item 1, with respect to meeting summaries, Copilot creates summaries based on information captured in the speech-to-text transcript. If the audio quality for a participant was poor, or someone spoke with a heavy accent, or multiple languages were spoken during a meeting, it is likely that the transcript will contain errors and as such any queries or summaries based on the transcript will be flawed.
  1. Realizing that every Copilot may have inherited biases from its training data. While Microsoft has worked hard to leverage a well-rounded set of training data, you should encourage your users to ensure diversity is properly captured in text and images created by AI.
  1. Copilots can provide both amazing and frustrating results. Copilots can summarize, generate great content, convert documents into presentations, help you brainstorm, generate code, reformat data, interpret images, and much more. Learning the capabilities of your Copilot and how best to interact is both science and art.
  1. Understanding that every Copilot is likely to change and improve quickly. Microsoft continues to surface Copilot capabilities in different areas of the Office 365 applications. Each week, different Copilot menus change, which is both exciting and potentially problematic from a user training and adoption perspective. Content generation and summaries improve regularly. Keep “flying” with your Copilot and you are likely to complete flights faster and experience new sights.
  1. If you are responsible for “air traffic control”, familiarize yourself with the Microsoft Copilot Dashboard, currently in preview. According to Microsoft, this dashboard “…provides actionable insights to help your organization get ready to deploy AI, drive adoption based on how AI is transforming workplace behavior, and measure the impact of Copilot.”

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

― Leonardo da Vinci

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This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.