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Microsoft Ups its Teams Game with Copilot AI

During her Tuesday morning keynote at Enterprise Connect 2023, Nicole Herskowitz, Vice President, Microsoft Teams & Platform Marketing at Microsoft, provided a comprehensive look of how Copilot, the company’s recently announced generative AI-powered suite of productivity capabilities, would soon be included in the rebuilt Teams application.

Additionally, Microsoft discussed how it rebuilt the Teams application six years after its initial Enterprise Connect debut, how it's integrated Teams into Cisco and Airmedia collaboration devices, and what new features it's added to its Teams Phone and Teams Rooms product lines.


Teams and Copilot

Herskowitz used several live, on-stage demos to show how Copilot in the new Teams could be used to amplify how the more than 280 million people already using Teams collaborate everyday. “Today, people waste way too much time on the rote tasks of teamwork. Whether it's creating meeting agendas, taking notes or documenting action items,” Herskowitz said. “We're building a future where people are free from the drudgery of routine tasks and can focus more time and energy on creativity, innovation and connection and a sense we want to reconnect people to the soul of work.”

That begs the question: How does that vision play out in the forthcoming iteration of Teams?

One use case Herskowitz demonstrated showed how Teams with Copilot could be used to obtain summaries of a user’s own data (across email, chat, Excel, Word, etc.), along with links to sources, and the ability to refine and/or edit those summaries as needed.

“Imagine I’m a salesperson preparing for an upcoming client meeting. Normally I would spend a lot of time trying to get a full view of the latest updates,” Herskowitz said. Rather than do that, she asked Copilot to create a summary of the most recent developments with her fictious client. “Copilot looked through all my emails, my chats, my documents, my presentations, my Excel files, my meetings [summarized them] and provided links to all of that source information.”

All that information can be refined, edited, posted into chat, forwarded, etc. “And with Copilot, what would’ve taken me hours took seconds. That’s working smarter.”

Herskowitz said that these summaries, whether the user was present in the call or not, were not simply meeting recordings or transcripts, but intelligent recaps. They are “an AI powered view that is designed specifically for me. It breaks the meeting down into chapters into topics and in other important information for me, like for example if I was @ mentioned in the meeting, so I can just tell the information most relevant to me.”

She also highlighted the ability of Teams with Copilot to synthesize on-the-fly, AI-generated analyses of what was discussed during a Teams meeting – the fictious one she did not attend. This “double booking” situation is rather common in the business word and a problem that Microsoft is attempting to address with this feature. It’s not just about summarizing the key points made or the pros and cons, but “it's about giving you insights into like the sentiment of the meeting.”

It is important to note that since the end user was not present for the meeting, they have no way to know the accuracy of the insights and/or summation generated by Copilot – without going “old school” and asking those who did participate.

Herskowitz did not demonstrate a way for participants/users to provide feedback if the synthesis doesn’t square with their perception of things. Perhaps a meeting summary goes out but one or more participants thinks a relevant action item is missing, How can they add it and would that addition be shared or would there be permissions-based additions and editing?

Perhaps those capabilities are in the product but were not demonstrated. If not, then it is unclear how Copilot will allow meeting participants to correct, refocus or expand the contents of meeting recaps to more accurately reflect what people experienced.

Herskowitz said that all these capabilities would soon be available in the “all new” Teams application which she said has been “rebuilt from the ground up so that it is faster, simpler, and more flexible. And it lays the foundation that enables these next generation AI capabilities.”

According to Microsoft, the rebuilt Teams will be faster for installation, app launch, meeting join, and switching between channels. It will also consume less memory and disk space, and they're working to preserve more battery life which will be beneficial for lower-spec devices and/or mobile/portable devices.

The rebuilt Teams will also support multi account and multi organization support so that one instance of the Teams application can support multiple accounts which might span multiple organizations – and the application will also provide notifications across all those accounts regardless of which one the end user is currently active in. This avoids the common workaround of running a different Teams account in a browser or on another device.

The new Teams will also enable:

  • Most recent posts on top of channels, which makes it easier to see what's going on
  • Direct links to specific channel posts and/or channel/topic pins
  • On-the-fly creation of meeting agendas, which remain "live updated" regardless of where it is shared (e.g., via Teams chat).

Note that the new Teams is currently available as a public preview.


Expanding Teams Phone, Integrations and Rooms

Next, Microsoft discussed its progress with PSTN-enabled Teams Phone users – more than 5 million were added in 2022 alone. Microsoft will soon debut new features related to Teams phone such as hotline phones which can help Teams devices call a dedicated number, such as 911, and a virtual front desk feature, where a device could be placed outside your building which will connect the caller to a (remote) front desk associate who can then direct them to where they want to be. These features will be introduced in the second quarter of 2023.

Microsoft also demonstrated the integration of its Teams platform into Cisco’s portfolio of devices, including Cisco Board series, Room Kit Pro and Desk Pro. Microsoft also highlighted an Airmedia integration that enabled one-button access to Teams meetings.

With respect to Teams Rooms, Microsoft said that it had surpassed 500,000 monthly active users. The company also said Surface Hub would join Teams Room family with the software hub update to all Surface 2 devices. Microsoft said that the new Teams Room would come to Hub on the same day. It's also making admins' lives easier by allowing them to begin tracking BYOD room set-ups and utilizations within the Teams management inventory space.

Microsoft’s opening keynote seemed to highlight a consistent theme emerging across multiple general and breakout sessions in Enterprise Connect 2023 --the increasing use of AI not only in products/services but in business operations, as well its ability to enhance employee collaboration and participation. It also appears incumbent on enterprises to strategize on how to include all modalities of communication both internally with colleagues and externally with customers.