Submitted by: Martin Straub

I recently attended an AI conference at Microsoft’s Redmond campus and was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at Copilot, Microsoft’s latest generative AI offering.  First, a little background:  In 2023 Microsoft announced a significant investment / partnership with OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT – the product that was the tipping point in introducing generative AI on a mass scale.  Since then, Microsoft has been heavily integrating ChatGPT into their offerings and branding it as Copilot.  ChatGPT is still available as a standalone offering whereas Copilot is the Microsoft-centric product.

Here are some conference takeaways:

Microsoft is “all-in” with AI

The development (and warp speed) effort to integrate AI into everything Microsoft is astounding. There is a clear sense when listening to Microsoft employees and viewing Copilot demos that massive resources have been (and will be) committed to incorporating AI into all of Microsoft’s products.  Copilot is the tip of the iceberg and version 1.0 is only the beginning.  I give Microsoft a lot of credit for moving swiftly to be perceived as a market leader and already adding many beneficial, wow-worthy AI features into their productivity tools.

Confusing Product Naming Continues to be Microsoft’s Achille’s Heel

Even after two full conference days I’m still not sure I completely understand the many Copilot iterations.  Thus far, I’ve counted at least 5 different Copilot variations, each with different pricing and target audience ranging from “plain” Copilot (free and readily available to everyone on Windows PCs and Edge browser) to Copilot Studio which is the most technologically rich version of Copilot, intended to assist with development and programmatic projects. 

Pay Attention to Copilot for Microsoft 365

Copilot for Microsoft 365 ($30 per user) is the product with the largest breadth of features and potential to revolutionize how you get work done.  Not only does Copilot M365 integrate with all Office software (Outlook, Word, Excel, etc.) but even more powerfully, it can access all of your organizational data stored within the M365 ecosystem.  Some common examples are asking Copilot to summarize the emails you’ve received in the past day or even better, asking which emails are awaiting a response or need action from you.

Work on your Prompting Techniques

You might be asking what prompting even means.  Because it is a “natural language” tool, the more information and scope you can provide when you interact with Copilot will generate very different results.  For instance, “help me create a presentation on cybersecurity” will generate less useful results as compared to, “create a 10 slide PowerPoint presentation for company executives at an accounting firm that highlights the security risks of their internal network.”

Security is a Significant Concern

Copilot honors all of your existing access controls (for instance, Copilot will not search within company data that a user cannot otherwise access).  However, Copilot magnifies any existing security issues.  For instance, you might assume someone in your company is not able to access payroll data, but if an Excel file with salary information exists in a SharePoint library that isn’t properly secured, Copilot will find that data and present it to a user who asks.

There is Still (lots of) Work to Be Done

For as quickly as it was brough to market, Copilot has an appearance of a mature product already.  But don’t let the good looks fool you.  Microsoft clearly prioritized speed-to-market and is now playing catch up with product development, pricing, documentation, etc.  That being said, I was very impressed with their commitment to improve the product and its utility.  I was able to provide direct feedback to Engineers and the Marketing teams about suggested improvements from the perspective of a Microsoft partner with many small businesses, non-profits, and end users amongst our customers. 

I left the conference very excited about Microsoft’s Copilot efforts and the productivity enhancements I am confident it will deliver to my business as well as our clients.  I also felt slightly overwhelmed by the confusing mix of products, pricing, and features.  At SimplePowerIT, we’ve decided to commit internally to using the product to become experts on the array of offerings, training resources, and how to implement and adopt most effectively.  If you’d like to learn more, I’d encourage you to attend one of our upcoming webinars.  You can find specific dates and times on our website, simplepowerit.com.

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