Everyone got very excited when Microsoft introduced the world to Microsoft Copilot back in March this year and just yesterday they reached a new milestone, after annoucing a private preview with just 600 global customers.
But… One of the questions I get asked a lot (between colleagues, partners and customers) is “…are there things we need to do to be ready for Copilot when it becomes available”.
The simple answer is yes – if you want it to work as expected
The longer answer is “it depends” on if you plan to use it, how well your current data is structured, organised and governed, and what processes you have in place around user education, training and change management.
Based on the work I have been doing with Microsoft, this list is aimed to provide the key things, suggestions and considerations for IT, managers and leadership on things you’ll want to get ship-shape while we wait for Copilot to be more generally available, which my sources tell me will be late 2023 to Q1 2024.
1. Get your data in shape.
The reason Microsoft 365 is the productivity suite of choice for so many (arguably most) organisations is because it brings together applications, data, groups, users and services into a common and integrated suite, as well as providing thousands of connectors to allow organisations to connect third-party apps and data into mix.
Powered by the Microsoft Graph, Microsoft 365 already has the power to connect people, teams, and organisations across all their apps and services in an intelligent and context aware, with AI powered services scattered across the Microsoft 365 apps and services you use every day….
With Microsoft Copilot….this will move to a whole new level.
Copilot will put conversational AI at the front and centre of every app and service you know and use. Leveraging personal context, re-generative learning and of course the Microsoft Graph, Copilot will make its’ own deductions on what you ask, what you mean, and how you work. Whilst it will learn and evolve, it will of course, still be dependent on your organisational data, and how its structured, governed and secured.
This means if you have say 50 different documents spread out in 15 different locations that talk about your company strategy or business objectives, and only one of them is the up-to-date version. How will Copilot know which version is correct when it needs to surface information based on a request? In the same way, if the management and reporting structure, job titles and other information is incorrect in Azure AD, Copilots’ decisions and advice around people will also likely be incorrect.
To help, organisations get AI-ready, Microsoft have announced that they will soon start to roll out a service known as Semantic Index for Copilot. This is a new service coming to Microsoft 365 which will create a sophisticated map of your data to help you test how Copilot will ingest and act on your data. Image for example a sales manager asking for “FY23 Sales Report,”. Copilot will be data and context aware, meaning that it will not simply look for documents that contain keywords in the filename or text body. Instead, Copilot will try to “understand” and “learn” about who within the organisation produces such reports, when they are shared, and where they are shared to.
Microsoft say that Semantic Index for Copilot will be a vital tool to help organisations ensure that employees will get predicable, relevant, accurate, and actionable responses to their asks of Copilot and will help your organisation to “tweak” their data lifecycle and governance to ensure that the data Copilot acts on is correct and accessible (or not) by the right people.
What should you do?
1. Check and refine your SharePoint and Teams lifecycle, governance and compliance policies
2. Speak to your Microsoft partner about a funded data governance workshop
3. Review and update Active Directory (or connect to HR to ensure these are up-to-date)
4. Look out for the release of Semantic Index for Copilot to "test your data"
2. Get your security in order
In a similar fashion to making sure our data is correct from a version and validty perspective, if we dont get our security and access control polcies in shape, we risk Copilot duiscovering data that a employee or team may not “meant to have access to”.
In the much the same way that the Office 365 apps “discover” the data around you – presenting files that your collegaues and teams are working on together, Copilot will do the same but on a whole new level, as what is searches for, indexes and uses, will be instructed by the user rather than simply surfaced.
Just like the rest of Microsoft 365, Copilot will adhere to the security, privacy, data governance and data sensitivity policies that has been set-up within your organisation, and will not provide information that the user doesn’t have access to. It may suggest for, example, “you dont have access to that, you may need to request this from Pam in accounts”.
The potential problem of course is that many (ok most) organisations have a sprawl of Teams sites, poor or inconsistent data governance, and inadequate user training, meaning that put simply, you may not realise the sheer amount of information and documents that is being shared within your organisation, and more importantly who actually has access to what data and how many copies may exist and where!
We all worry about Security – do we have MFA? Do we have conditional access configured? Are account protected? Is sensitive information protected? etc. We know the slogan “hackers dont hack in, they login” – just imagine if you have Copilot, and a users’ identity gets compromised. They log in, and with Copilot at their fingertips, they don’t need to worry about where stuff is stored as Copilot will do all the discovery for them!
So what can you do?
1. Review and refine your document management, security and privacy policies - perhaps introduce or enforce DLP and Data Classifcation - aka Microsoft Purview
2. Review your security posture, MFA enforcement, risk based conditional access etc
3. Create straightforward instructions and train people where to store documents and how to protect and secure them
4. Run a pilot and look at adoption data loss prevention and information classification to protect sensitive data.
5. Speak to your Microsoft partner about a funded workshop for 1, 2 and 3.
3. Explore, Plan, Experiment – but treat it as organisational change!
The release of Microsoft Copilot is still a little way away (it is a closed Private Preview today with around 600 global organisations) and there are currently no dates on the roadmap for a public preview mainstream release. There is also no pricing yet about pricing.
What we do know is – it is coming and it will fundamentally impact and change how your people and teams will work. Yes, there is still an element of hype, lots of desire to test it out, loads and loads of questions and lots of unknowns.
Communication and training is going to be a key part of sucess. How do you interface with AI? Yes its’ intelligent, but it’s not a human, therefore people need to be taught how to best work with Copilot. Bear in mind most people use around ten percent of the functionality of say Teams (with most just using basic functions like chat and calling), but to get the most from it, users need to know what to expect, how to use it and how the organisation wants (or not) employees to use it…
Create a pilot group and mini success team. Use this team to keep up-to-date with the news and blogs and above all make sure leadership, management and IT are “in the know”.
Start communicating your plans for Copilot and AI in general. Employees will and should have questions. Are there roles that might change or not be needed? Will you stop hiring? Will you wait and see? It will be important to talk to, and listen to employees, and ideally form a “success with AI” unit, bringing people together from different parts of the business, to discover the challenges they face in their everyday work and how they think and hope AI will help them.
Above all – think of this like a project (one of continual change). Depending on your business, AI will have an impact, and the whole organisation will need to understand and embrace this change (once we have it all working of course). Consider an AI abmassador and follow your usual approach to change management with a roadmap, PoCs, pilots and feedback groups so you hit it head on, with ideas, and a solid vision but with room for hiccups, course changes and surprises on the way.
That sounds like a lot - what can we do?
1. Build a success unit (could be a Team site of Viva Community)
2. Get onto early adoptor programmes when availble, go to the AI conferences and start to leverage demos etc when available.
3. Talk to your peers, partners, and Microsoft Team and look out for funded workshops which will likely be available from summer.
4. Read Microsoft's Worklab report on working with next generation AI (it's a good read).
4. Keep Calm – it is coming but there is time to prepare
Microsoft has just announced the launch of their Microsoft 365 Copilot Early Access Program. It’s an invitation-only, paid preview program that’s set to roll out to only 600 clients across the globe at first in the coming weeks.
They say that they have received overwhelming feedback from their initial early preview clients, they have been “testing the concepts” with. They say those clients have indicated huge benefits to business and the ways in which it can transform and reshape work. In recent months, Microsoft have also released further information around how Copilot will will impact other applications such as Viva, Dynamics 365, Teams and more with new capabilities being announced almost weekly.
We will know more as we move forward – there are lots of moving parts – previews, public previews, (potentially) governments getting in the way, data soverignty issues (today data is only processed in the US and not local in local geo), licensing prices and of course availabilty….
In fact – this is probably already out of date as its a rapid moving landscape, and this is just the tip of the iceberg and just Microsoft.
What should you do?
1. Keep checking with your Microsoft team,. your partner and the Microsoft 365 Roadmap
2. Start thinking roles that will be positively affected by AI in the workplace. Speak to users, buid your success team.
3. Think about new skills your teams will need to work along side AI.
4. Read Microsoft's Worklab report on working with next generational AI (it's a good read).
What is next in CoPilot?
A good question….
When Microsoft annouced Copilot in March, where they showed the value concepts in apps like teams, Powerpoint and Excel, they said that this was “just the beginning”. Over the last couple of months, Microsoft have continued to tease new Copilot capabilities to bring AI to every part of Microsoft apps and services. The key annoucements (since the actual annoucement include):
- Copilot in Whiteboard – which will make Microsoft Teams meetings and brainstorms more creative and effective. Using natural language, you will be able to ask Copilot to generate ideas, organize ideas into themes, create designs that bring ideas to life and summarise whiteboard content.
- Copilot in Outlook will offer coaching tips and suggestions on clarity, sentiment and tone to help users write more effective emails and communicate more confidently.
- Copilot in OneNote will use prompts to draft plans, generate ideas, create lists and organize information to help customers find what they need easily.
- Copilot in Loop will helps your team stay in sync by quickly summarising all the content on your Loop page to keep everyone aligned and able to collaborate effectively.
- Copilot in Viva Learning will use a natural language chat interface to help users create a personalized learning journey including designing upskilling paths, discovering relevant learning resources and scheduling time for assigned trainings.
Q&A – This will evolve
|Question||What we know||Source|
|Where will the data be processed by Copilot?||Microsoft have said that currently all processing will take place is the US. It will eventually be regionalised based on customer tennant. No time scales yet||May 2023: Microsoft 365 Conference|
|Will Copilot respect data seciuroty and soverienty?||Yes -Microsoft have made it clear that Copilots’ sphere of access will be limited to the user context in which it runs, goverened by your organisation’s policies.||May 2023: Microsoft 365 Conference.|
|When will Copilot enter public preview?||No dates annouced yet. Be sure to keep an eye on the Microsoft 365 Roadmap.|
|Will there be charge for Copilot.||No offical news but the expectation is yes.|
What do you think?
Like you, I am still working out what this means for our business, my teams and my people. I welcome your feedback, thoughts and ideas.