Digital Productivity Consultant and Trainer, Tonia Meakin, explains Microsoft 365’s new AI feature; Copilot.
Earlier this month, the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, Oliver Dowden, stated that AI would bring a “total revolution” to businesses, far more “extensive” than the industrial one two centuries ago. Dowden is correct; AI is developing thick and fast, and big names are leading the way. Google launched Bard in March this year. Recently, Amazon launched an AI feature to summarise product reviews, and Chat GPT has been sweeping the globe. Now, it’s Microsoft’s turn to step in.
Microsoft Copilot was announced earlier this year, alongside the claim that it would be ‘the most powerful productivity tool on the planet’. Contrary to some people’s concerns, the goal isn’t to replace humans. Instead, it aims to complement their skills and eliminate “the drudgery of work”. Hence, the name “Copilot”.
Rather than exist as a separate platform like other AI products, Microsoft will embed Copilot into PowerPoint, Excel, Word, Teams and Outlook. Another notable difference between Copilot and AI platforms like Chat GPT is that your data is secured in your own tenant and will not be taken or used by the AI platform outside of that. So where you need to be careful with the kind of information you put on Chat GPT, and should never include confidential company, client or employee data, any data used by Copilot will be kept secure within your own tenant. You can learn more about that here.
Right now, the tool is only available for a handful of organisations. When it’s fully launched, anybody using Microsoft 365 can access it for a fixed monthly fee.
Over four million businesses worldwide use Microsoft 365. All stand to benefit from Copilot in one way or another. Making the most out of it, however, is another challenge.
Copilot for Word
In Microsoft Word, Copilot will work similarly to ChatGPT. The user enters a prompt to create text, edit documents, rewrite sections or strike a specific tone.
The difference to ChatGPT, however, will be that it’s fully integrated into Word. The user won’t need to navigate back and forth between a chat screen interface. Both the user and the AI can edit the outputs in situ. This feature has obvious advantages for anyone who spends time writing content. For example, some lawyers spend up to 7-14 hours a week writing blogs. Cutting that down would increase the productivity of an entire firm.
Copilot can also integrate data into the text outputs, meaning anyone who spends time writing proposals and reports will benefit.
Copilot for Excel
Finance and accounting departments and firms have been using Excel since the 1980s to crunch numbers, outline financial results and create budgets, forecasts and plans.
Although Excel is a big step up from the complex manual formulas of the pre-computer era, it still requires a decent amount of skill and time investment.
Copilot for Excel will enable users to analyse large amounts of data quickly. It will suggest formulas, reveal correlations and create tables, models, and projections.
It’s not just finance and accounting who will benefit. Marketing, HR, and product management departments use Excel to discover trends, summarise expenses, and plan future strategies. On average, office workers spend 38% of their time using Excel; the time-saving potential here is vast.
Copilot for PowerPoint
Presentations have many moving parts, such as the content of the slides, the graphic design, and the speaker notes. Copilot allows users to create entire presentations from a brief, condense existing ones, and write speaker notes and summaries.
One of the advantages of Copilot over other AI chat models is how it integrates with Microsoft 365 as a whole. For example, Copilot can turn Word documents into PowerPoint presentations.
In practice, you might use Copilot to analyse Excel data, then create a report based on that data in Word, and then produce a presentation based on that report. If you’re one of the 30 million people who use PowerPoint daily, you may find it helpful.
Copilot for Outlook and Teams
The average person sends 40 emails daily. Professionals can spend over 12 hours a week reading and writing emails. Copilot doesn’t just write email responses. It summarises convoluted threads, automatically sends out invitations, and recaps missed emails in succinct briefs. Likewise, it can draft Teams meeting reports and do specific “after-event” tasks, like booking follow-up meetings.
Eighty-seven percent of employers offer hybrid working for some or all their employees. Outlook and Teams are the bedrock of internal and external communications for many of these.
Preparing for Copilot’s Launch
Microsoft is slowly rolling out Copilot. Right now, only a few Fortune 500 companies have access to it. The company has yet to announce the pricing and an official launch date.
To prepare, consider the departments and individuals needing it the most. One way to work this out is to look at who uses AI already. Finance, sales, human resources, marketing and management all stand to benefit. Conversely, roles primarily involving physical tasks or personal interactions may not heavily need AI assistance.
You should prepare yourself and your team by staying aware of Microsoft’s launch, features or pricing announcements over the coming months. It’s also worth reading some preliminary guidance materials here and here.
Making the Most Out of Copilot
Before rolling out Copilot en-masse, test it out on a smaller scale. This gives members of your team time to work out how best to use Copilot. Moreover, few products are perfect on release, so it buys time for Microsoft to fix any bugs.
Remember, AI isn’t here to replace you, but assist you. AI isn’t advanced enough yet to do complicated tasks and skill-based roles, especially in finance or professional services. These still require human judgement and direction.
Copilot taps into that. It’s designed to eliminate menial tasks so professionals can spend more time on complex ones.