What is Microsoft Graph?

As we discussed in our guide to Microsoft 365 Copilot, it’s about far more than slapping ChatGPT into Word and Excel. For Copilot to work in your business, it needs context. That context is data generated by and within Microsoft’s numerous business tools — and the gateway to that data is Microsoft Graph.

If it helps, think of all the information your company holds as a hotel. In one room, you have your Teams data. Another, your email and calendars. Perhaps the ballroom holds everything in SharePoint. Microsoft Graph is the name of your hotel: it contains everything.

The old way of working was to give developers access to each of those rooms via a different key. But before long they need a lot of keys, and the expertise to use them. The idea behind Microsoft Graph (which pre-dates Copilot) is that they need just one key to access all your data. We’ll cover this key, the Microsoft Graph API, later.

One final thing. Although we’re concentrating on Microsoft 365 in this article, Graph also contains data and intelligence built into Windows and what Microsoft calls “Enterprise Mobility + Security“.

How does Microsoft 365 Copilot use Microsoft Graph?

We already know that Microsoft 365 Copilot works through prompts. That could be a user telling Copilot to summarise a meeting, or generate a graph showing sales of potatoes in the last quarter.

Whatever the prompt, Microsoft 365 Copilot needs to “ground” itself with Microsoft Graph. “Grounding is a process by which Copilot assigns extra context and content to the prompt, which will make the response more relevant to what the user requires,” Microsoft MVP Jason Wynn told us.

“Context can be acquired from anything within Graph — this can include emails, files, meetings, chats and calendars.

“This is part of what makes Copilot so useful for businesses as anyone within the organisation can pull upon the shared data within the Microsoft Graph for context and content to build the most relevant response possible.”

What is the Microsoft Graph API?

To use our over-simplistic yet hopefully effective metaphor of a hotel, the Microsoft Graph API is your master key to all the data and intelligence contained within.

But this is no ordinary key. It’s a key with agency: it can do things. For example, you can use the Graph API to “get a user”. This will return details such as first name, surname, phone numbers, job titles, email, office location.

Or you can use the Graph API to fetch a list of file names created by a specific user. Or items that have been shared by that user.

You can use the Graph API to create things too. It can create a new channel in Microsoft Teams, send messages, create to-do lists. Pretty much anything you can do as a Microsoft 365 user.

But when we talk about the Microsoft Graph API in the context of Microsoft 365 Copilot, it isn’t you or a developer making these commands but Copilot itself.

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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.