Microsoft 365 Copilot is an AI assistant for Microsoft 365 applications. It combines the power of large language models (LLMs) with an organisation’s data and Microsoft 365 apps to turn words into productivity tools.
But there are many things you need to know about Microsoft 365. The first is that it isn’t open to everyone yet. As I discuss in my article about Microsoft 365 Copilot requirements, only businesses with at least 300 employees can currently implement it. We expect it to be rolled out to smaller businesses in early 2024, with consumers last in line.
The second is that it isn’t cheap. To qualify for Microsoft 365 Copilot, you must also pay for a Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan, which costs a minimum of $36 per person per month, and then spend $30 extra. So, a minimum of $66 per month, per person. Remember, that’s for a minimum of 300 people, so the annual total cost is at least $237,600.
The third is that this isn’t a simple plug-and-play affair. To get the most from Microsoft 365 Copilot, companies will need to go through a thorough process (detailed below).
In this article, I’ll explain what Microsoft 365 Copilot offers customers and explain how it works. But first, it’s worth understanding what employees want from AI in the first place.
- What employees want from AI
- When can I start using Microsoft 365 Copilot?
- Will Microsoft 365 Copilot work on Macs?
- Should I be concerned about using Copilot and what are the drawbacks?
- Microsoft Business Chat: ChatGPT for business
- How can companies get ready for Microsoft 365 Copilot?
- The three components of “The Copilot system”
- The Microsoft 365 apps and Copilot
- Beyond the core apps
What employees want from AI
Every year, Microsoft commissions an independent research firm to discover what’s happening in the world of work. This Work Trend Index study is truly international, covering 31 countries across the world, with a total of 31,000 people interviewed.
The 2023 Work Trend Index asked employees what they want from AI. And the answers were clear:
- 86% to find information and answers
- 80% to summarise meetings and action items
- 79% to complete analytical work
- 76% to complete technical administrative tasks
- 73% to help them be more creative in their work
- 70% to help plan their day
The study also asked people this question: “Imagine how work could change by 2030. If you could make any of the following changes to your work experience, without any additional effort required on your part, which would you most value?”
As you look at the answers, you will get an idea of what Microsoft hopes Microsoft 365 Copilot will achieve.
When can I start using Microsoft 365 Copilot?
Microsoft 365 Copilot is now offered to businesses with at least 300 employees. So, if you’re one of the lucky ones, the answer to “when can I start using Microsoft 365 Copilot” might be right now. However, even if a company does sign up for Copilot, integrating it into the business takes some time. Weeks rather than days.
If you work for a smaller business, you must wait for Microsoft 365 to be extended to the Business versions of Microsoft 365, hopefully early 2024.
We suspect that consumers will need to wait until significantly later in the year.
Will Microsoft 365 Copilot work on Macs?
You can now use Copilot on Macs, but by this we mean the AI chat service. For the full power of Microsoft 365 Copilot, you will need to wait for the updated desktop Office apps to appear on Macs. We don’t yet have dates on when those will be available, but early to mid-2024 seems a reasonable bet
Should I be concerned about using Copilot and what are the drawbacks?
The simple answer is that yes, you should. As we detail below, there are good reasons to be concerned about data privacy and sovereignty. The power of Copilot for businesses stems from the fact that it has access to all the relevant data, across all your different comms channels (Teams and Outlook in particular) and storage (think OneDrive and SharePoint).
However, by giving an AI access to that data you’re opening yourself up to some dangerous prospects. What if an employee gets access to classified information? Could a disgruntled employee export your whole sales strategy with a few carefully selected prompts? Might you be sharing sensitive customer data and breaching data protection policies or laws?
Before you implement Microsoft 365 Copilot, then, you need to have a full understanding of the risks alongside all the numerous benefits. For background reading, we recommend reading our separate article about how Microsoft AI makes Bing and Copilot work.
Microsoft Business Chat: ChatGPT for business
Copilot is embedded into Microsoft 365 applications, collaborating with users to achieve the goals listed above. In short, it’s there to maximise both employees’ efficiency and productivity.
Similarly to ChatGPT, Microsoft has introduced a tool called Business Chat. This allows users to give Copilot a natural language prompt and get tasks done across apps and data within Microsoft 365.
In a launch demo for the technology, Microsoft gave the example of preparing for a meeting with a client called Fabrikam. So, using the chat feature in Microsoft Teams, you would ask Copilot “Did anything happen yesterday with Fabrikam?”
The clever bit is that Copilot then searches across all the Microsoft apps and within SharePoint to produce a summary of any emails, meetings and documents.
Business Chat promises to be more than a mere meeting summariser, however. In the second part of the Microsoft demo, it used the example of creating a business plan. Again, Copilot used context gathered from company data: numbers from spreadsheets, comments via email, views expressed on Teams calls.
Through this use of structured and unstructured data, Copilot pulled up (in the example) Q1 projections, risks and even a SWOT analysis. (SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.) If you spot a mistake or want to add anything, you jump in and make the change.
How can companies get ready for Microsoft 365 Copilot?
So that’s the end goal. Now let’s look at the requirements for the current, limited rollout to enterprises:
- An existing subscription to Microsoft 365 E3 or E5
- An Azure Active Directory-based account
- OneDrive or SharePoint accounts
- The new Outlook for Windows
- Desktop or web app version of Teams
- Web version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint (desktop versions to come)
However, to make full use of Microsoft 365 Copilot, companies will need to label their data, allow Copilot to index that data and set up retention policies.
Microsoft is attempting to ensure that data is properly indexed and secured so that sensitive data isn’t seen by members of staff who shouldn’t have access to it.
For example, you may have a financial report sitting in a SharePoint folder now, but it’s unlikely that someone would stumble across it. With Microsoft 365 Copilot, when the AI assistant attempts to draw upon all available data it could surface it.
So, you need to ensure that sensitive files stay locked away from unauthorised employees. Labelling allows you to do precisely that.
The three components of “The Copilot system”
There are three components working in tandem to create what Microsoft calls “The Copilot System”. These three essential parts are:
- the Microsoft 365 apps
- the Microsoft Graph
- a large language model (LLM)
By now, we all have a good understanding of what a large language model is. And we know Microsoft’s LLM is based upon GPT-4. Below, we explain in detail the Microsoft 365 apps and how they integrate with Copilot.
That leaves the Microsoft Graph. This is where all your emails, files, meetings, chats and calendars are located, which provides context for the Copilot system.
The Microsoft 365 apps and Copilot
Here, we provide short summaries of how Microsoft is using Copilot to enhance the Microsoft 365 apps. We will cover each app in more detail in separate articles (some published now, some to come later).
Microsoft Copilot Excel
Excel is one of the world’s most-used tools, but huge swathes of the population don’t touch its power. Copilot for Excel will allow everyone to use natural language to analyse data, so you can see trends and generate insights without having spent two decades honing your skills.
There is no word yet on a release date for Copilot in Excel.
How do I use Copilot in Excel?
The best way to explain how to use Copilot in Excel is via an example, here taken from Microsoft’s own demo. See the video above, which we’ve timestamped to jump to the right point.
Here, you have an Excel spreadsheet with sales figures from Q1. You ask Copilot, “Analyse the data and give me three key trends”. A few seconds later you get a simple bullet point list summarising the three trends it has identified.
You ask Copilot to provide a breakdown of one of those trends. It creates a new sheet that focuses on the relevant data. Great, but you want to visualise it. Copilot knows this, so offers you options such as colour coding and sparklines. Or you can ask in your own words.
For a more detailed guide read our explainer ‘What is Microsoft Copilot Excel?’.
Can I use Microsoft Copilot in Word?
Since the days of WordPerfect, we have wished that the computer could write our content for us. Especially dull, repetitive tasks such as creating monthly reports. With Copilot for Word, that dream looks set to finally become a reality — it can generate text based on your data (such as a proposal based on OneNote notes and Excel files).
And it can generate the new report in the same style as your existing documents.
How do I use Copilot in Outlook?
Copilot for Outlook will be far more than autocomplete on steroids. For a start, it will help you triage your emails, but it will also use context to help you reply quickly and concisely.
Or consider the pain of an email with countless people cc’ed and replying. It will summarise that mish-mash of replies, turning unstructured information into something useful.
Microsoft is putting Outlook right at the forefront of its Copilot revolution, with a desktop app and a mobile version.
Microsoft stated in November 2023 that Copilot in Outlook would arrive in early 2024.
Is Copilot available for PowerPoint?
Copilot can turn natural language prompts into presentations containing multiple slides, animations, transitions and even speaker notes. At the click of a button, Copilot can condense presentations and a user can adjust layouts, reformat text and perfectly time transitions with natural language.
What’s more, Copilot can turn Word documents into PowerPoint presentations. And PowerPoint presentations into Word documents. We do not yet have a release date for Copilot in PowerPoint.
Microsoft Teams has been a huge hit for the company in the past two years, squeezing out Zoom and similar rivals that made such an impression during the early days of the pandemic.
Microsoft has already introduced AI-enhanced recap in Microsoft Teams Premium, a $7-per-month extra subscription service. Even today, it provides intelligent summaries and action items of meetings.
Copilot for Teams already goes further. Using its greater understanding, it will create insights when you ask for them, tailored to your prompts. And where Teams Premium suggests action items, Copilot can actually execute them.
If you arrive late, you can ask Copilot to summarise what’s happened so far. Or, if you never make it at all, you can drill Copilot for details afterwards. That doesn’t merely mean a handy summary; you can ask Copilot questions to delve further into the background as if it was a junior employee attending on your behalf.
Copilot in Teams is already released.
Beyond the core apps
The good news is that the world of Copilot doesn’t stop at the core applications. It’s being built into Copilot on the whiteboard, where users can brainstorm their creative ideas and then use Copilot to organise them into themes. Or it can create designs that bring the concepts to life, or even summarise the whiteboard content.
Copilot for Microsoft Loop will help us stay coordinated by quickly summarising the content on a Loop page, assisting users to get up to speed.
Lastly, later in the year, we will see Copilot in Microsoft Viva Learning, where we can personalise the learning journey to include upskilling paths, relevant language courses, and scheduling the time for the training. We all might have used the excuses above, but the good news is that the future will help us be more efficient.
This article was updated on 25 November 2023 to reflect the ongoing rollout of Microsoft 365 and to add answers to more questions.
Additional reporting by Tim Danton.
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