Need a Copilot?
20 March 2023
Emanating from Github Copilot, where feedback indicated that 88% of users were more productive, 77% spent less time pounding the internet search engines and 74% found their work became more satisfying, Microsoft announced Microsoft 365 Copilot in mid-March. And it’s certainly whipped up a frenzy…
So what the heck is it?
Copilot combines the power of Large Language Models (LLMs) with data in your Microsoft 365 apps, products and services to convert your words into productivity tools – all whilst maintaining the software giant’s existing commitments to data security and privacy in the enterprise.
It’s integrated into Microsoft 365 in two ways:
- It is embedded in the Microsoft 365 apps (e.g. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams) to facilitate more creative and productive solutions, upgrading your skills at the same time
- Business Chat: this works across the LLM, the Microsoft 365 apps, and your data (e.g. calendar, emails, chats, documents, meetings, contacts) to undertake tasks which would have been more complex to coordinate previously, such as “tell my team how we updated the product strategy” whereby it might generate a status update based on the morning’s meetings, emails and chat threads.
Obviously we don’t have access to it yet, but we summarise Microsoft’s own comments below.
Copilot in Excel
This will work beside end users / modellers to help analyse and explore spreadsheet data. You will be able to ask Copilot questions about your data set in natural language, not just formulae, making Excel more accessible to all (looks like we might be out of a job then!). It can detail correlations, propose what-if scenarios and suggest formulae based upon your questions, identify trends, create visuals, producing results based on your questions that help you explore your data without modifying it.
Microsoft lists the following as viable examples:
- Give a breakdown of the sales by type and channel, displaying the results in a table
- Project the impact of a 3% increase in inflation and generate a chart to help visualise
- Model how a change to the growth rate for staff wages would impact my gross margin.
Copilot in Word
Copilot in Word writes, edits, summarises and creates copies as requested. With only a brief prompt, it will create a first draft for you, bringing in information from across your organisation as needed. Copilot can add content to existing documents, summarise text, and rewrite sections or the entire document to make it more concise. You can even get suggested tones, from professional to passionate and casual to thankful, to help you strike the right note. Copilot can also help you improve your writing with suggestions that strengthen your arguments or smooth inconsistencies (maybe it has even learned to spell “liaise”!!).
Microsoft suggests the following examples:
- Draft a two-page project proposal based on the data from the Budget Forecast document for 2023 and the Sales Forecast spreadsheet
- Make the third paragraph more concise
- Change the tone of the document to be more casual
- Create a one-page draft based on this rough outline.
Copilot in PowerPoint
Here, Copilot helps you turn your ideas into presentations. It can transform existing written documents into decks complete with speaker notes and sources or start a new presentation from a simple prompt or outline. Are we needed anymore!? Lengthy presentations may be condensed at the click of a button and use natural language commands to adjust layouts, reformat text and time animations.
Yet again, here are some suggested examples:
- Create a five-slide presentation based on a Word document and include relevant stock photos
- Consolidate this presentation into a three-slide summary
- Reformat these three bullets into three columns, each with a picture.
Copilot in Other Applications
In Outlook, Copilot can work with your inbox and messages to summarise lengthy email threads, respond to emails quickly or wordsmith emails to sound more professional, and request a summary of unread emails, send out invitations, etc.
In Teams, meetings can be run more effectively, where Copilot can summarise outstanding action points, previous conversations and discussions, and create meeting agendas.
Business Chat is a new experience that works across all your data and apps. As above, it works alongside you, using the power of the Microsoft Graph to bring together data from across your documents, presentations, email, calendar, notes and contacts. You may bring together information from multiple sources to keep everyone on the team on the same page and moving forward together. As a result, you should spend less time focused on the tools and more time focused on the most important work.
It is slowly being rolled out in Preview in Microsoft Teams.
Examples here might include:
- Summarise the chats, emails and documents about the customer complaint made earlier today
- What is the next milestone on the Invade Mars project? Were there any risks identified? Help me brainstorm a list of some potential mitigations
- Write a new planning overview in the style of the Marketing Guidelines document that contains the planning timeline from the Project Xerxes spreadsheet and incorporates the project list in the email from Shania Twain (OK, I have used a little bit of imagination here…).
No doubt if you have read this far, you want to know exactly where you can get this and how to download it in the next 30 seconds or less. Well, the announcementhas been made. Currently, Microsoft is testing Microsoft 365 Copilot with 20 customers, including eight in Fortune 500 enterprises. They will be expanding these Previews to customers more broadly in the coming months and industry commentators believe it is likely to roll out in the US first (similar to other new initiatives).
There have already been some interesting debates on the internet though, stemming from Github Copilot. Some are concerned whether the software is “raiding” copyrighted material out there already. However, various third parties have commented that copyright law has only ever applied to intellectual creations – so where there is no creator, there is no work. This means that machine-generated code like that of GitHub Copilot is not a work under copyright law at all, so it is not a derivative work either. To be clear, this is not SumProduct’s advice, we are merely restating comments made by more learned folk than ourselves.
Whatever, the future’s coming: watch this space!