Microsoft inside track #1: new capabilities boost productivity

Microsoft inside track #1: new capabilities boost productivity

What’s Microsoft got in store for you over the coming year?

We went to the Ignite conference in Florida recently to find out – and this post is the first in a series covering new services and improvements to expect in 2020.

First up, I wanted to focus on the productivity improvements that are coming across Microsoft 365. For those not up to speed with all of Microsoft’s jargon, Microsoft 365 is a subscription-based ‘productivity suite’ for businesses, which combines Office 365 with simple device management and security.

The big announcement from Microsoft this year was Project Cortex. This is an amazing innovation which is built on SharePoint and is a culmination of Microsoft Search, Graph, PowerApps and Artificial Intelligence (AI) from the engineers at Microsoft Research.

Project Cortex applies AI to organise and classify content across all the Microsoft 365 apps, from SharePoint to Outlook and Word.  The content is automatically collated into its own SharePoint Online Wiki page covering the topic. It includes the key people on that topic area and all related documents across Microsoft 365 which users have access to – including Teams Channel messages, SharePoint Online, Stream and Yammer.

Another step forward is the AI Builder interface, which is used to build models and use machine learning using the PowerApps Platform directly integrated into SharePoint.

An example is creating an AI Builder workflow to ‘mine’ content from documents that you upload into a SharePoint Document Library. This will allow you to extract data automatically and add to SharePoint without user intervention, for example identifying headers and extracting data from a Purchase Order form uploaded as either a PDF or even a JPG image.

Intelligent intranet
To improve the intelligence intranet experience for users, Microsoft announced SharePoint Home Sites. Rolling out now, SharePoint Home Sites provides personalised content for each user based on data from Microsoft Graph, and on the access that the specific user has to SharePoint sites.

Other new improvements include multiple language support, and page scheduling to set the time that new intranet items are posted.

Content & team collaboration
I’ll cover Office more in subsequent blog posts, but there are some interesting changes to mention now. Firstly, all Office applications have improved how they handle reviewing and collaboration outside of the document itself. When you @mention a user in a comment, this is tracked and fed into Microsoft Graph for Office apps such as Outlook, Tasks and Teams.

For example, if someone comments on a document with an @mention, this will initiate an email to the user mentioned, with a snapshot of the document referencing the review and corresponding comment. The user can then reply to the email, with their response appearing in the Word document as a reply to the comment – with all of this done directly from email without opening the document in Office.

Collaboration is also improved in Excel, which now enables multiple users to each have a private view of a spreadsheet they are co-authoring. Sounds like a small change, but for some people it will have a big impact.

Developer platform & business apps
A major shift to come is an increase in capabilities for scripting and automation tasks that can be carried out without coding – which has the potential for big efficiencies. Office Scripts allows you to automate a set of tasks which can then be saved and configured to automatically run, based on actions in SharePoint. For example, a user can create a script to automatically format documents when they are uploaded to a document library.

Another new Microsoft announcement is Fluid Framework, which enables users to collaborate more smoothly: with snappier real-time co-authoring, AI integration such as real-time translation, and co-authoring on just one part of a file (without opening the full document). We saw a demo of this in action, and it was impressive.

Integration everywhere
You can see the direction Microsoft is taking with these changes overall: over time, the technologies that are being developed will integrate more and more closely together. With appropriate security controls to ensure compliance, users will be able to access, edit and co-author content wherever convenient across the Microsoft 365 services, including Teams chat, email, OneNote and Office documents.

The potential for productivity improvement is massive. With properly configured applications, tools and scripts, users will be able to automate repetitive tasks, to collaborate more closely together, and to cut out the time they spend opening and closing documents.

We look forward to helping our customers implement these new capabilities from Microsoft and seeing just how they will benefit from them.