Microsoft’s intelligent approach to harnessing the power of AI
Full disclosure: this isn’t another article predicting that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is about to make millions of knowledge workers obsolete. Whilst we know that AI already has the power to transform the way people and organisations operate, the potential revolutionary impact of AI is, in fact, being delivered through closer to evolutionary means.
A recent report1 revealed that businesses will adopt AI on a large scale when they believe the conditions are right. For me, one of the most important conditions for adoption is when the technology itself is accessible and easy to consume, and I’m in no doubt that point has arrived. But there are intuitive ways to interact with AI beyond ChatGPT’s well-publicised conversational interface.
Microsoft is applying AI to its mission ‘to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more’, by embedding AI tools into familiar products in the Microsoft 365 suite – and these tools are more pervasive than you might think:
In Outlook, intelligent technology helps teams find the ideal meeting room based on time, availability, location and other preferences.
In Excel, the Ideas feature analyzes data and suggests the clearest and most engaging way to visualise data in charts.
In PowerPoint, QuickStarter searches online for relevant information to add to your presentation, then Ideas suggests professional-looking slide layouts with pictures and icons.
These innovations amplify individuals’ skills and help them achieve better end results. They save time by automating intricate and skilful processes like graphic design. And they democratise AI by bringing it within reach of anyone who has a few basic Microsoft 365 skills.
Beyond Office 365
Microsoft is extending the benefits of AI beyond productivity. GitHub Copilot uses AI to suggest code additions to developers in real time – a big plus for businesses that struggle to find developers with the right skills. While Microsoft Designer is opening up new possibilities in AI-powered creative and graphic design.
Rolling out AI in your organisation
So am I recommending Ultima customers start implementing AI services wherever and however they can? Not quite. But by taking a structured approach, you can deploy AI in ways that will make a real difference:
- Start simple: Assess the products and solutions you already use – like Microsoft 365 – and identify opportunities to make more use of the AI capabilities in these environments.
- Measure progress: Start by evaluating the productivity improvements you gain, but also treat these initial steps as an opportunity to learn more about AI.
- Expand your horizons: As you see the benefits of AI emerging, and your confidence improves, start to look at more detailed AI use cases like data analytics. This can be a game changer in enabling your business to harness and intelligently apply the embedded in your business data.
Optimism, pragmatism and judgement
Despite AI’s profound potential, it’s not yet perfect. Today I believe tools like ChatGPT, and even the AI capabilities in Microsoft 365, are a powerful complement to the way people work rather than a replacement. Getting the right results from these tools will depend on asking the right questions, and on providing the right instructions up front. Then using human intelligence and experience to filter, judge and refine the end results.
For example, transcripts of Teams calls are a handy time-saver for meeting attendees. But I wouldn’t share one with a customer CIO or CTO before making certain it was free from errors. And yes, Chat GPT’s ability to create marketing content is remarkable. But it would be very risky for organisations to publish AI-generated content without first checking for accuracy, off-brand messages, or making sure it was crafted to make the right connections with your audience.
A positive outlook
At Ultima, we all agree that AI is a transformational and hugely valuable technology. But away from the headlines, I believe Microsoft is already doing really valuable work to bring the power of AI to a wide audience in useful and familiar ways. I'd encourage businesses to embrace AI systematically, starting with a focus on these types of productivity tools, and building from there.
Dennis Goedegebuure, Senior Technical Consultant and Microsoft MVP, Business Applications