This post is the first in a series covering the new services and improvements coming to Microsoft over the coming year following the recent trip to the Microsoft Ignite conference.
I wanted to focus on some of the productivity improvements that are coming across Microsoft 365, which I have broken into the categories of Knowledge, Intelligent Intranet, Content & Team Collaboration, Development Platform and Security & Compliance.
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 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. The content includes the key people on that topic area and all related documents across M365 which users have access to including Teams Channel messages, SharePoint Online, Stream and Yammer.
The screenshot above shows, Project Cortex natively integrates across the Office Apps. The screenshot is in fact from Outlook and shows Project Cortex identifying a project acronym.
This integration extends across to Teams with a Knowledge Bot, which users can use to update the content gathered by Project Cortex or to even ask for the same information gathered by Cortex.
The capabilities of Project Cortex extend beyond the knowledge centre capabilities and include so much more machine learning and machine teaching potential.
One of the coolest functionalities is the AI Builder interface. AI Builder is an interface to build models and use machine learning using the PowerApps Platform directly integrated into SharePoint.
For example, uploading a Purchase Order form to a document library as either a PDF or even a JPG image (!). The AI Builder is initially configured to identify the relevant headers, e.g. PO Number, Status, Address, Item Number. This will create the corresponding columns in the Document Library for these headers.
Once the document is uploaded to the document library, it will automatically extract the data and add it to the SharePoint Document Library columns.
This is very powerful and shows the innovations which are coming to SharePoint and across M365.
The main announcements to improve the intelligence intranet experience for users are SharePoint Home Sites. This is being released to all Targeted Release tenant by end of November with global roll out expected to be completed in few weeks.
SharePoint Home Sites provides a personalised content for each user based on data from Microsoft Graph and the access that specific user has to SharePoint sites across the tenant.
In addition to Home Sites, additional improvements which are being released is the ability to switch to multiple languages on pages within SharePoint Online and Page Scheduling to decide when pages can go live. This is a useful feature in situations where you need the ability to schedule release of news posts on the company intranet.
Content & Team Collaboration
All office applications will now provide an improved user experience on co-authoring documents. In addition to visual improvements to the experience, there is also a big change on empowering users to review and collaborate 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.
Microsoft Excel will now provide ability to create private views on documents which are being co-authored. Consider the scenario where an Excel spreadsheet is being edited at the same time by two users. Each user can edit the same Sheet but have different filters applied to the sheet view.
This may seem a small feature but has a big impact for end users being able to collaborate in a much better way within excel documents.
Office App for iOS & Android
This is a great new Office mobile app for both iOS and Android. This is actually merging Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Office Lens into a single app!
I have more on this in my next post, where I cover using this app in preview on my phone.
A major shift which is coming is an increase in capabilities for scripting and automation tasks to be carried out without coding.
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 an Office Script, which will automatically format documents to be in the same format each time new documents are uploaded to a document library.
The above is a basic example of where this could be used but has the potential to provide great efficiencies in an organisation. I think this also provides us the ability to expand the consultancy offering we provide our customers when delivering Microsoft 365 Services. If we can build a library of Office Scripts which can be adapted to customers needs with minimal change, we can increase the value add we provide to the solution with little additional Professional Services cost internal.
A major announcement within this space from Microsoft this year is Fluid Framework. This will be available in public preview in the next few weeks. I saw a demo of this in action, which was impressive. This introduces a big change in the way users will be able to collaborate across not just devices but applications itself.
The fluid framework can be broken down in to 3 main capabilities which I will expand on:
- Co-authoring at Hyper speed: The demo that I saw was demonstrating real-time co-authoring updates to the document with very low latency between updates.
- Work with Intelligent Agents: Fluid Framework provides capabilities to provide AI integration into the document. For example, with the language bot, the real-time co-authoring will display all updates in the language of your choice. So, while I am typing away in English, a second user can be seeing my updates appear in French in real-time! This will currently be available in 9 languages, but the potential is there for this to be expanded. An example of other intelligent agent capabilities includes Design Ideas, Proofing and Security Scanning.
- Fluid Components: This allows components from a fluid document to be pasted to an email, or to Teams and allow users to collaborate from within their app directly on just that component. For example, a Table of figures can be pasted into a Teams conversation and sent in an email to a colleague. Those users can utilise the same super fast co-authoring and intelligent agent integrations but from their own application without opening the same document. The screenshot below shows the same Fluid Component being used across PowerPoint, Outlook Web App and SharePoint.
You can see the direction Microsoft is taking with this, overtime the technologies that are being developed and overtime will be improved will eventually integrate in to the experiences we see across the Microsoft 365 services such as Teams chat, Email, OneNote and Office documents…very exciting times ahead!
Security & Compliance
One of the great announcements under this area was around Information Barriers across Microsoft 365.
This is an important enhancement which allows a complete isolatation of a group of users across all of Microsoft 365. This allows Microsoft 365 services to be deployed across financial institutions which legally require different units of the business to not interact with each other. Such as, Investment Bankers and Advisers within the same Bank.
The level to which this separation occurs is right to the heart of M365 services, the investment banker in the above example would not be able to lookup the Advisor when searching on Teams, Outlook view each other in the Address Book and view content relating to them across SharePoint Online.
That’s all for this post, I will be posting some further updates in the coming weeks covering additional topics from Microsoft Ignite.