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Introduction to Microsoft Copilot: the AI assistant for Microsoft 365

what is microsoft copilot? paper cut outs of question marks surround a glowing Copilot logo

Since Copilot launched in November 2023, it’s hard to ignore the buzz about Microsoft’s new AI assistant.

In the space of a few months, generative AI has leapt from the pages of science fiction and become a serious productivity tool. Blink, and you’re left behind. So let’s get back to basics. What is Copilot?

We caught up with Mark and Kirsty, two of our resident Microsoft 365 experts at The Inform Team. In this article, we’ll explain in simple terms what Microsoft Copilot is, how it works, and where it fits into the wider landscape of AI tools for work.

What is Microsoft 365 Copilot?

In the simplest terms, Copilot is a Microsoft assistant that uses AI to speed up busywork and help you get things done.

It is a user-friendly generative AI tool embedded within Microsoft 365 apps. It’s available in Microsoft Teams, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and Excel.

You can ask Copilot questions and set tasks through a chat box, just as you might ask a colleague on Teams.

Who owns Copilot?

Copilot is owned by Microsoft, and is powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 model. This is the same AI technology behind ChatGPT, the free generative AI tool that took the world by storm in 2023.

Unlike ChatGPT, Copilot was specifically designed for business use. It comes with a price tag and Microsoft’s industry-leading data security systems.

How does Copilot work?

Microsoft 365 Copilot works by combining information from a large language model (LLM), with the information held securely in the documents, folders and chats within your organisation’s Microsoft 365 tenant.

The real draw of Copilot for Microsoft 365 is that it can pull real-time information from the channels, meetings, and documents you have access to across M365.

The large language model is trained on public data and is hosted in the Microsoft Cloud via the Azure OpenAI service. However, your files, documents and chats are securely accessed via Microsoft Graph.

This information doesn’t leave your system and is not used to train the AI.

What can Copilot do?

Copilot can streamline a lot of our everyday digital processes, according to M365 expert, Kirsty Brown.

“There’s a couple of things that Copilot can do,” she explains. “Let’s imagine we’re in Teams and just finished a meeting. Copilot can create a meeting summary and action list automatically.

“In Outlook it can help you manage your inbox – which I’m really looking forward to! And in Excel, it can quickly turn a boring spreadsheet into a visual dashboard, with all your key insight ready to go.”

What can’t Microsoft 365 Copilot do?

Copilot isn’t magic – and it isn’t a substitute for hard work either (we know, we’re sorry).

According to Mark Thompson, Microsoft 365 training specialist, “Copilot can only suggest content and create a draft for you to work on. You’ve still got to do your work, you’ve still got to bring the humanity to it – your knowledge, your judgement and empathy and all that other stuff.”

Copilot is designed to work in tandem with humans, it’s not gearing up to replace us. The ultimate limitation of Copilot is that it cannot replicate the creativity, passion, empathy and dedication that we bring to work each day.

Is Microsoft’s AI assistant secure?

When ChatGPT launched, we heard about the Samsung developers that accidentally made protected source code public. These horror stories highlight the business risks of using free AI tools. Especially when organisations don’t have a clear AI policy in place.

Do the same security concerns apply for Copilot?

According to Mark, Copilot’s ability to access documents across your organisation can initially set alarm bells ringing, but – as with many things – the solution comes down to good data governance.

Putting the right policies, communication and training in place is the key to making sure your people can use Microsoft productivity tools, including Copilot, securely.

“Microsoft 365 only lets you see what you’re allowed to look at. It’s the same with Copilot. It can only access data with the correct permissions in place.

If I ask Copilot to update me on a project while I’ve been away, it can only update me on the parts I’m allowed to see. If there are aspects of the project that are classified, I can’t get that data. It won’t exist to me without the correct permissions.”

Mark Thompson, M365 specialist

What does Copilot cost?

Copilot for Microsoft 365 is priced at £24.70 per user per month. This pricing applies for customers with Microsoft 365 E3, E5, Business Standard and Business Premium licences.

Is there a free version of Copilot?

There are a few free versions of Microsoft Copilot, including Copilot in Edge, Copilot in Bing, and the Copilot mobile app. The free version of Copilot can answer questions and generate both text and imagery, but it can’t access your files or M365 applications.

Copilot demo: watch Copilot in action

To see Copilot for Microsoft 365 for yourself, check out our live demonstration in our recent AI webinar series:

How to prepare for Copilot?

The arrival of powerful AI tools on our work devices is probably one of the biggest cultural changes we’ve seen in the workplace since the introduction of email.

To make it a success, you’ll need an engaged and informed workforce, a people-first culture, and AI governance policies that are fit for purpose.

At Inform, our AI support squad are here to help. From change management, culture, communications and training, our team of specialists can help you navigate Copilot successfully.

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