Sep 25 2017

Artificial Intelligence: The Common Thread Weaving Microsoft’s Modern Offerings Together

At Ignite, Microsoft demonstrates how AI can harness the power of Office 365, LinkedIn, Graph API, Bing for Business and Cortana.

Li-Chen Miller put artificial intelligence as an everyday office tool through its paces at Microsoft Ignite 2017 in Orlando, Fla.

By combining AI-powered search and discovery with the functionality and data pools available across a sweep of Microsoft tools — LinkedIn, the Microsoft Graph application programming interface, Office 365, Bing for Business and the Cortana virtual assistant —Miller demonstrated how AI can help businesses be more productive. Her demo also suggested that by using AI to gain context and backstory, workers — perhaps intriguingly and counterintuitively — can also interact a lot more personally.

Miller, partner group program manager for AI & research at Microsoft, used a hypothetical co-worker as an example and described the potential ease with which these tools, infused with AI, would let her familiarize herself with his background, their mutual connections and past communications.

“All I have to do is click on his people card and the data from the LinkedIn Graph gives me a holistic view of his past work experience, his education, and I can also see communications that we have exchanged, as well as files we previously shared,” she said.

“With a simple click of a connect button we can totally be BFFs and professionally connected, and be in each other’s LinkedIn network just like that. This is the first of many LinkedIn integrations with Microsoft 365 that you will see in the upcoming months.”

AI for the People

For Miller, empowering the worker and boosting productivity means arming an organization’s employees with technology that meets their needs on their schedule and at their convenience. To achieve that requires realizing that vital information isn’t subject to following any strictly defined workflow. Although Microsoft made its name in the software business on the operating system side of the house, these days it is far more focused on developing tools to make work life simple, effortless and convenient.

“I spend a lot of time every day looking for stuff like mission-critical information, answers to questions that I should probably already know, basic URLs, basic links… I struggle,” Miller said. Now, Office 365, SharePoint and Delve do “a great job of helping me find resources in the context of my workflow.”

In the near future, Microsoft 365, the company’s new one-stop offering that combines subscriptions to Office 365, Windows 10 and other products, will become more intelligent, personal and contextualized, she said.

The company plans to do this by layering in AI capabilities. For instance, Bing for Business, an enterprise version of Microsoft’s well-known consumer search product Bing, uses AI and its search prowess to add context and keep vital information within reach at all times.

“We’re going to bring this Microsoft Graph-powered experience directly to the browser,” Miller said. “Bing for Business can transform the way you work by securely accessing the information from enterprise resources and bring it together in one place.”

For those with concerns from a human resources perspective, fear not. Systems administrators will be able to set user policies for Bing for Business so that workers can tap only that data for which they have been authorized access, she said.

Cortana at Your Service

Not to be left behind in the AI buzz and excitement at the show, Cortana, Microsoft’s AI-powered mobile virtual assistant, also was touted as an agent of transformation in the modern workplace.

With Cortana’s integration into the Microsoft 365 suite, it too can now draw on the same Microsoft and LinkedIn Graph data and internal company tools, the latter of which can also be customized. To bring the point home, Miller tasked Cortana with a critical mission during her session.

“I want to take a vacation next week,” she told Cortana.

Within seconds, the virtual assistant responded that Miller’s time off had been reported to HR, a reminder had been added to her calendar and her autoreply out-of-office message had been set. Vacation mode, activated.

Read more articles from BizTech coverage of Microsoft Ignite 2017 here


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