Tech Insight : Copilot Product Update – Some Pros And Cons

Following Microsoft’s recent announcement that it is expanding its Copilot product line-up to appeal to a larger range of businesses, we take a look at what this means and some of the stand-out pros and cons.

Copilot 

In November last year, Microsoft, a major investor in AI through its partnership with OpenAI (ChatGPT’s creators) announced that its long-awaited Copilot AI “companion” was generally available to enterprises. Copilot is essentially Microsoft’s own GenAI chatbot that’s been designed to integrate with the suite of popular apps in Microsoft 365 and uses a variant of the GPT-4 model, specifically tailored and optimised for integration with Microsoft‘s apps.  Microsoft says Copilot: “combines the power of large language models (LLMs) with your data in the Microsoft Graph (API), the Microsoft 365 apps, and the web to turn your words into the most powerful productivity tool on the planet”.

Open AI’s ChatGPT, however, was launched a whole year earlier and started charging for its ChatGPT Plus version in February 2023. At the same time, another major AI player, Google, launched its ‘Bard’ in an effort to integrate advanced AI and language model capabilities into Google’s suite of products and services (like Copilot integrates with Microsoft’s 365 suite of products).

With the major tech companies quickly introducing, monetising and competing with their AI products, what’s Microsoft’s latest move with Copilot?

Expansion 

Microsoft recently announced that it is expanding Copilot for Microsoft 365 “to businesses of all sizes” by adding new ‘Copilot Pro’ subscription for individuals, expanding Copilot for Microsoft 365 availability to SME-sized businesses, and announcing a no-seat minimum for commercial plans. To summarise these developments:

Just as individuals can buy ChatGPT Plus subscription, individuals can now also buy a Copilot Pro subscription for the same amount ($20 per month). Like ChatGPT, Microsoft says Copilot Pro gives access to the latest GPT-4 model at peak times and an AI image tool – in this case ‘Designer’ (formerly Bing Image Creator). Other positives highlighted by Microsoft include commercial-grade data security protection and Copilot embedded in Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Users can also build their own Copilot GPT (just as ChatGPT users can build their own tailored chatbots – known as GPTs).

For Businesses 

Most relevant to the focus of this article, however, is what businesses can now get, and how much it’s going to cost.

For example, SMEs can now buy a $30 (£24.70) per person, per month subscription (which may sound a little steep if you’re a small business) for Copilot for Microsoft 365. It’s available to Microsoft 365 Business Standard or Business Premium licence customers. Being targeted at smaller businesses means it has a no-seat minimum and, in line with the idea that all businesses (“individuals, enterprises, and everyone in between”) can use Copilot, up to 300 seats can be purchased. Again, if your business needs a couple of hundred seats worth, and with apparently no free trial or volume discounts, the $30 per user per/month price may be a little daunting.

That said, many businesses are still relatively new to Copilot, may not have leveraged most of its features and, as such, may not have a clear idea of its value to compare to the price. Microsoft is (of course) confident that SMEs “stand to gain the most from this era of generative AI—and Copilot is uniquely suited to meet their needs.” 

Up Front? 

Whereas Microsoft’s subscription services usually offer a choice between monthly or annual payment plans, with the annual plan often providing a saving compared to monthly, there have been reports that the $30 per month is for an annual commitment with payment required upfront. As more information makes it online about user experiences it may soon become clearer if this is the only option for some users.

What You Get 

A Copilot for Microsoft 365 subscription offers users the same as Pro, only with Enterprise-grade security, plus Copilot in Teams (which may be very useful for reviewing the main points, action items, and providing summaries), and Microsoft Graph Grounding. Essentially, it enables work content and context to be added to Microsoft Copilot’s chat capabilities.

Also, customisation through Copilot Studio is possible. This tool enables users to customise and extend the capabilities of their Copilot and to create, customise, and share “skills” or specific tasks that Copilot can perform. In short, the benefit of Copilot Studio is that it enables businesses to tailor the AI’s functionalities to their unique workflows and needs.

What Else? 

Other key points from Microsoft’s announcement include:

– Microsoft is removing the Microsoft 365 prerequisite for Copilot—so now, Office 365 E3 and E5 customers are eligible to purchase.

– The Semantic Index for Copilot to Office 365 users with a paid Copilot license is being extended. Semantic Index works with the Copilot System and the Microsoft Graph to create a map of all the data and content in your organisation, thereby enabling 365 Copilot to deliver “personalised, relevant, and actionable responses”.  

The Word Online 

With this being still the beginning of a generative AI revolution and with much attention being focused on comparisons between leading products such as ChatGPT, there are many opinions online about how Copilot may compare. For example, some commentators point out that Copilot has the benefit of being trained on the huge resources of GitHub, while others say ChatGPT can produce outputs showing it too has been trained on GitHub. Also, some emphasise the value of Copilot being able to get the hang of your codebase, learn your style conventions, and adapt to your suggestions, whereas ChatGPT may be better for inspiration and occasional queries. At the moment, more people have used ChatGPT than have used Copilot for any length of time, so opinions vary.

A Possible Fly In The Ointment? 

Although Microsoft is forging ahead with the expansion, segmentation, and monetisation of Copilot, one possible fly in the ointment may be the outcome of the current antitrust investigation into Microsoft’s close relationship with OpenAI.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Microsoft has invested heavily in AI, mainly through its relationship with OpenAI, and its much-heralded Copilot, its answer to ChatGPT, is now being made generally available to businesses as Copilot for Microsoft 365. This will of course allow it to compete with OpenAI and Google’s AI products and generate some revenue for Microsoft after years of investment.

Microsoft is aiming fairly wide with its “individuals, enterprises, and everyone in between” market to maximise reach, accessibility, and revenue opportunities. However, many of the SMEs that Microsoft says Copilot for 365 will be perfect for may be thinking that the price (and perhaps the requirement to pay a year upfront) is a little daunting, given that many have not yet had any/much experience of Copilot and may be unaware of how much value it may add. That said, Microsoft designed Copilot with the integration into (and leveraging of) its suite of apps in mind, which is where it has the edge over standalone AI offerings. Also, Microsoft and OpenAI’s close (possibly too close) relationship has meant that Microsoft’s AI products are on the cutting edge.

For many small businesses who are already familiar with (and committed to) Microsoft’s products, it’s likely to be a case of looking at the numbers and seeking a little more information, perhaps from their Managed Service Provider, before taking the plunge.

Tech Insight : A Dozen Ways Copilot Can Help Your Business

With Microsoft’s Copilot AI assistant now embedded within the Microsoft 365 apps and services to help users save time and increase productivity, we look at a dozen things you can do with Copilot to help your business.

Microsoft 365 Copilot 

Copilot fuses ChatGPT version 4 and Microsoft Graph. More specifically, Copilot is designed to integrate the capabilities of ChatGPT version 4 (a sophisticated language model developed by OpenAI), with the extensive data and connectivity provided by Microsoft Graph.

Microsoft Graph is an API platform that enables developers to access and integrate data and insights from various Microsoft services and applications, such as Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security, facilitating the creation of rich, interconnected applications within the Microsoft ecosystem.

This integration allows Copilot to leverage the conversational AI capabilities of ChatGPT in conjunction with the rich data ecosystem of Microsoft 365, enhancing productivity and offering more advanced features within Microsoft’s suite of applications.

Microsoft says Copilot can increase an employee’s productivity by as much as 50 per cent and that it can unlock the other 90 per cent of things that its apps can do that most users never try.

A Dozen Ways Copilot Can Help 

With this in mind, here are a dozen ways that you can use Copilot to help with your business:

1. Automating Customer Service Responses 

Copilot can manage routine customer service queries by providing instant, accurate responses to FAQs. This helps by reducing wait times and improving customer satisfaction. It can also act as a way to identify and escalate the more complex issues to human representatives, ensuring a balance between efficiency and having a personal touch.

2. Generating Reports and Summaries 

Microsoft 365 Copilot can also analyse large sets of data to generate detailed reports and executive summaries. This can be really helpful in identifying key metrics and trends, which are essential for strategic planning and decision-making, without the need for manual data crunching. This is an important way that Copilot can save time and effort and add more transparency to a business.

3. Drafting and Editing All Manner Of Business Documents 

Copilot assists in creating professional business documents, emails, and presentations. It offers suggestions on content, structure, and style, ensuring that the documents are not only well-written but also tailored to their intended audience. Again, this can save time and improve productivity but also improve the quality of business communications.

4. Data Analysis and Insights 

By analysing complex datasets, Copilot can uncover valuable insights, helping businesses understand customer behaviour, market trends, and operational efficiency. This leads to more informed decision-making and strategy development.

5. Scheduling and Calendar Management 

It streamlines calendar management by scheduling meetings, appointments, and events based on your availability. It can also send automated reminders and updates, ensuring efficient time management and reducing scheduling conflicts.

6. Training and Educational Resources 

Copilot can create custom training materials and educational content that are specifically tailored to a company’s processes and systems. This can help in onboarding new employees more efficiently and keeping the workforce updated on new tools and practices. This can, of course, also save money on training and potentially improve the efficiency of training (because it can be more targeted and customised).

7. Automating Routine Tasks 

For tasks like data entry, inventory management, and basic accounting, Copilot can automate these processes, thereby reducing the risk of human error and allowing employees to focus on more strategic and creative tasks.

8. Language Translation and Localisation 

Microsoft Copilot can also be used to facilitate global business operations by translating documents and communications into various languages, ensuring that businesses can effectively communicate with international clients and partners.

9. Market Research and Analysis 

Copilot can scour the internet and various databases to conduct market research, analyse industry trends, and provide actionable insights, helping businesses stay ahead in their market.

10. Social Media Management 

Copilot can also help with creating, scheduling, and analysing social media posts. Copilot can also track engagement metrics, thereby helping businesses understand their audience better and refine their social media strategies.

11. Project Management Assistance  

Microsoft 365 Copilot can also help with tracking project milestones, resource allocation, and progress updates. This can ensure that projects stay on track, resources are efficiently used, and stakeholders are kept informed.

12. Legal and Compliance Documentation 

One other really helpful aspect of Copilot is that it can assist in drafting legal documents and ensure that business operations comply with relevant laws and regulations. This is crucial for mitigating legal risks and maintaining a company’s reputation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The integration of Microsoft’s Copilot AI into the Microsoft 365 suite is a significant advancement for 365 and for business technology generally. With Copilot embedded in popular 365 apps, businesses now have a powerful ‘always on’ tool at their disposal to help with productivity, efficiency, creativity, adding value, and more. As such, this integration goes beyond mere convenience, and it taps into the unrealised potential of Microsoft 365, unlocking functionalities that many users have yet to explore, i.e. it can help businesses to leverage (and get more out of) what they’re already paying for from Microsoft.

By being able to quickly and easily automate tasks, e.g. from customer service to complex data analysis, Copilot not only saves time but also enhances creativity and leaves employees free to focus on more strategic and innovative tasks, thereby elevating the quality of work and driving business growth. Also, Copilot’s intuitive, natural language capabilities, akin to those of ChatGPT version 4, make it a user-friendly assistant that can simplify complex tasks and make technology more accessible to everyone in the organisation.

Copilot, therefore, serves as a tool for upskilling employees. It exposes them to a broader range of Microsoft 365 capabilities, fostering a deeper understanding and more efficient use of the software. This aspect of Copilot is particularly valuable as it achieves upskilling organically, without the need for additional training resources. It could be said that Copilot is not just enhancing productivity, but it’s also expanding the technological proficiency of the entire workforce.

For businesses, in addition to streamlining operations, Copilot can also help deliver a competitive edge e.g., the insights gleaned from Copilot’s data analysis and market research capabilities can inform strategic decisions, offering a clearer view of market trends and customer behaviours. Its ability to handle language translations and ensure compliance with legal standards positions businesses for global reach and operational safety may also be of real use for many businesses.

Microsoft 365 Copilot, therefore, is more than an incremental update to business software, but could prove to a transformative tool that can significantly enhance how businesses operate (if businesses make sure they use it). The rewards for using what is a comprehensive, and relatively easy-to-use solution that unlocks the power of the 365 apps could be to propel your businesses into a new era of efficiency and innovation.

Tech Insight : No Email Backup For Microsoft 365?

In this insight, we look at what many users think to be a surprising fact in that Microsoft 365 doesn’t provide a traditional email backup solution, and we look at what businesses can do about this.

Did You Know?…. 

Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft 365 (previously known as Office 365) is not designed as a traditional “backup” solution in the way many businesses might think of backups. Most importantly, email isn’t properly “backed-up” by Microsoft. Instead, the onus is on the business-owner to find their own email backup solution. In fact, Microsoft 365’s backup and recovery default settings only really protect your data for 30-90 days on average.

So, How Does It Handle Email and Other Data? 

Although Microsoft 365 doesn’t automatically provide a traditional email backup, it does provide some email and data handling protections that can include aspects of email. For example:

– Microsoft has multiple copies of your data as part of its ‘data resilience.’  For example, if there’s an issue with one data centre or a disk fails, they can recover data from their copies. Although this can help, it’s not the same as a backup that can be used to recover from accidental deletions, malicious activity, etc.

– Microsoft 365 provides retention policies that allow you to specify how long data (like emails) are kept in user mailboxes. Even if a user deletes an email, it can, therefore, be retained in a hidden part of their mailbox for a period you specify.

– For legal purposes, it is possible to put an entire mailbox (or just specific emails) on “Litigation Hold”, which basically ensures that the emails can’t be deleted or modified. Also, eDiscovery tools / document review software can be used by legal professionals for searching across the environment for specific data, e.g. to find emails, documents CAD/CAM files, databases, image files, and more.

– Microsoft’s archiving, i.e. where older emails can be automatically moved to an archive mailbox, can be one way to help businesses ensure that critical data is retained without cluttering the primary mailbox.

– When users delete emails, they go to the ‘Deleted Items’ folder. If emails are deleted from there, they go to the ‘Recoverable Items’ folder, where they remain for another 14 days (by default, but this can be extended) and can, therefore, be recovered.

Limitations 

Although these features help with retaining some important business data and emails, they’re not a substitute for a dedicated and complete email backup solution, and they have their limitations, which are:

– They may not protect against all types of data loss, especially if data gets deleted before a retention policy is set or if the retention period expires. For example, with email archiving, when an item reaches the end of its aging period, it is automatically deleted from Microsoft 365.

– They may not facilitate easy recovery if a user accidentally (or maliciously) deletes a vast amount of critical data.

– They don’t offer a separate, offsite backup in case of catastrophic issues or targeted attacks.

Third-Party Backup Solutions

Given these limitations and given that most businesses would feel more secure knowing that they have a proper email backup solution in place (such as for the sake of business continuity and disaster recovery following a cyber-attack or other serious incident), many businesses opt for third-party backup solutions specifically designed for Microsoft 365 to provide another layer of protection.

These solutions can offer more traditional backup and valued recovery capabilities, such as ‘point-in-time restoration’.

Backup Soultions

There are many examples of third-party Office 365 and email backup solutions and for most businesses, their managed support provider is able to provide an email backup solution that meets their specific needs.

Does Google Backup Your Gmail Emails? 

As with Microsoft 365, Google provides a range of data retention and resilience features for Gmail (especially for its business-oriented services like Google Workspace) but these aren’t traditional backup solutions. The retention and resilience features Google’s Gmail does provide include:

– For data resilience, Google has multiple data copies. If one fails, another ensures data availability.

– Deleted Gmail emails stay in ‘Trash’ for 30 days, allowing user recovery.

– The ‘Google Vault for Google Workspace sets email retention rules, which can be used to preserve emails even if deleted in Gmail.

– “Google Takeout” (data export) is probably the closest thing to backup that Gmail offers its users. Takeout lets users export/download their Gmail data for offline storage. Also, the exported MBOX file can be imported into various email clients or platforms. However, this isn’t necessarily the automatic, ongoing backup solution that many businesses feel they need.

Like 365, Google Workspace offers archiving to retain critical emails beyond Gmail’s regular duration.

Limitations

As with Microsoft 365’s data retaining features, these also have their limitations, such as:

– They might not protect against all types of data loss, especially if emails are deleted before retention policies are set or if the retention period expires.

– They might not offer an easy recovery process for large-scale data losses.

– They don’t provide a separate, offsite backup.

What Can Gmail Users Do To Back Up Their Email?

In addition to simply using Google Takeout for backups, other options that Gmail users could consider for email backup include:

– Third-party backup tools, such as UpSafe and Spinbackup and others.

– Using an email client, e.g. Microsoft Outlook. For example, once set up, the client will download and store a local copy of the emails, and regularly backing up the local machine or the email client’s data will include these emails.

– Setting up email forwarding to another account, although this may be a bit rudimentary for many businesses, and it won’t back up existing emails.

– While a bit tedious, businesses could choose to manually forward important emails to another email address or save emails as PDFs.

– Google Workspace Vault can technically enable Workspace admins to set retention rules, ensuring certain emails are kept even if they’re deleted in the main Gmail interface.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

You may (perhaps rightly) be surprised that Microsoft 365, and Google’s Gmail don’t specifically provide email backup as a matter of course.

Considering we operate in business environment where data is now a critical asset of businesses and organisations, email is still a core business communications tool, and cybercrime such as phishing attacks, malware (ransomware) are common threats, having an effective, regular, and automatic business backup solution in place is now essential, at least for business continuity and disaster recovery. Although Microsoft and Google offer a variety of data retention features, these have clear limitations and are not really a substitute for the peace of mind and confidence of knowing that the emails that are the lifeblood of the business (and contain sensitive and important data) are being backed up regularly, securely, and reliably.

For many businesses and organisations, therefore, their IT support company (or MSP – ‘managed service provider’) is the obvious and sensible first stop for getting a reliable backup solution for their Microsoft 365 emails.

This is because their IT Support company is likely to already have a suitable solution that they know well, and have an in-depth understanding of the business’s infrastructure, requirements, and unique challenges. This means that they can tailor their backup solution to fit specific client needs, ensuring seamless integration with existing systems. Also, their first-hand knowledge of a business’s operations positions them better for rapid response and effective resolution in case of data restoration requirements or backup issues. For businesses, lowering risk by entrusting email backup to a known entity can also streamline communication and support processes, making the overall backup and recovery experience more efficient and reliable for the business.