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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.