Microsoft is bringing AI-powered co-pilot to its suite of business apps

Microsoft is bringing AI-powered co-pilot to its suite of business apps

Image sources: Jean-Luc Ichard/Getty Images

Microsoft today unveiled a portfolio of business applications it calls the “next generation” of AI product updates. These include Power Platform, Microsoft’s low-code tools for building applications and workflows, and Dynamics 365, the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) tools.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Charles Lamanna, Microsoft’s vice president of business applications and platforms, described the updates as the next logical step in Microsoft’s automation journey. Built on startup OpenAI artificial intelligence models technology and built with Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service, which provides enterprise-level access to OpenAI’s API, the new capabilities follow the introduction of OpenAI text-generating artificial intelligence models in Power Platform four years ago and more recently. the debut of generative artificial intelligence capabilities in Viva Sales, Microsoft’s sales experience app.

“For the past four years, we’ve been on a journey to bring generative AI and foundational models to the workplace,” Lamanna said in an email, noting that Microsoft has a long-standing partnership with OpenAI to incorporate the manufacturer’s technology into Microsoft’s own products. , through the Azure OpenAI service. “And now we’re at the point where the technology and the product are enabling transformative results for customers.”

In Dynamics 365, Microsoft is launching a program called Copilot (borrowing its branding from GitHub’s Copilot service), which is broadly aimed at automating repetitive sales and customer service tasks.

For example, in Dynamics 365 Sales and Viva Sales, Copilot can help you write email responses to customers and create email summaries of Teams meetings in Outlook. The meeting summary pulls details from the salesperson’s CRM, such as product and pricing information, Lamanna says, and combines them with insights from the recorded Teams call.

“We securely and intelligently access customer information from CRM, ERP and other enterprise data sources at runtime,” added Lamanna. “We use large language models to combine enterprise data with underlying knowledge to provide tailored responses to each customer. It is important that we do not use customer data to train the models.”

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In Dynamics 365 Customer Service, Copilot can formulate “contextual responses” to customer questions via chat or email, and provides an “interactive chat experience” for customer service agents that draws from knowledge bases and case histories. These complement the new “conversation enhancer” feature of Power Virtual Agents, Microsoft’s chatbot maker, which allows companies to connect a bot to resources such as a website or knowledge base to use that data to answer questions the bot needs to answer. received no training.

Conversation enhancers, on the other hand, complement the new “GPT” model of Microsoft’s AI Builder tool, which allows organizations to embed text generation functionality into their Power Automate and Power Apps solutions. According to Lamanna, for example, a researcher can summarize text from weekly published reports and send it to their email address, while a marketing manager can use the GPT model to create targeted, generated content ideas by specifying specific keywords or topics.

Given Microsoft’s recent foray into generative text — namely Bing Chat — we might be reluctant to build an app using the company’s technology, lest it sink. But Lamanna says that the conversation boosters and the GPT model — plus the co-pilot — are “grounded in reality” by each client’s CRM, ERP and other data sources.

“AI-generated content is always clearly labeled and users are encouraged to verify accuracy before use. If relevant, we also cite the sources from which the answer was obtained so that the user can better verify the accuracy of the answer,” said Lamanna. “We have monitoring and control systems that allow us to quickly respond with manual intervention should any issues slip past the above lines of defense.”

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There are no obstacles for users no of course taking the time to verify the accuracy of the content. Time will tell if this becomes a problem; of automation bias, or the tendency of humans to over-trust AI, suggest that this is possible.

Fortunately, Copilot’s other capabilities are less potentially problematic.

With Dynamics 365 Customer Insights and Dynamics 365 Marketing Copilot, marketers can get suggestions for customer segments they may not have previously considered and create target segments by describing the segment in their own words. They can also get ideas for email campaigns by entering requests to view topics in Copilot, which pulls them from the organization’s existing marketing emails as well as “a range” of Internet sources, Lamanna says.

Microsoft is catching up in some respects. The CRM elephant in the room, Salesforce, has been injecting (or at least trying to inject) its AI-powered CRM product line for years. Startups like Glint have also embraced AI, mainly to automate customer service workflows. But as more and more marketers say they’re planning AI into their entire content strategy, it’s not necessarily about who’s first, it’s about who deploys it first. in scale.

“CRM and ERP have long been mission-critical customer and business data sources; however, these often require burdensome tasks such as manual data entry, content generation and note-taking,” said Lamanna. “Dynamics 365 Copilot automates these tedious tasks and unleashes the full creativity of your workforce.”

Beyond the sales floor, Copilot in Dynamics 365 Business Central, Microsoft’s enterprise management system, tries to simplify the creation of an e-commerce product list. Lamanna says Copilot can generate product attributes such as color, material and size with descriptions that can be customized by changing tone, format and length.

It’s a bit like Shopify’s recently introduced AI-generated product description tool, which Lamanna indirectly acknowledged. He noted that Business Central customers using Shopify can publish products with AI-generated descriptions to their Shopify store with “just a few clicks” (hopefully after verifying their accuracy).

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Elsewhere, riding the supply chain industry’s wave of automation, Copilot in Microsoft’s Supply Chain Center can proactively signal issues such as weather, financial and geographic conditions that could affect supply chain processes. Supply chain planners can then choose to have Copilot automatically generate an email to alert affected partners.

Lamanna argues that even simple AI-infused processes like these—automating email—can lead to measurable increases in productivity.

“According to our latest business trends survey, 9 out of 10 workers hope to use artificial intelligence to reduce repetitive tasks at work. AI-based assistants are now table stakes for business applications,” said Lamanna. “We believe Dynamics 365 Copilot helps employees get work done faster, so organizations can spend more time on the creative, innovative aspects of their work—like building long-term customer relationships.”

As always, the truth gets clouded in some marketing fluff. But it’s clear that Microsoft isn’t slowing down its investments in artificial intelligence and automation. It was just in January that Microsoft invested billions in OpenAI, and the company is eager to see a return on its investment.

According to Microsoft, the co-pilot will be included in existing Dynamics 365 licenses such as Dynamics 365 Sales Enterprise and Dynamics 365 Customer Service Enterprise at no additional cost. It will be available in preview from March 6th, and will be generally available sometime down the line.

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