Mastering the magic of AI

Mastering the magic of AI

Microsoft’s portfolio of generative AI products and tools is automating basic processes, helping employees to save time at work, be more creative and find greater satisfaction in their work 

Alice Chambers |

Employees are overwhelmed with work. Sixty-eight per cent are struggling with the pace and volume of their work, and 46 per cent feel burned out, according to the 2024 Work Trend Index by Microsoft and LinkedIn.  

Microsoft attributes these figures to digital debt, which occurs when communication-based tasks outweigh creative tasks. For example, workers are overwhelmed with emails and meetings, with the typical person reading approximately four emails for every one they send. Data from Microsoft 365 applications shows that users spend 60 per cent of their time focused on emails, chats and messages, and only 40 per cent of their time interacting with creation apps like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. To fix this imbalance, organisations need smarter tools that simplify communication and free up more time for employees to focus on the creative tasks that deliver greater satisfaction.  

“Our latest research highlights the opportunity for every organisation to apply this technology to drive better decision-making, collaboration and ultimately business outcomes,” says Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO at Microsoft. 

Microsoft Copilot in Outlook helps users clear their inbox in minutes with the power of generative artificial intelligence. It summarises data in Outlook using large language models and extracts key points from email threads to help employees manage their conversations more easily. Copilot also generates full-length email drafts using prompts based on thread context and organisational information, and it provides feedback on emails that users draft independently to tailor content based on desired tone, sentiment and clarity.  

The power of AI and its ability to help employees be more productive with their time is becoming increasingly clear. The use of generative AI has nearly doubled between November 2023 and May 2024, and 75 per cent of workers around the world are using it, according to the Microsoft and LinkedIn report. Of those surveyed, 90 per cent say that AI saves them time during the workday, 85 per cent believe it allows them to focus on their most important tasks, 84 per cent credit it for enabling them to be more creative and 83 per cent say it helps them to enjoy work more.  

Employees are reaping the benefits of AI to the extent that 78 per cent of those surveyed are bringing their own AI tools to work. And that figure rises to 80 per cent for small and medium-sized companies. “While leaders agree AI is a business imperative, many believe their organisation lacks a plan and vision to go from individual impact to applying AI to drive the bottom line,” say Microsoft and LinkedIn in the report.  

Powering the bottom line 

Copilot for Microsoft 365 has been generally available since November 2023 and organisations are reaping its benefits. For example, telecommunications company Lumen Technologies is using Microsoft Copilot for Sales to enhance productivity for several thousand of its employees in sales and customer service teams.  

“It typically takes a seller four hours to do research for customer outreach, and with generative AI, they can now do that in 15 minutes,” says Kerrie Davis, senior director of commercial enablement at Lumen. “Four hours back each week is worth $50 million in revenue over a 12-month period.” 

Lumen also plans to roll out Copilot for Microsoft 365 to its entire workforce. The company, which was one of the early adopters of Copilot, implemented the technology from the top down with the aim of enhancing the employee experience by automating routine tasks to reduce workloads.  

“One of my favourite things in talking to employees who have used Copilot is that it’s one of those things that they just refuse to have taken away,” says Ryan Asourian, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Lumen. “I use it all the time for meetings I can’t attend. If I’m double- or triple-booked, I can go back and just say, ‘Tell me what I missed – what should I be focused on and who do I need to follow up with?’. I love watching the way our sales, marketing and engineering teams are using this to really make sure they’re more productive and spending time on the things that they need to do versus getting distracted by anything else. Copilot is magic at work.” 

Another early Copilot adopter is the Greek energy provider Motor Oil Group. The company began by exploring Copilot’s capabilities within its IT department. It then trained people in its various subsidiaries to use Copilot until 10 per cent of its staff became active users. Motor Oil used the tool to craft a five-page speech for the company’s annual financial update in less than two minutes.  

“It not only contained all the important points, but also correlated data from the presentation with other company information, such as our acquisitions,” says Jason Orphanidis, IT manager of retail and new technologies at Motor Oil. “It explained the company’s growth, how certain factors affected the figures and highlighted the changes from the previous year. With some minor adjustments, it was ready to go.” 

Other departments have followed suit, using Copilot to make processes faster and more efficient. For example, Motor Oil’s human resources department has saved time updating employee profiles and job descriptions, while its marketing teams are creating presentations quickly with content from specific documents.  

Lumen and Motor Oil are just two of the many companies leveraging Copilot and other Microsoft AI solutions to enhance workplace productivity. Another example is the Coca-Cola Company, which has increased its investment in Microsoft from $250 million to $1.1 billion to experiment with Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service for generative AI solutions. Coca-Cola has already migrated its apps to Azure and used Azure OpenAI Service to improve workloads across marketing, manufacturing and supply chain processes. Next, it plans to explore how generative AI-powered digital assistants can help improve customer experiences, streamline operations and uncover new growth opportunities.  

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Coca-Cola will use generative AI-powered digital assistants, powered by Azure OpenAI Service, to improve customer experiences (image: Unsplash/Tom Radetzki)

Boosting productivity with new capabilities  

Microsoft aims to support employees across different industries and its new Copilot updates will facilitate this. Some of the new functionalities announced during the Microsoft Build 2024 keynote include Team Copilot, which expands beyond a personal assistant to support a team, department, or an entire company to improve collaboration and streamline project management. Users can assign tasks or responsibilities to Copilot via Microsoft Teams, Loop and Planner. It helps employees to be more productive in meetings by managing the agenda and taking notes. It can also summarise the most valuable information, track action items, create and assign tasks, track deadlines and notify team members when their input is needed. 

Plus, new capabilities in Microsoft Copilot Studio will enable organisations to build custom copilots that act like virtual employees, which work independently to automate business processes and leverage memory to provide context to tasks. And Copilot extensions make it easier for anyone to customise Copilot actions. For example, developers can build these extensions using either Copilot Studio or Teams Toolkit for Visual Studio. 

“We are building products and shaping a future of massive positive impact,” says Mustafa Suleyman, CEO of Microsoft AI, on LinkedIn. “It’s still only the beginning of a long journey ahead, but we have a vision for Copilot that is ambitious and, we believe, truly transformational.”  

Furthermore, the new category of Copilot+ PCs will have built-in AI features so that individuals can access AI-powered tools without needing to connect to the internet. Powered by Snapdragon X Elite and X Plus processors, the devices aim to run apps 100 times faster than other PC models through Azure-powered large language and small language models, according to Microsoft.  

“Over the past year, we have seen an incredible pace of innovation of AI in the cloud with Copilot allowing us to do things that we never dreamed possible,” says Yusif Mehdi, executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer at Microsoft, in a blog post titled ‘Introducing Copilot+ PCs’. “Now, we begin a new chapter with AI innovation on the device. We have completely reimagined the entirety of the PC – from silicon to the operating system, the app layer to the cloud – with AI at the centre, marking the most significant change to the Windows platform in decades.” 

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AI saves employees time, allows them to focus on important tasks and helps them to be more creative at work (image: Adobe Stock/bnenin)

Becoming a power user  

Microsoft and LinkedIn have identified four types of AI users: sceptics who rarely use AI, novices who rely on it a few times a month, explorers who interact with it once a week, and power users who use it several times per week, saving themselves more than 30 minutes per day.  

Over 90 per cent of power users say that AI makes their overwhelming workload more manageable, boosts their creativity and helps them focus on the most important tasks. This is making work in general more motivating and enjoyable.  

So how can employees become power users? “The path to becoming a power user starts with developing new habits,” say Microsoft and LinkedIn in the 2024 Work Trend Index, which lists experimentation, practice and preparation at the start and end of the day as key habits for the productive use of generative AI at work. Doing this can lead to employees intuitively using AI to catch up on missed meetings, analyse information, design visual content, interact with customers and brainstorm or problem solve.  

The report also shows that 61 per cent of power users are more comfortable with using generative AI when their senior leaders discuss the importance of using tools like Copilot at work. Plus, AI power users are 53 per cent more likely to receive encouragement from leadership to consider how AI can transform their function and 37 per cent say they are more likely to use new technology if they have received the appropriate training, such as learning about effective prompt writing.  

Teaching employees how to write the correct prompts is particularly important because users often struggle, including too much or too little information.  

“We hear one consistent piece of feedback from our customers: talking to AI is harder than it seems,” says Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of AI at work at Microsoft. “We’ve all learned how to use a search engine, identifying the right few words to get the best results. AI requires more context – just like when you delegate work to a direct report or colleague. But for many, staring down that empty prompt box feels like facing a blank page.” 

Copilot now offers to autocomplete prompts for users to speed up the generative AI process. It also has a new ‘rewrite’ feature to turn a basic prompt into a rich one. These advancements highlight the transformative impact AI is having on professional environments, underscoring the need for businesses to adapt and innovate to remain successful and retain talented and valued employees.  

“AI is redefining work and it’s clear we need new playbooks,” says Ryan Roslansky, CEO of LinkedIn. “It’s the leaders who build for agility instead of stability and invest in skill building internally that will give their organisations a competitive advantage and create more efficient, engaged and equitable teams.”  

Partner perspectives 

We asked selected Microsoft partners how Microsoft technology and AI-powered solutions are enabling organisations to create more rewarding and productive environments for employees. 

“Core BTS has seen firsthand how Microsoft-powered technology has transformed our clients’ work environments. Tools like Teams and Office 365 enable collaboration, making it easy for employees to work together effectively from any location,” said Joe Bellian, senior director of Microsoft alliances, Core BTS. 

“Microsoft’s AI productivity tools, known as Copilots, are transforming workplace collaboration by providing users with the means to enhance personal productivity and assist businesses in achieving their objectives efficiently. This leads to more fulfilling and productive work environments, enabling teams to solve complex issues effectively and cultivate a network that values inclusivity and innovation,” said Anshuman Agrawal, principal technology architect, Infosys. 

“Jabra’s PanaCast 50 video bar, which is certified for Microsoft’s Intelligent Speaker, enables users to maximise the benefits of Copilot to ensure in-room participants maintain their identity in the meeting transcript. By capturing key insights and outcomes from team discussions and identifying who said what, participants can action items more efficiently and accurately than ever before,” said Nigel Dunn, vice president and managing director, EMEA North, Jabra. 

“Employees feel rewarded when they engage in meaningful ways, so we design our technology to remove barriers to collaboration in hybrid work environments. We’re working with Microsoft to bring Copilot to all places people work, whether it’s at your computer if you’re working remotely, in the office, or with the latest update – we’ve extended Copilot to the conference room,” said Henry Levak, vice president, product, Logitech B2B. 

“This year, we introduced the AI Sembly agent for notetaking, benefiting both our partner success team and our clients. These notes can be easily uploaded to Microsoft Dynamics 365 for tracking purposes. Additionally, the synchronisation of Outlook calendar with Dynamics enhances user productivity,” said Gary Scharf, global head, key accounts, Project Management Institute. 

“The key ingredients for a rewarding and productive employee environment include communication, collaboration and insight into how to improve skills. Microsoft Teams is a rich source of this data, which can be leveraged using analytics that are easy to access, use and interpret. The Analytics 365 suite of apps for Teams delivers valuable insights into internal collaboration, external customer experiences, call performance and effectiveness of communication,” said Hilary Oliver, chief customer officer, Tollring 

Read more from these partners as well as Crestron, Deepdesk, IntelePeer, isolved, Lanteria, Shure, Synergy Technical and Zebra Technologies in the Summer 2024 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription. 

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