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The potential to unlock productivity and efficiency gains with AI has piqued the attention of most New Zealand organisations.

Yet many companies without in-house AI expertise are finding it challenging to vet individual technologies and determine how to implement them successfully.

Often, this results in wasted time, though companies can also open themselves up to unanticipated risk through insecure integrations.

Sticking with the proven solutions offered by leading IT providers—such as Microsoft’s AI-driven productivity tool, Copilot for Microsoft 365—is often a smarter course of action.

As it stands today, Microsoft Copilot has the potential to seamlessly and securely integrate AI into many of the Microsoft applications you’re already using, both improving productivity and also enhancing creativity and collaboration.

Although it is now available to Microsoft teams of all sizes, there are still several steps you’ll want to take to get your organisation ready before implementing it.

Here are several key discussion points on what you need to know before getting started with Copilot for Microsoft 365.

Licensing Copilot for Microsoft 365

Initially, Microsoft rolled out Copilot through an exclusive private preview window for a few hundred customers.

Around November 2023, Microsoft Copilot availability opened up to enterprises that could buy 300+ licenses through a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement (though these organisations were still effectively guinea pigs for the new solution).

Earlier this year, Microsoft did away with the limit entirely, meaning that all organisations can now buy and assign licenses for Copilot directly through Microsoft or through their CSP (as vendors also have the ability to resell Copilot).

As of today, Copilot is available as an add-on—not a standalone license—so you’ll need to have one of the following Microsoft licenses in place already to use it:

•Microsoft 365 E5
•Microsoft 365 E3
•Office 365 E3
•Office 365 E5
•Microsoft 365 A5 for faculty
•Microsoft 365 A3 for faculty
•Office 365 A5 for faculty
•Office 365 A3 for faculty
•Microsoft 365 Business Standard
•Microsoft 365 Business Premium

If you do have one of these licenses, you’ll see that Microsoft Copilot is available for all the Microsoft apps inside Office 365 (including productivity apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc).

Microsoft apps outside of this bundle have—or will have—their own dedicated Copilot, such as Microsoft Security Copilot, Copilot for SharePoint, and Copilot in Power Apps (including Power Platform).

Microsoft Copilot integrations have been added to the Windows 11 taskbar, and active users will be able to switch between their work and personal accounts upon login.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft Copilot Pro is also available, and is not the same thing as Copilot for Microsoft 365.

Currently, there is no minimum number of licenses to enable Copilot, so you can opt to purchase 1-2 for your organisation to test.

You’ll still have an upfront cost, and you can likely expect a 1-3 year commitment, but doing so gives you the opportunity to trial Microsoft Copilot within your company’s unique structure and workflow.

And of course, as with all things Microsoft, you should be aware that things are changing quickly with the Microsoft Copilot system.

New versions, naming conventions, and integrations are rolling out regularly, so it’s worth working with a Microsoft Partner like Canon Business Services New Zealand (CBS) to confirm you’re eligible to purchase Microsoft Copilot (and purchasing the right version).

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How to use Microsoft 365 Copilot

“AI” seems opaque at times, but you can think of Microsoft Copilot as operating similarly to ChatGPT in the wild—only, in this case, Copilot is operating exclusively within Microsoft’s data centers.

Essentially, the Copilot AI assistant is built within your Microsoft 365 tenant so that everything it touches and works on is protected within that boundary.

The front-end works like a chat window or the ChatGPT interface, and the natural language component comes pre-trained so that it knows how to respond when it’s asked questions. It is important to note that your business data is never used to train the Large Language Model (LLM).

When a user asks a question, Microsoft Copilot reaches out to Microsoft Graph gateway (where access and permissions are controlled within the tenant). Although Graph sees everything, Copilot users are only shown items they have permissions to access.

Semantic indexing supports this process, enabling Copilot to find relevant documents using natural language prompts, based on relationships between them and return them in a conversation.

For example, imagine one of your users asked, “What documents are related to [X]?” Microsoft Copilot would find them, return them to the user in a paragraph, and link to them wherever they are (whether that’s in SharePoint, on a Team site, or in OneDrive). 

Users would not be shown documents they don’t have access to, and at no point does any of that data go out and leave your tenant.

Here’s a closer look at how Copilot’s architecture is structured

Beyond asking questions, this structure makes it possible for Copilot to handle other common repetitive tasks in Microsoft apps, such as finding important emails, analysing sentiment, and managing meeting transcripts, etc.

Basically, anything an assistant would do, Copilot can do as well.

Which businesses will benefit most from Copilot for Microsoft 365?

Generally speaking, the businesses that stand to benefit most from Microsoft Copilot include:

•Those that are looking to leverage AI in any capacity.
•Those that have migrated their workloads into Microsoft 365, as Copilot won’t be able to access or return data that exists outside the 365 tenant.
•Those that are looking to reduce the costs and resources associated with administrative functionalities, as Copilot can take care of common tasks in a fraction of the time as a human operator.

What do businesses need to know before getting started with Copilot for Microsoft 365?

Before you try to access Microsoft Copilot, consider the following guidance:

Copilot features are still evolving

Like all LLMs, Microsoft Copilot is only as good as the data you give it. However, because it runs on OpenAI behind the scenes, Copilot’s effectiveness is likely to improve as the GPT models do.

Information protection and governance must be properly accounted for

Since Microsoft Copilot leverages Microsoft Graph, anything that’s accessible by the user will be returned by the service. As a result, documents and data must be secured securely through mechanisms like Team membership or permissions at the Document Library level.

Data classification should be prioritised as well

Before implementing Microsoft Copilot, documents should be labelled with sensitivity levels (which Microsoft Copilot respects). This is especially important, given that any new documents generated will be based on the highest level of sensitivity.

User access is controlled by Entra ID

As with the consumer versions of Microsoft Copilot and Copilot Pro, Copilot for Microsoft 365 access is secured by users’ Entra ID accounts. Not only does Commercial Grade Data Protection apply, any valid Conditional Access and Identity Protection policies will be applied when users sign in with their work accounts. Proper user access controls must be in place to prevent unauthorised access to sensitive information.

Additionally, keep in mind that, to increase teams’ success with Microsoft Copilot, both staff and users will require dedicated training—before, during, and after the tool’s launch.

For example, knowing how to create strong AI prompts (called ‘prompt engineering’) will help users get the best results from Microsoft Copilot. However, if team members haven’t had much AI exposure, they may need to be trained on how to do it and what different tasks can be taken care of automatically.

Finally, remember that, as noted above, Microsoft Copilot features are constantly evolving at this stage. As a result, it’s likely that teams will need regular refreshers and internal trainings as it’s rolled out to pilot groups or to the wider organisation.

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Get more information about the Microsoft 365 Copilot tool from CBS.


Getting started with Microsoft Copilot

Microsft Copilot is a powerful productivity tool, but because things are moving so quickly with the system, a trusted partner can help you determine whether it’s a good fit for your organisation and what you’ll need to do before implementing it.

As a Microsoft Partner with a long history of supporting organisations through the launch of new Microsoft technology, CBS can help you and your Microsoft teams to thoughtfully navigate these issues and get up and running with Microsoft Copilot.

For more information on launching Microsoft Copilot within your organisation, reach out to our team.

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