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Microsoft’s Ignite conference kicked off today with a raft of announcements touching on nearly every part of the tech giant’s business. Several were tangential to Microsoft Search, the service that powers search across Microsoft 365 and third-party offerings, and Microsoft’s newly launched Project Cortex. Others had to do with MyAnalytics and WorkPlace Analytics, which tap AI and machine learning to bolster productivity.

Project Cortex

This morning marks the launch of Project Cortex, a Microsoft 365 service that leverages AI to automatically classify an organization’s content. It analyzes documents, conversations, meetings, and videos to identify domain experts as it populates a knowledge database, and it surfaces info through cards and pages embedded in Office apps, Outlook, and Microsoft Teams.

“[Knowledge is a] brand-new investment area for Microsoft 365, [and Project Cortex is] the first new commercial service we’ve launched since Teams,” wrote Microsoft 365 corporate vice president Jared Spataro in a blog post, adding that users can “teach” the system to understand semi-structured content using machine learning. “Productivity isn’t just about being more efficient. It’s also about aggregating and applying the collective knowledge of your organization so that together you can achieve more.”

Project Cortex is available in private preview, with general availability to follow in the first half of 2020.


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Microsoft Search

You’ll recall that Microsoft Search, which launched in September of last year, taps AI to sift through Office apps, SharePoint, OneDrive, and third-party offerings for files, text snippets, and the like. As of today, Search in Microsoft 365 and Bing supports people-filtering with attributes, allowing users to query a name, title, or other info for a given person (including building locations and more) without knowing their entire name or the correct spelling of that name.

Search now recognizes queries for AI and editorially generated acronyms informed by emails, SharePoint, and OneDrive content, as well as publicly shared documents. And it supports floor plan search, enabling users to pinpoint office locations across building maps.

In private preview starting this week, Search can identify colleagues in an organization with implicit, attributed, or certified skills, expertise, and experience, thanks to algorithms that ingest relationships and other signals. And in Microsoft 365 and Bing, Search boasts enhanced language capabilities that allow it to better understand the semantic meaning of requests for documents.

A new API — Microsoft Graph API for Microsoft Search — allows partners to build and monetize search-driven applications built on Search. As for content connectors, they extend Search to cover systems that include file shares, customer relationship management products from ServiceNow and Salesforce, and media wikis.

Last, but not least, is Bing Enterprise Homepage and Industry News, an enterprise-focused Bing Homepage experience with company branding. It highlights quick links to top queries and company updates, as well as industry news results specific to a given company and industry.

MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics

Does MyAnalytics sound familiar? It’s the Microsoft 365 dashboard that summarizes the hours workers spend focusing and working after hours, as well as suggestions on how to minimize unproductive times and post-schedule work. It’s able to analyze emails to create to-do items based on commitments contained in messages. And in the near future, it will gain features addressing out-of-office and managerial monotony.

MyAnalytics will soon automate vacation and travel tasks, like notifying top collaborators of an absence, resolving meetings that will be missed, and scheduling catch-up time with colleagues upon return. Separately, meetings insights will reveal progress on sticking to best practices, like booking meetings promptly, and a new integration with Outlook will help users delay email delivery if it’s outside a colleague’s working hours.

Granular-level MyAnaltics controls are now available for IT admins, as is the focus plan announced last spring. And in early 2020, MyAnalytics will begin showing managers such insights as frequency of one-on-one meetings while flagging missed emails and to-do items.

In somewhat related news, Workplace Analytics for teamwork — which applies algorithmic smarts to data (e.g., emails and meetings) from Office 365 to spot obstacles to productivity, workplace effectiveness, and engagement — has become more “actionable” and “relevant” to a broader set of roles. Newly incorporated industry benchmarks contextualize common patterns that influence productivity, like focus time and the ability to unplug outside of working hours. Plus, an enriched analyst toolset uses natural language to shed light on time and resources invested in specific business activities.

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