Microsoft 365 Copilot explained, the admin’s way

AI, or Artificial Intelligence in full, is a hot topic these days – no matter if we speak about personal or professional context. The popular Microsoft 365 offering from Microsoft has been AI-enabled at the end of 2023 through the introduction of Copilot, a solution to boost end-users’ productivity. Let’s have a closer look at Microsoft 365 Copilot, since, as an admin, you might face the task to set up this technology in your organization’s tenant any time soon.

All you need to know about Microsoft 365 Copilot

What’s Copilot in Microsoft 365?

On the surface, it’s a chatbot that you can instruct to do multiple tasks for you in different Microsoft 365 apps, all in a matter of seconds. Those tasks are not limited to simpler ones like answering questions or summarizing content, but can be quite complex and multistage like creating an entire PowerPoint presentation or analyzing trends in a dataset in Excel. That’s because, on the backend, Copilot is a large language model-based AI solution of the generative pre-trained transformer (GPT) type. Or, in simple terms, it can be trained through inputting a lot of data, including the proprietary internal documents of your organization, and then use the input to process, transform & generate new data during a human-like interaction with you.

From a broader perspective, Copilot is a range of solutions developed by Microsoft based on the OpenAI’s GPT-4 technology as an indirect successor of the digital assistant Cortana. Apart from Microsoft 365 Copilot, there’re also he following Copilot offerings aimed at non-business users:

  • Copilot Pro, a limited (e.g. doesn’t work with Teams), non-enterprise counterpart of Microsoft 365 Copilot, available as a premium subscription at $20 per user per month for individuals on Microsoft Personal and Family plans, and
  • Microsoft Copilot, the most limited but free offering. Available in Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Copilot and Bing apps for iOS and Android.

During Build 2023, Microsoft also revealed its plans to integrate Copilot with Windows 11.

How can AI help users with daily professional tasks?

There’re multiple ways to make the right use of Copilot’s capacity that depend on a Microsoft 365 app – the following list’s not exhaustive and serves rather as a set of examples:

Outlook (including mobile Outlook)

  • Summarize email threads
  • Get to the most important emails you received
  • Generate ready-made replies in the tone and length of your choice

Word

  • Summarize documents
  • Refine documents by, for example, enriching them with graphics
  • Generate a document based on content from other documents (also from other apps like PowerPoint)

Excel

  • Answer your questions about a dataset in a natural language
  • Show correlations & trends
  • Generate trend & data visualizations

PowerPoint

  • Condense lengthy presentations & refine them in terms of text formatting, layout or imagery
  • Generate entire presentations based on your text input
  • Transform text documents into presentations that include speaker notes and sources

Teams

  • Recap meetings into short summaries
  • Create meeting agendas based on meetings history
  • Identify people who will be responsible for preparing follow-ups

Copilot walkthrough from Microsoft

These are just examples. There’s more to Copilot than that, especially since there’s a Copilot for almost any Microsoft 365 service (Copilot for Microsoft 365 admin, Microsoft Security Copilot, Microsoft Copilot Dashboard and much more). To see how Microsoft showcases its latest creation in a quite condensed way, have a look at this video:

Is Copilot safe to my organization?

Well, many are now probably asking that question, and you are likely to hear it from your supervisor, CEO, or CISO as well.

Microsoft officially assures everyone that Copilot is 100% safe because: (a) it follows the same content access restrictions as your apps in Microsoft 365 and, which is obvious, (b) doesn’t use your proprietary data to train its language model. Learn more

However, at the end of the day, you need to remember that Artificial Intelligence is just a tool, and it’s the human who ultimately decides which sources Copilot can access (admin) and how they will make use of the data provided by AI (end user).

Before deciding on Microsoft 365 Copilot, take the following aspects into account:

  • Thoroughly review your content access permissions, how you use sensitivity labels, etc. For example, while an unauthorized user might have been unaware of misconfigured access rights to a very sensitive document for years, Copilot might automatically reveal this sensitive content to that user, exposing a mistaken security configuration. There’s also a risk that Copilot has access to more data than the user who prompts it for content. It creates new possibilities for accessing sensitive data.
  • Convince the management to run a training session or sessions for end users who will interact with Copilot, focusing on the following aspects of working with content provided & generated by AI:
    • First of all, even if Microsoft is committed to improving AI skills, your end users should not take all the data returned by Copilot for granted. Being it a new presentation, a Word document or something else, these must always be thoroughly reviewed for accuracy. What’s more, prompts might need to be refined to generate the right content. And if there is any error in the base dataset, Copilot will take it for granted.
    • Secondly, the AI might unintentionally include sensitive information by extracting it from a resource your employee is permitted to access. So, before the employee shares the data returned by Copilot with, for example, someone outside your organization, they also need to carefully review it to prevent data leaks. And this must be done even if you’re using sensitivity labels or other safety mechanisms, as there’s no feature which guarantees 100% protection.

To get those and more insights into the safe use of AI in business, I encourage you to watch the CodeTwo podcast featuring Tony Redmond, a long-standing Microsoft MVP and Microsoft 365 guru:

Microsoft Copilot licensing & pricing

To use Copilot, your end user needs a separate license in addition to their Microsoft 365 / Office 365 one. And, at the time of writing, the cost of the license is $30 per user per month. As I cannot guarantee this price will be always up-to-date, before going with Copilot, visit this official Microsoft pricing page.

The important thing is that the Copilot license can be purchased only for users with selected Microsoft 365 Enterprise licenses:

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

The minimum requirement of 300 users no longer applies.

Note also that there’s no trial version of Microsoft 365 Copilot available.

How to get Copilot for your organization?

If your organization is on one of the above mentioned plans, you should essentially meet all the prerequisites for Microsoft 365 Copilot deployment. The only two more things to remember about are as follows:

  • People to whom you want to assign Copilot licenses need to be on the Current Channel or Monthly Enterprise Channel of Microsoft 365 apps updates.
  • Currently, Microsoft 365 Copilot is available in English, Spanish, Japanese, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese Simplified, except for the Copilot experience in Excel which is available in English only. For more information about languages to be added in the future, see the Microsoft’s FAQ section.

If you are still not 100% sure about your organization’s readiness for Copilot, sign in to the Microsoft 365 admin center and go to Reports > Usage > Copilot for Microsoft 365 > Readiness, as shown below.

Checking your Copilot readiness in the Microsoft 365 admin center.

The readiness reports not only include information about your licensed Microsoft 365 / Office 365 users, but also show which end users use apps like Teams, Word, etc. most extensively, and could be the potential target for Copilot licenses. Note also that there’s the second tab called Usage – you can use this one after deploying Copilot to see which people use Copilot to the fullest and for which you should reconsider license assignment.

Being done with the checks, you can move on to purchasing the licenses. If you’re a business customer, you can do it by yourself by signing in here. If you’re an enterprise customer, you will need to contact a local Microsoft sales representative or a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider partner.

Once you’ve purchased the required number of licenses and they’ve appeared in your Microsoft 365 admin center (Billing > Licenses), you can assign them to specific users or groups by clicking the Copilot licenses and the Assign licenses button either on the Users or Groups tab. That’s it.

Once the changes propagate, the Copilot experience will start appearing for the licensed users – in certain apps as a button on the ribbon, while in others, like Word, it will show up only when you create a new document. Note that to use Copilot in Teams, your users need to add the Copilot app to their Teams.

How to manage Copilot on a daily basis?

Once Microsoft 365 Copilot is deployed, you can manage its settings by clicking Copilot in the left-hand navigation menu in the Microsoft 365 admin center:

Accessing Copilot settings in the Microsoft 365 admin center

You can customize the experience with the following settings:

  • Copilot in Bing, Edge, and Windows: Lets you turn off or reenable the public enterprise version of Copilot in Bing, Edge, and Windows, for example to let your users chat with the AI in Bing. Disabling this feature won’t disable the Copilot experience in Microsoft 365 apps.
  • Plugins: This is an interesting section that allows you to extend the Microsoft 365 Copilot capacity in your tenant. You can do it through installing third party apps (or plugins) that will let Copilot, for example, access and integrate with data sources beyond Microsoft 365. You can install and manage the plugins as usual by going to Settings > Integrated apps. You can also integrate external data sources (like CRMs for example) with Copilot using Microsoft Graph connectors. Once you appropriately tag those sources with semantic labels & properties, Copilot will be able to refer to them in chat or process them like the Microsoft 365 documents. Learn more
  • Public web content: When responding to your queries, Microsoft 365 Copilot in Bing, Edge and Teams can reference public content on the Internet in addition to your internal corporate documentation. This feature is enabled by default, but if you want to turn it off, for example to make end users rely on your internal data sources only, you can do it here. Learn more
  • Security Copilot: This item allows you to access settings for another Copilot product that’s aimed specifically at your tenant’s security. It lets you, for example, quickly summarize information about security incidents, offer guidance on how to protect against risks, or create automated ready-to-share reports on security investigations. Currently, the solution is available to selected users only within the Early Access Program. When publicly available, Security Copilot will be subject to separate licensing. Learn more
  • Data security and compliance: This takes you to the Microsoft Purview compliance portal where you can fine tune the interactions between Microsoft 365 Copilot and your organization’s internal documents through sensitivity labels or retention policies. You can also analyze Copilot audit records or search interactions to make sure it works within the appropriate information boundaries. It’s advisable to take your time to tweak those settings as desired.

Finally, the Copilot page lets you also access the latest news and documentation related to Microsoft 365 Copilot – all in one place for your convenience.

Microsoft 365 Copilot – to use, or not to use, that is the question

… and the question without an obvious answer. You need to weigh the time & performance gains in the context of your organization against the potential risks and quite considerable price barrier.

If your organization can bear the costs, and you keep and generate lots of documentation, often based on fixed templates, Copilot might be a true time saver and work optimizer.

On the other hand, AI might turn out more problematic if you deal with sensitive information a lot, need to apply more out-of-the-box thinking when drawing up documents, or require very strict access controls with regard to your resources.

The bottom line is as follows: carefully consider all pros and cons plus take time configuring your environment security-wise and training end users. After all, Microsoft 365 Copilot is a brand-new technology with impressive capacity and the potential to radically change the way people work in your organization.

See also:

Tools for Microsoft 365

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