BUSINESS IMPACT

Jan 22, 2020

Microsoft 365 Project Cortex Engine Transforms Data Into Knowledge

Sawyer Nyquist Posted by Sawyer Nyquist

Project Cortex, Microsoft's latest software announcement, puts Knowledge Mining features at your fingertips. Announced at Microsoft’s recent Ignite 2019 conference in Orlando, Florida, Project Cortex is an artificial intelligence-driven engine that tags and organizes disparate data across your Microsoft 365 ecosystem (and other connected systems). Or, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in his Ignite Keynote, Project Cortex “converts data to knowledge.”

But what exactly does that mean? Cortex uses artificial intelligence (AI) to surface relevant information by tagging documents using Managed Metadata Services and LUIS, Microsoft’s language understanding tool that extracts user intent and key items from natural language. Once it surfaces information, Cortex sorts these knowledge assets into AI-generated Topic Pages and Topic Cards, gathering them in a Knowledge Center (more on that later). 

project-cortex

Surfaces, Curates, and Condenses Key Information

With so many places to store digital assets in Microsoft 365 – Teams, OneDrive, Outlook, SharePoint, and more – it can sometimes be difficult to remember where you saved something. Trying to find that project estimate? Is it on SharePoint? Maybe the Teams channel? Perhaps it’s in OneDrive for Business? Powered by AI, Project Cortex can mine documents for you; finding key words, appropriately tagging files, and fostering easy access. Let’s explore what that access looks like.

With Project Cortex comes the advent of Topic Cards and Topic Pages. When browsing a file in Outlook, Word, SharePoint and Microsoft Teams, Topic Cards will pop up when you hover over a Project Cortex-identified key word. That might be a project name, client name, company initiative, or departmental procedure. The Topic Card provides a brief summary of the subject, points to associated people or subject matter experts, and offers key documents to consider reviewing.

From the Topic Card you can step into the Topic Page, which provides a more detailed overviewresources of interest, people, and a spiderweb of related topics that might be relevant. All Topic Pages are housed in the centralized Knowledge Center. 

Cortex Topic Card Gif

Outshines Typical Wiki Pages

Though the Topic Page may sound like a typical wiki page, an important difference is that this page is built and updated by Project Cortex's AI engine. Traditional wikis – which must be researched, created, and updated – can be labor intensive. Here, AI-driven Project Cortex does the heavy lifting, though humans still play an important role: Topic Cards and Pages function most effectively when curated and enhanced by subject matter experts.

Project Cortex’s success lies at the intersection of humans and AI. Where AI does the difficult work of surfacing relevant people and resources, humans best shape and refine the information.

Features Secure Permissions Sets, Deep Connection Ability

Admins out there concerned about maintaining control over who can access which resource can rest easy: Project Cortex uses the same permissions sets as the rest of 365. If someone doesn't have access to a document on a SharePoint site, they also won't have access when that same resource is presented in a Topic Card or Topic Page.

Amplifying Project Cortex’s massive potential is its ability to connect, using the new Microsoft Search connectors, to content in third-party repositories and systems. Currently supported connectors are Windows File Share, ServiceNow, Server Database, Intranet Websites, MediaWiki, and Salesforce. It will be exciting to see the creative ways these third-party connectors are used to create robust, truly enterprise-level knowledge centers that span platforms.

Exploring Project Cortex Possibilities

Project Cortex is rich with potential. Let's think about onboarding a new employee. Starting a new job can be overwhelming for numerous reasons, but one hurdle all new employees face is learning internal and sometimes industry-specific jargon and acronyms. With Project Cortex, each time such language shows up in a Teams chat or Outlook email, a Topic Card can provide a brief overview, and quickly help the new employee understand the reference.

It’s also not unusual for organizations to reshuffle resources midway through projects, meaning staff can find themselves tackling a job designed and partially executed by someone else. The time in which it takes someone to familiarize themselves with the particulars of a projects can directly influence its progress. A Topic Page serves as a centralized resource; an easy place to house the project overview, work done to date, key resources, and an explanation of relevant personnel and their roles. 

Connecting your people to the content and knowledge they need can spur valuable insights and effective actions. It can also cut costs. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data, Microsoft estimates a $1 billion dollar revenue company could save nearly $9 million by reducing time for new hire effectiveness by just one week.

When technology can increase effectiveness and decrease costs, it's time to take a serious look.

Getting Started

If you’re already thinking of opportunities where Project Cortex can reshape your business practices, you aren't alone. The possibilities to apply Project Cortex to streamline knowledge transfer and collaboration abound. If you’re ready to dive in, Project Cortex is now in private preview (you can apply here); it is scheduled for public release in the first half of 2020. 

Once you have access to Cortex, you’ll likely want to begin in a limited section of your organization's 365 environment (where you’re confident of the security permissions in place) so you can perform some micro-testing. Administrators can choose which sites are available for "mining" and which aren't – allowing you to ensure that your security groups are configured correctly. After deciding what part of your ecosystem is enabled for Project Cortex, you can provide taxonomy term sets, acronyms, or even just a list of project names. This gives Cortex a foundation for generating Topic Pages and Topic Cards as it learns what kind of information is key to your organization.

Looking to learn more about the latest news in advanced analytics and AI? Subscribe to BlueGranite’s blog today.  Or, check out our other articles and information regarding Machine Learning and AI.  If you have any questions or are interested in exploring Knowledge Mining for your organization, please contact us today.

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Sawyer Nyquist

About The Author

Sawyer Nyquist

Sawyer is a Staff Consultant at BlueGranite. He has over 5 years of experience in data reporting development and experience building and implementing business intelligence solutions. Sawyer holds a Bachelors of Arts from Moody Bible College as well as a Masters of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has extensive experience in financial forecasting, small business consulting, Power BI and Oracle SQL.

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