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Copilot for Microsoft 365…Are You Ready?

Posted by Corey Roberts

Wed, Feb 28, 2024

Copilot for Microsoft 365 Are You Ready

Over the past few months, Microsoft has slowly rolled out Copilot for Microsoft 365 through their many channels, making it available to all customers. As I mentioned in my last blog, "Copilot for Microsoft 365 – What You Need to Know," there are still some prerequisites for purchasing, including a minimum term of 1 year, however, the minimum purchase quantity of 300, which was a limiting factor for most, has been eliminated. This major shift by Microsoft resulted in a sharp increase in activity with most organizations being very interested in the promise of the significant productivity gains touted by Microsoft.

However, those same organizations tend to fall into one of two camps:

  • First are those that are fast-tracking a pilot or internal testing.
  • Second are those that are concerned about data privacy and protection and will not allow Copilot, or any other AI, to be used in their organization.

Of course, there are some organizations that fall in between, but it feels that most are on one end of that spectrum or the other. What is interesting is that regardless of which path an organization is taking, they are questioning their decision, wondering if they should be doing the opposite. Those that are moving quickly are starting to worry about security and privacy, whereas those that are taking a slower, more cautious approach are wondering if they will be late to the game. The only certainty is that we don’t know the best plan of action since no one has been burned by data leakage yet and no one has been able to fully measure the increased productivity that is advertised. However, I believe both will occur in due time. As Copilot for Microsoft 365 evolves and adoption accelerates, we will find the productivity enhancements we hope for, but we will also be exposed to data leakage.

Are you ready for Copilot for Microsoft 365? Or at least a pilot of Copilot (pun intended)?

Let’s talk about what you will need in place to begin using Copilot for Microsoft 365. First and foremost, you will need the licenses. Copilot for Microsoft 365 is an additional license to be purchased -- it is not currently included in any Microsoft 365 bundle. The licenses must be assigned to an individual user account and that user must also have one of the required base licenses assigned to them. Base licenses include Microsoft 365 E3 or E5, Office 365 E3 or E5, or a Microsoft 365 Business Standard or Premium license.

Next, you will need Microsoft 365 applications deployed to your users and configured to be on a valid update channel. Organizations that are using the Current Channel or Monthly Enterprise Channel will receive the updated desktop applications that include Copilot functionality. Those organizations using the Semi-Annual Channel, or any other channels will need to wait or modify their update policies.

Once those steps are performed, are you ready to go? Not quite. Nearly all of us are using Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint today and those applications tend to light up with Copilot capabilities first but may need a push at times. Microsoft Teams, including Teams Voice, will also show new capabilities soon after licenses are assigned but that will not happen immediately. This will become apparent as the Copilot icon will start to appear in multiple places but rarely at the same time or on the same day. We have noticed that there are situations when this doesn’t happen automatically. On occasion, we had to force an update of the license in each of the Office desktop applications. Microsoft Outlook and Teams seemed to update on their own, but it does require that you enable the “New” clients before all features are available. I will warn you that the “New” clients appear to have multiple bugs in them, and we found users toggling between the “New” and “Old” clients, which is painful.

There are also some caveats to using Copilot in Excel. Your spreadsheet must be saved to OneDrive or SharePoint before Copilot capabilities will be available, since the work Copilot performs is executed in the cloud. The Copilot icon will remain grayed out until the file is saved and synced to OneDrive or SharePoint. Even when you have that Copilot icon light up, you will find there are further prerequisites, including setting update in a table vs. a sheet and using various formatting to ensure Copilot can identify the proper data to work with inside the sheet. Copilot for Excel appears very powerful, but it will certainly take more time to learn the ins and outs of using it effectively.

After a bit of testing, I will say that I was initially underwhelmed, and the results were mixed. I suspect most of you will feel the same way at first. It took us some time and a lot of patience as we learned to improve our prompts and obtain quality results. A good prompt will be the key to success, so take full advantage of Copilot Lab and become familiar with how to write effective prompts and then fine tune the results with follow up prompts.

Now that you are using Copilot for Microsoft 365 what do you need to be worried about?

Your data is vital to Copilot for Microsoft 365 delivering responses tailored to your organization, customers, and end users. Providing the right data with good prompts will dramatically improve the quality of what you create. It will fall on IT administrators to ensure Copilot can access most data in the organization and restrict users to only leverage the data they are permitted to access.

This is where you will need to be utilizing the capabilities of Microsoft Entra ID and Purview. Entra ID, as most of you know, is the former Azure AD where all your organization’s Microsoft cloud identities exist. Your users will require an Entra ID identity to access Copilot for Microsoft 365 and your data will be stored in Microsoft 365. These days, we all have at least one Entra ID account that we use daily. Microsoft Purview is a collection of Microsoft 365 security and compliance solutions for protecting data and driving compliance in your organization. This includes information protection and classification, data lifecycle management, data loss prevention, records management, and many other advanced capabilities. The configuration of these data management capabilities is very important to ensure that your data is always secure and only accessible by those with the proper permissions. These solutions, along with your data protection and security policies, will combine to ensure users cannot access data they are prohibited from viewing when using Copilot.

Unfortunately, utilizing these solutions is not as easy as enabling them and clicking a handful of check boxes. These solutions require some thought and a solid strategy to avoid long-term pain and unforeseen issues. One example of this is how to effectively use information protection labels. Deploying information protection labels that will be used to classify data and apply security settings, including encryption and file restrictions, will ensure the right users have access to the right data. It will also ensure that any data that leaves the organization cannot be read by external users or AI platforms. This is vital to data security; however, it can also be problematic.

  • Will your users apply the correct labels based on the data they are securing?
  • Will you need to modify your labels in the future?
  • Did you account for all data types and access scenarios across your organization?
  • Will the application of labels impact enterprise applications that use certain data sets?

That is a short list of questions pertaining to creating and maintaining information protection labels and those are only from an IT administrator’s perspective. Imagine the questions and concerns your user community can generate with their daily scenarios that you never anticipated until they stop access or productivity in their tracks.

I zeroed in on one example around information protection labels to show how critical it will be to leverage the data management and security capabilities of Microsoft 365 to secure your data before rolling out Copilot for Microsoft 365 to the entire user community. Now apply this to all the solutions in Microsoft 365 and Purview, it can quickly become overwhelming. You need a solid strategy and configuration for your Microsoft 365 environment before you become a victim of Copilot for Microsoft 365. Importantly, all this work happens outside of Copilot and before you adopt Copilot. It can be a monumental effort to build a strategy for these solutions, but we are here to help.

If you are ready to get started or have questions about Copilot for Microsoft 365, please contact us. We’re excited about this solution and we’re happy to help!