Microsoft’s annual Ignite conference took place last week, and AI was the star of this year’s event. AI is the one technology Microsoft seems most excited about, and most of the news out of Ignite is around how Microsoft is integrating some form of it into everything in its extensive stable of software and services. AI is so pervasive in Microsoft’s announcements, in fact, that the conference has been jokingly referred to as “AIgnite” in some circles.
Of course, CIOs and IT leaders need to be aware of the insights and product announcements that Microsoft has revealed so far, but not everyone is closely following the company’s every move. That’s why we’re going to look at some of the key takeaways from Ignite 2023; many of these announcements will be felt by the business world soon, and business leaders need to know about them beforehand.
Buckle up, there’s quite a bit to cover.
Bing Chat Enterprise Becomes Copilot
Microsoft’s Bing Chat Enterprise will soon be known as Copilot. This name change comes with enhanced capabilities, including data protection for commercial information within the chatbot. Copilot will become generally available on December 1, 2023.
Microsoft’s naming conventions are rarely straightforward, and Copilot is no exception. There will be various versions of Copilot tailored for different purposes, such as Copilot in Dynamics 365, Copilot for Microsoft 365, Copilot in GitHub, Copilot in Viva, Copilot for Service, and Copilot for Sales.
Sysadmins Get Their Copilot
Copilot benefits not only Microsoft 365 users but also administrators, who will have their own version. This update will integrate Copilot into the Edge for Business management interface, offering recommendations for workplace browser policies and extensions.
Copilot for Microsoft 365 is already evolving and will receive a wave of new features next year. For instance, Teams will be able to transform live meeting transcripts into summarised notes on a whiteboard. Meeting notes will become interactive documents, enabling post-meeting inquiries. Copilot for Microsoft 365 will also support plugins and connectors from third-party vendors.
Just as OpenAI enables chatbot customisation through interfaces like ChatGPT, Microsoft has introduced Copilot Studio—a conversational copilot for creating and customising chatbots. It offers access to Azure features, speech recognition, sentiment analysis, and integration with Power Platform connectors and Power Automate workflows.
Read More: Microsoft’s AI wants to be your Copilot
Early Copilot users have reported impressive productivity gains. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, 70% of users found Copilot made them more productive, and 77% didn’t want to part with it. Additionally, 22% claimed that Copilot saved them over 30 minutes daily.
Microsoft Offers New AI Credentials
With AI playing more and more of a role in the tech landscape, Microsoft is introducing new credentials under the Microsoft Applied Skills banner, a programme designed to verify that individuals do indeed have the tech skills they claim to have.
These new credentials cover various aspects of AI, including generative AI with Azure OpenAI Service, document processing with Azure AI Document Intelligence, natural language processing with Azure AI Language, and building Azure AI Vision systems.
Business owners will do well to keep an eye out for prospective employees sporting any of these on their CVs.
Azure AI Studio and new chips
Azure AI Studio, a unified platform for building generative AI applications, is now available in preview. Developers can select from a range of proprietary and open-source Large Language Models (LLMs), choose data sources, and monitor model performance once deployed.
Azure’s infrastructure is getting a boost with new chips just for AI workloads. The ND MI300 v5 virtual machines will soon run on AMD’s latest GPU, the Instinct MI300X, while the NC H100 v5VMs will use the NVL variant of Nvidia’s H100 chip.
Custom Azure chips, Maia and Cobalt, are designed to accelerate AI training and inferencing. Basically, Azure is getting a shot in the arm for all of the future AI workloads it will undoubtedly be hosting.
Small Generative AI Models with Windows AI Studio
This announcement seems to indicate that Microsoft recognises the growing interest in resource-efficient generative AI models for specific tasks: Windows AI Studio will soon be available, allowing developers to customise and deploy such Small Language Models (SLMs) either in the cloud or at the network edge.
Microsoft’s Viva Engage, an enterprise-grade knowledge-sharing platform that lets employees learn from their peers, is evolving to also offer AI-generated answers and questions, making knowledge management more efficient.
This feature, set to roll out before the end of the year, will help enterprises move away from legacy knowledge management platforms and provide answers to questions using data that’s located in other systems.
AI is here to stay
From Microsoft’s clear embrace of the technology, it’s apparent that AI is now a driving force in the tech industry. It’s even going to touch us down here in South Africa since so many businesses here use Microsoft software and services. It’s important that our country’s business leaders stay informed about these developments so they, too, can figure out how to use AI to make their organisations better than ever.
It’s just as clear that businesses that embrace AI will do extremely well for themselves. For now, at least, while AI is humanity’s servant and not the other way around.
If any of these developments sound like they could work well inside your organisation, we encourage you to sit down with your Microsoft rep or your IT people and hash out what the next steps are.