Disclosure: Microsoft is a customer of the author.
In a way, Microsoft Office and I grew up together in this industry. We both got into the technology around the same time and I was one of the early adopters – when it had a problem that kept bugging it.
Office has evolved largely through acquisitions and has often suffered from a lack of integration and consistency as a result. Although the different parts have become more similar over the years, even now I could argue that they are not as integrated as Lotus Symphony, because the parts of Symphony came from the same code base.
Integration gives you the option to have a single interface in a product. You get the individual components needed to run either a focused project (like a spreadsheet) or a blended document (more like a report) with graphics and data all automatically updated as new information comes in.
Copilot, announced last week, should bridge all aspects of Office at some point, making the various components feel much more tightly integrated than they did in the past. Given that perception is often our reality, Office should feel increasingly integrated and finally solve a problem that dates back to its birth. And that should make it even more productive for regular users.
Another Office overlay?
Historically, some tools, such as cut and paste and spell check, have worked relatively seamlessly across all parts of Office. While the components themselves remained separate, these tool overlays created the perception of integration that did not require actual integration.
Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) — the power behind Copilot — represents another overlay. It is a part that is technically separate, but closely related to the parts of Office. Initially, it can behave similarly across the board, and eventually invoke Office components on demand to create more complex projects.
The initial instructions that send the underlying AI about what to collect and what the final product should look like can be centralized and applied across Office. That would greatly simplify and shorten the time it takes to create a complex document with charts, graphics, and dynamic data that keeps a document, web page, or other content up to date.
Update in real time, rewrite the future?
Imagine a school report card that could automatically update itself for current events; a quarterly financial report that self-generates and corrects without needing to be rewritten every three months; a news story that is automatically updated with photos coming in after the piece is written; and content updates that give a reader the latest news in context.
If you’re short on time, you can even generate a framework for a report that anticipates data appearing closer to an event when that information will be needed. For example, an article about an election can be completely formatted in advance, using AI tools to edit and revise the piece based on the information received within seconds of the voting results being announced.
Competitive analysis reports, including conclusions, can be automatically updated as new competitive information is captured. In addition, you can include what-if scenarios in a report to show how certain potential future events could change the results and recommendations, whether that information is external or internal. For example, say you wanted to convince someone that a decision they make will be disastrous. You can generate a report highlighting a favorable outcome, change the parameters to include the bad decision, and then show how that favorable outcome turns into an outcome.
I had an experience like this years ago where my team got run over and the resulting bad decision contributed significantly to the death of a company. If we had access to a predictive tool like this, we might have been better able to avoid that outcome.
The glue for Office
While these capabilities show how powerful generative AI could be in the Office suite, I still think the biggest benefit would come from using it as an overlay; like a spell checker, it could work independently of the individual Office components and call them as needed. Over time, this should create a single conversational interface in Office that allows users to not only create spreadsheets, documents, and presentations from that one interface, but combine these tools into increasingly complex document types that are automatically created and created automatically . updated over time. I’m not just talking about documents; this would work for web pages, metaverse elements, scripts, and news stories (to name a few).
Generative AI should make Office easier to use and deliver a significant increase in productivity. In short, the first implementation of Copilot represents only a fraction of what’s to come. We are at the beginning of an AI-driven trend that will change not only the way we interact with computers, but with each other.
I doubt we are ready for the profound changes that lie ahead. But at least some of those coming to Office will be welcome.
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