Microsoft Makes Microsoft 365 Copilot Generally Available

Enterprise Customers Can Buy Microsoft 365 Copilot on November 1, 2023

Microsoft 365 Copilot and other AI SKUs

Originally unveiled last March and then put through a testing program involving 600 customers (who paid a substantial amount for the privilege), Microsoft announced (September 21) that Microsoft 365 Copilot will be generally available for enterprise customers on November 1, 2023. Although they didn’t expand what they mean by “enterprise customers,” I’m sure that Copilot will be available for tenants running the two “eligible” SKUs targeted at small businesses (Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Business Premium). This page covers Copilot for the SME segment.

Time to Prepare Budgets

After checking their IT budgets to see if they can find the funds necessary to upgrade to one of the eligible products and then pay the hefty $30/user per month charge for Copilot, interested customers can contact Microsoft sales to buy licenses.

The agenda for this week’s The Experts Conference (TEC) event included several sessions about using artificial intelligence with Microsoft 365. Interestingly, when polled, none of the conference attendees indicated that their companies were interested in deploying Copilot. Cost is a big issue, but so is the work necessary to prepare tenants for Copilot, including user training and support. For more information, see the Microsoft 365 Copilot overview page.

The lack of interest at TEC might be misleading. For instance, software is more interesting when it’s available and companies can learn about real-life scenarios from other customers to understand how to justify the spend. It’s also true that the Microsoft sales force hasn’t yet gone into high gear to sell Copilot. Now that a general availability date is known, that pressure can be expected to increase.

Copilot Lab the Most Interesting Part of Announcement

When I talk about Copilot, I refer to it as an inexperienced artificial assistant that needs a lot of coaching to achieve good results. Users provide coaching through the prompts they input to tell Copilot what to do. Good prompts that are concise and provide context are much more likely to generate what the user wants than fuzzy requests for help.

The average user is not an expert in prompt formulation. Even after 25 years of using Google search, many struggle to construct focused search terms. The same is true for people searching for information within a tenant using Microsoft Search. Some know how to use document metadata to find exactly what they want. Others rely on being able to find items using document titles.

Without good prompts, Microsoft 365 Copilot will fail utterly. The AI cannot read user minds to understand what someone really wants. It’s got to be told, and it’s got to be told with a level of precision that might surprise.

All of which means that the announcement of Copilot Lab is a really good idea. Essentially, Copilot Lab is a learning ground for people to discover how to construct effective prompts (Figure 1), including being able to share prompts that they create.

Copilot Lab (from Microsoft video)

Microsoft 365 Copilot
Figure 1: Copilot Lab (from Microsoft video)

The implementation seems very like the way that Power Apps allows users to create apps from a library of templates. Anyone facing into a new technology appreciates some help to get over the initial learning hurdle, and that’s what I expect Copilot Lab will do.

Microsoft Copilot Chat

The other new part of the Microsoft 365 Copilot ecosystem is a chat application that looks very much like Bing Enterprise Chat (Figure 2). The big differences are that Microsoft Copilot Chat has access to information stored in Microsoft 365 repositories like SharePoint Online that are available to the signed-in user. Microsoft 365 chat is available through and in Teams chat.

Microsoft 365 Chat (from Microsoft video)
Figure 2: Microsoft 365 Chat (from Microsoft video)

The Monarch Issue

Another issue raised at TEC was the insistence Microsoft has that the Outlook Monarch client is the only version that will support Copilot. While it’s true that Microsoft wants customers to move to the new Outlook, user resistance is palpable and could become a barrier to adoption. Although there’s value to be gained by Copilot summarizing notes from a Teams meeting or creating a Word document or PowerPoint presentation based on existing content, many people still organize their working life around Outlook. And that’s Outlook classic, not a web-based version that’s still missing functionality like offline access (coming soon, or so I hear).

If Microsoft really wanted to, I think they could create an OWA Powered Experience (OPX)-based plug-in for Outlook classic (like the Room Finder) to integrate Copilot. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In this instance, the will seems to be missing. And that’s just a little sad.

So much change, all the time. It’s a challenge to stay abreast of all the updates Microsoft makes across Office 365. Subscribe to the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook to receive monthly insights into what happens, why it happens, and what new features and capabilities mean for your tenant.

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