The future of knowledge management looks smarter with Microsoft’s Project Cortex

Insights from Microsoft Ignite 2019

As we all know, gathering real enterprise knowledge is like herding cats. Enterprise search, the panacea of knowledge, is still in the dark ages, and current knowledge management (KM) tools:

  • are costly
  • require too much participation from end users
  • park useful tacit knowledge in emails, yammer posts and conversation threads

During the 2019 Microsoft Ignite, Project Cortex was discussed in multiple sessions, including Satya’s keynote – a clear indication that this knowledge management system is a major area of investment for both SharePoint and Microsoft Office 365.

A new approach to knowledge management systems

With Project Cortex, Microsoft is introducing a new level of artificial intelligence (AI) into the Office Graph that connects Microsoft 365 in order to empower people with better knowledge and insights and to effectively make their digital workplace applications smarter.

The vision is to automatically organize content, extract value from patterns and metadata across OneDrive and SharePoint, and connect employees with valuable information organized by topics and people insights that are relevant to their business.

For example, an email with acronyms would display a topic card with a definition and more details about the acronym when users hover over it.  If users click on the topic to learn more, they are taken into an area of SharePoint that looks like a knowledge portal wiki page. The page is filled with information that is semantically connected through a taxonomy of related topics.

At Microsoft Ignite, we heard how AI is expected to power the aggregation of the content and authoritative experts are meant to curate what’s shown to the user before it is published.

How will these new knowledge insight capabilities work in Office 365?

Project Cortex is meant to work out-of-the-box so that you have simple use cases like acronym definitions that provide more insight about your business. It can also be extended if there are custom scenarios where the content aggregation needs to be displayed in different ways to create the best user experience for the context at hand.

Just remember, the key concepts are:

  • Topic cards
  • Topic pages
  • Knowledge centres
  • An AI Builder capability to extract meta-data and patterns from content

When will Microsoft’s Project Cortex be available?

Project Cortex will be released in the first half of 2020.

While it’s still considered early days from a product development standpoint, we know Microsoft has a small group of customers that are part of an early preview. They’ve been working with some of the early release software within their Office 365 tenant and giving feedback to the product team.

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What does this mean for organizations that are invested in Office 365?

In this next generation of KM, AI and machine learning play a key role in connecting content and expertise. Organizations will be able to move away from the old ECM days of worrying about managing records and providing controls for documents to instead thinking about how we can create an ecosystem for information and a network for expertise to be assembled and surfaced when and where you need it.

On the one hand, it sounds a bit utopian but, on the other, it’s fair to assume we are about to embark on a new chapter where AI plays a bigger role empowering information worker experiences.

Project Cortex may shift our thinking away from static repositories to more organic systems.

So much of the focus for the past 10 years has been on organizing information within intranets and knowledge bases and providing employees with the collaboration tools they need to be effective. Content and insights, in most cases, have been organized in a static repository, document library or list.

With Project Cortex, we will need to shift the thinking from the controlled directories of content objects to organic, ever-changing topics that are search- and AI-driven collections of information that are always refreshing with the latest and greatest insight. The graph and a rich taxonomy will be needed to help bridge content and insights from across applications and connect sources into knowledge centres that are curated by knowledge managers.

Project Cortex may also shift the strategic ownership of an intranet or information management system away from just the internal communicator and bring the operations or knowledge manager back to the table.

Think of this as a journey, not a destination

As we get closer to 2020, it seems inevitable that we are talking about concepts like AI and the modern workplace. It's exciting, but we have to remember that it will take time to evolve. We may need to temper expectations for what the initial release looks like and stay focused on the next 10 years.

If you think about the last 10 years, when we saw the introduction of Office 365 and Microsoft’s first release of cloud products, it initially left many partners in the industry wanting more and hesitant to adopt. However, it wasn’t long until the world was shifting their digital workplace to Office 365.

Now with the introduction of Project Cortex, I’d like to think we are seeing the introduction of a new generation of AI geared for the workplace to drive a more intelligent employee experience. It may even help employees feel and act smarter thanks to the data, insights and expertise at their fingertips.

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