Microsoft Ignite 2019 Check-In: Enough News to Fill a Book

In a 1992 Harvard Business Review article, Peter F. Drucker asserted that knowledge—not labor, land or capital—is the primary resource for people and for the economy overall. But, he noted, knowledge by itself produces nothing—it can become productive only when it is integrated into a task. For that reason, he explained, the purpose and function of every organization is the integration of specialized knowledges into a common task.

Judging by the focus at this year’s Microsoft Ignite conference, Drucker’s ideas about harnessing knowledge are still relevant today, more than 25 years later. On day one of the conference, Microsoft issued an 88-page PDF, dubbed the “Book of News,” that includes every announcement the company will make during this year’s Ignite. It’s an in-depth, exhaustive guide, and a good chunk of it details new and changed knowledge-sharing features and functionality.

Here is a peek at some of the improvements:

PROJECT CORTEX Project Cortex is a new service that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create a knowledge network that analyzes a company’s data and automatically organizes it into shared topics like projects and customers. Cortex also delivers relevant information to people across an organization through topic cards and topic pages in the apps they use every day.

Project Cortex can help streamline business processes by turning an organization’s content into an “interactive knowledge repository” that uses AI to analyze documents and extract metadata, and to create sophisticated content models. It enables “machine teaching,” which allows subject matter experts to teach the system how to understand semi-structured content, and makes it easy for people to access valuable knowledge that’s often locked away in documents, conversations, meetings, and videos.

CORTANA IMPROVEMENTS Although Cortana has been able to create reminders and search for and compose emails for a few years now, Microsoft announced that the personal digital assistant is getting deep Outlook integrations and a new masculine voice.

  • The SCHEDULER FEATURE enables users to delegate meeting scheduling to Cortana. Simply CC Cortana in an email to participants, and, using natural language, tell Cortana what to put in the body of the email. Users can tell Cortana the duration, timing and location of the meeting, or they can include “find a time for us.” Cortana also can book conference rooms or calls and will respond to recipients’ emails 24/7. Scheduler is currently in preview and is expected to be generally available in early 2020.
  • A little bit of preparation early in the day can vastly improve productivity. With the BRIEFING EMAILS feature, Cortana can send you a snapshot email with that day’s meetings and relevant documents, plus a list of commitments you made in emails. Briefing email will be available in preview in the U.S. in early 2020.
  • According to US Census data, it takes the average worker about 26 minutes to get to work—which equates to about nine days a year commuting. Imagine the productivity gains if that time could be spent catching up on emails. Microsoft has done just that, and it is rolling out a new feature called PLAY MY EMAILS that’s aimed at helping workers take control of their downtime. Play My Emails uses Cortana to read your emails out loud and inform you of changes to your schedule. The feature also enables users to safely and easily reply to emails with simple, natural language voice commands and larger tap targets optimized for mobile use. Play My Emails is generally available now in Outlook for iOS.

MICROSOFT TEAMS Microsoft announced a spate of new Teams features and functionality, including private channels, pinned channels, task integration with To Do and Planner, and multiwindow chats, meetings and calls. Microsoft is also improving collaboration capabilities between Outlook and Teams, making it easy to send an email thread to a Teams channel for further discussion. Many of the Teams improvements are available now. Others will be rolled out by early 2020.

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In a 1999 article, Peter F. Drucker stated that increasing knowledge worker productivity will be “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.” His prediction was accurate—think about how the intense quest for greater productivity has influenced and accelerated technology change. The volume of announcements coming out of this year’s Ignite is evidence enough.

But the availability of technology is only half the story. As organizations navigate the many changes coming out of Ignite and elsewhere, they must not forget that, to make a difference—to actually increase employee productivity—they must ensure people are aware of new and changed technology, know how to use it, and understand why it’s important.

Next up on the blog: A full recap of Microsoft Ignite 2019. Stay tuned.

Image: Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, by Rodolfo Cuadros on Unsplash

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