Microsoft today introduced what it calls the “next generation” of AI product updates across its suite of business applications. They touch on both the Power Platform, Microsoft’s suite of low-code tools for building applications and workflows, and Dynamics 365, the company’s suite of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) tools.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Charles Lamanna, CVP for Business Applications and Platform at Microsoft, described the updates as the next logical step in Microsoft’s automation journey. Powered by technology from AI startup OpenAI and built with Azure OpenAI Service, Microsoft’s service that provides enterprise-specific access to the OpenAI API, the new capabilities follow the introduction of OpenAI models for creating AI scripts in the Power Platform four years ago and mark the debut of generative AI capabilities in Viva Sales, the seller experience app from Microsoft.
“For the past four years, we’ve been on a journey bringing generative AI and foundational models to the workplace,” Lamana said via email, noting that Microsoft has a long-term partnership with OpenAI to commercialize the vendor technology in Microsoft’s own products and through the Azure OpenAI service. . “And now we’re at the point where technology and product can enable transformational outcomes for customers.”
In Dynamics 365, Microsoft has launched what it calls Copilot (borrowing the branding from GitHub’s Copilot service), which aims to – in general – automate some of its most repetitive sales and customer service tasks.
For example, in Dynamics 365 Sales and Viva Sales, Copilot can help write email replies to customers and create an email digest for a Teams meeting in Outlook. Meeting Summary pulls details from a vendor’s CRM, like product and pricing information, says Lamana, and combines it with insights from a recorded Teams call.
“We securely and intelligently access information from customer CRM and ERP and other enterprise data sources at runtime,” Lamanna added. “We use big language models to combine enterprise data with underlying knowledge to produce tailored responses for each customer. Importantly, we don’t use customer data to train models.”
In Dynamics 365 Customer Service, Copilot can craft “contextual answers” to customer inquiries via chat or email and provide a knowledge-based “chat experience” for customer service agents as well as case history. This new feature complements Conversation Boosters in Power Virtual Agents, Microsoft’s chatbot builder, which allows companies to associate a bot with resources such as a website or knowledge base to use that data to respond to questions for which the bot has not been trained.
In contrast, conversational enhancement tools complement the new “GPT” model in the Microsoft AI Builder tool that allows organizations to embed text generation features into Power Automate and Power Apps solutions. For example, Lamana says, a researcher can use it to summarize text from weekly reports and send it to their email, while a marketing manager can click on a GPT template to generate targeted, generated content ideas by entering specific keywords or topics.
Given Microsoft’s recent foray into generative text – such as Bing Chat – one might be hesitant to build an app using the company’s technology for fear of it going off the rails. But Lamanna stresses that the conversation-boosting tools and GPT model—plus Copilot, for that matter—are “grounded in reality” with CRM, ERP, and other data sources for each customer.
AI-generated content is always clearly labeled, and users are encouraged to check its accuracy before using it. Where appropriate, we also cite the sources from which the answer was retrieved to better enable the user to verify the accuracy of the response,” said Lamana. “We have monitoring and controls in place to allow us to respond quickly through manual intervention if any issues occur across the above lines of defense.”
There is nothing to stop users from doing it no Taking the time to check the accuracy of the content, of course. Time will tell if that becomes an issue; Studies of automation bias, or the tendency for people to overtrust AI, suggest this may be the case.
Fortunately, the rest of Copilot’s capabilities may be less problematic.
With Copilot in Dynamics 365 Customer Insights and Dynamics 365 Marketing, marketers can receive suggestions about customer segments that they may not have previously considered and create target segments by describing the segment in their own words. They can also get ideas for email campaigns, write requests to see topics from Copilot, which they generate by pulling from the organization’s existing marketing emails as well as a “bundle” of Internet sources, says Lamana.
Microsoft is playing catch-up in some ways. The CRM elephant in the room, Salesforce, has for years injected (or at least attempted to inject) the CRM family of products with AI-powered capabilities. Startups like Glint have also embraced AI, mostly to automate customer service workflows. But as more and more marketers say they plan to deploy AI into their content strategies, it may not matter who posts first, necessarily, but who posts first. Widely.
CRM and ERP have always been an important source of customer and business data; However, they often require cumbersome tasks like manual data entry, content creation and note taking,” said Lamana. “Dynamics 365 Copilot automates these tedious tasks and unleashes the full creativity of the workforce.”
Outside of sales, Copilot in Dynamics 365 Business Central, Microsoft’s business management system, tries to simplify creating e-commerce product listings. Copilot software can generate product attributes like color, material, and size with descriptions that can be customized by adjusting things like tone of voice, shape, and length, Lamanna says.
It’s a bit like Shopify’s AI-generated product descriptions tool, a fact Lamana has obliquely acknowledged. He noted that Business Central customers using Shopify can post products with AI-generated descriptions to their Shopify store in “just a few clicks” (after reviewing them for accuracy, we hope).
Elsewhere, by riding the wave of automation in the supply chain industry, Copilot in the Microsoft Supply Chain Center can proactively identify issues such as weather, financial data, and geography that may affect supply chain operations. Supply chain planners can then choose to have Copilot automatically craft an email to alert any affected partners.
Lamanna argues that even simple, AI-infused processes like this — automating emails — can lead to a measurable increase in productivity.
“According to our latest survey of business trends, 9 out of 10 employees hope to use AI to reduce repetitive tasks in their jobs. AI-powered assistants are now table stakes for business applications,” said Lamana. “We believe Dynamics 365 Copilot will help employees get things done.” Work faster so organizations can spend more time on the creative and innovative aspects of their jobs – such as building long-term relationships with customers.”
As always, the truth lies in some marketing fluff. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is not slowing down with its investments in AI and automation. In January alone, Microsoft invested billions more in OpenAI, and the company was eager to see a return on the investment.
Copilot will be included with existing Dynamics 365 licenses such as Dynamics 365 Sales Enterprise and Dynamics 365 Customer Service Enterprise at no additional cost, Microsoft says. It will launch in preview starting March 6, with a general availability to follow at some point.