“Focus on being productive instead of being busy,” advises Tim Ferriss, author of several bestselling books, including The 4-Hour Workweek.
Whilst most of us can only dream of a four-hour work week, the imminent release of Microsoft 365 Copilot (1st November 2023) may help us all take that giant leap towards being more productive.
This will probably pique the curiosity of The Apprentice Academy’s Data Analyst and Data Technician apprentices first, but every single apprentice and office worker should sit up and take notice, especially where new ways of reducing the time pressures of work and study are involved. And in an increasingly competitive work environment, being competent in the use of this technology will arguably be vital for career capability and future success.
We thought, therefore, that a brief overview of this launch would be useful.
What is Microsoft 365 Copilot?
In a nutshell, it is an AI personal assistant integrated into the Microsoft 365 suite – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams, Outlook…
If you have been stranded on a desert island for a while and haven’t yet had a look at ChatGPT or any of the other guises of generative AI, the real magic is that this assistant understands natural language prompts. This means that you can command your assistant as if you were having a conversation with another human being.
So why is Copilot a big deal?
First and foremost, because it’s Microsoft. It’s likely that every working day you use the tools in which Copilot is seamlessly embedded. It effectively gives these applications (and, in your manager’s eye, you) superpowers.
Want Copilot to write an email in Outlook? Give it a few bullet points and consider it done.
Want a PowerPoint slide deck created for an important presentation? Kick-start Copilot with an existing document or an outline and your slide deck will appear in moments. Yep, including speaker notes. Don’t like the colours, want new images or videos incorporated in the slide deck? No problem – tell Copilot and it will change it.
Or maybe you need to pick out the key points of a long Word document you haven’t read before a meeting in ten minutes’ time. Copilot has your back.
And don’t even get us started on the myriad uses of Copilot in Excel – from basic cleaning of data to finding patterns and trends, from creating visualisations to forecasting. This is also a good example, by the way, of how Copilot can be a valuable learning aid for apprentices, highlighting techniques and best practices.
Another of the many great things about Copilot is that it will generate ideas as well as work on the ideas you give it. There will be things that appear that you would never have thought of, so experimentation and iteration with prompts is something you should get excited about.
But I don’t just use Microsoft tools and platforms…
Microsoft clearly thought hard about that one, too, and came up with a solution via plug-ins and Microsoft Graph connectors (including the ability to use custom-made connectors), so you can play with your Salesforce and Google data to your heart’s content or ask Copilot to do something specific in another non-Microsoft application, such as creating a ticket in the popular issue and project-tracking software Jira.
Along with the almost endless list of benefits, there is, as you may have expected, some small print…
In the data world, there is an important mantra that you need to bear in mind: ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’ To get the most out of Copilot, you need to know how to word your prompts well if you want to avoid the garbage and mine some diamonds instead. This is harder than it sounds. For some best practice tips, ask one of our data coaches/tutors or visit Get started with Microsoft 365 Copilot – Training | Microsoft Learn.
Perhaps most importantly of all, as you would with any personal assistant, make sure to quality-check what is being produced. Not doing so could get you in a whole heap of trouble, especially if the output breaches an organisational policy or two (or, indeed, an academic policy or two).
As you can see, the human element is still very much needed, and arguably this should always be the case. But maybe you can now start to allow yourself to dream of that four-hour work week. Just a little.