Microsoft’s Copilot AI Goes Into Early Release

Microsoft Corp. has unveiled its Microsoft 365 Copilot Early Access Program, offering a suite of AI-powered tools designed to supercharge productivity within small businesses. This announcement, coupled with the latest data insights from its 2023 Work Trend Index report, suggests that AI could be the antidote to the accelerated pace of work that has outstripped human capacity.

Microsoft 365 Copilot, announced earlier this year, aims to enhance applications used daily by millions, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Teams, with next-generation AI capabilities. The software giant’s data indicates that an urgent solution is needed to counter the toll taken on innovation by the rapid acceleration of work.

Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO, Microsoft, suggests this new generation of AI will lift the burden of ‘digital debt’, freeing employees to unleash their creativity. Digital debt refers to the accumulated time and energy cost of managing an ever-increasing volume of data, emails, and chats, which has become a significant barrier to creative work.

According to the Work Trend Index report, an average employee spends 57% of their time in Microsoft 365 communicating, leaving only 43% for creation. These insights present a compelling case for small businesses to adopt AI tools, which could free up significant resources for more productive tasks.

The report also reveals that despite 49% of people worrying that AI could replace their jobs, a larger proportion, 70%, would delegate as much work as possible to AI to lighten their workloads. This attitude suggests an AI-employee alliance, where AI’s role is to empower rather than replace.

To thrive in the AI era, businesses will need to foster AI aptitude across all employees, not just AI experts. Skills such as prompt engineering will become essential in the day-to-day workflow. As of March 2023, jobs on LinkedIn in the U.S. mentioning GPT, a prominent AI technology, increased by 79% year over year.

In response to this evolving workplace landscape, Microsoft’s Copilot Early Access Program will extend its preview to a wider audience, launching several new features. These include AI-powered idea generation and organization in Microsoft Teams meetings, custom image creation in PowerPoint, email writing coaching in Outlook, plan drafting and information organization in OneNote, and personalized learning journey creation in Viva Learning.

Microsoft is also introducing the Semantic Index for Copilot to all Microsoft 365 E3 and E5 customers. This new capability, along with the suite of AI tools in Copilot, aims to help small businesses overcome the challenge of digital debt, increase productivity, and foster innovation.

The success of these innovations hinges on the feedback from the initial wave of 600 enterprise customers worldwide, invited to join the paid preview program. Small businesses, in the meantime, can look forward to a future where AI can handle the heavy lifting, freeing up more time for creativity and strategic thinking.


Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 7 years. She is based in the United Kingdom and since 2006, Gabrielle has been writing articles, blogs and news pieces for a diverse range of publications and sites. You can read "Gabrielle’s blog here.".