Office 365: Integration, Intelligence, and AI

Office 365 is a collection of interconnected products and services.  The casual user may not realize how connected these services are.  You may just go to Office 365 to access Word Online.  Maybe you spend most of your time in SharePoint Online or Dynamics, or Planner, or Teams.  Maybe your email is hosted in the cloud.  You may work with them separately.  You may use a couple of these tools.  One thing’s for sure, they’re all working with each other to enhance your experience and with custom solutions leveraging artificial intelligence, you can take it to the next level and enhance your experience with the tools and how you work.

Let’s begin with a simple example of some of the integration that takes place.  Microsoft Teams is the new product designed to be your communication hub for your organization.  It gives you a single place where you can have conversations with your colleagues, manage meetings, have individual or group chats and video chats, as well as access files.

Figure 1: Microsoft Teams

Behind the scenes, Microsoft Teams is leveraging several services from the Microsoft Cloud.  SharePoint and OneDrive are used for document storage and Outlook calendar integration is also incorporated.  When you create a Team, Office 365 will create a SharePoint site collection to manage files, a Planner plan where you can assign tasks and track progress, a Power BI workspace to manage adhoc reports, and a Office 365 Group which provides the members access to all of these services and provides a shared mailbox for those members.

Figure 2: Office 365 connected services

Having these services automatically created for you makes it very simple to get started on projects of any size and being able to use a Group that is accessed across all of the services makes it easy to grant access to new members.  This set of services working together is just the first way that Office 365 integrates its services.  The next level of integration happens behind the scenes and is very powerful.

Your Office 365 digital workplace is all about the user experience and how to enhance productivity.  One of the ways it achieves this is through a service that runs behind the scenes called the Microsoft Graph.  The Microsoft Graph is a user centric service that monitors your activities and communications.  If you are interacting with a coworker on a project via Skype, SharePoint, OneDrive, the Microsoft Graph will understand this and start surfacing related, relevant material.  If your coworker starts communicating with a 3rd person about the same project, you may start seeing content about that project curated by that 3rd person.  Office 365 has a product called Delve, which will surface that content for you.  This is a great way to find content that you can use that you may have not known existed.

Figure 3: Delve

Thus far, we’ve seen the basic integration of products and services and we’ve seen how they’re connected behind the scenes to surface relevant content for you.  If you want to kick it into another gear, building custom applications that integrate into these services is the way to go.  There are many ways to customize Office 365.  You can create apps that open in the Office Suite, you can create applications that appear in SharePoint pages, you can even build standalone applications with integration into the services.

One new way to take your digital workplace to the next level is by integrating artificial intelligence with the use of chat bots and Cognitive Services.  Chat bots can provide that personal interaction that you would have with a coworker while relieving the staff from simple tasks that can be automated.  For example, a you can use a chat bot to collect help desk support information and automatically create a task and assign it to a technician.  You can also integrate services like Microsoft Flow to incorporate complex business logic behind the scenes.  The cognitive services allow you to do things like create interactive solutions that can do things like infer what the user is asking, allowing it to respond appropriately.

Figure 4: Chat Bot with Artificial Intelligence

Office 365 is far more than a collection of services.  It has deep and powerful connections that can be used and enhanced to provide solutions that are specific to your business goals and your specific business style.  Make the best of the tools that are at your disposal and realize the potential of your organization and its people.

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