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Microsoft Outlines AI Capabilities Coming This Year to SharePoint Online and OneDrive

Microsoft this week touted the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that will be coming to SharePoint Online and OneDrive under Office 365 subscriptions.

Most of the AI improvements were labeled as being available "later this year," although some are currently offered. The key requirement to enable these AI capabilities for Office 365 subscribers appears to be the storage of files, images and data in Microsoft's datacenters, as had been explained by Jeff Teper, corporate vice president for OneDrive, SharePoint and Office, during May's SharePoint Virtual Summit event.

This week's announcement was a little more specific than what Microsoft had described back in May. Microsoft is promising to deliver video and audio automatic transcription services, plus improved searches for photo and video files sometime this year. The audio and video transcripts will be available in "over 320 different file types," Microsoft indicated. The AI technology used for the transcription service is the same technology found in Microsoft Stream, a video sharing service that's offered as either a standalone product or as part of an Office 365 subscription.

Microsoft will add to SharePoint and OneDrive the ability to automatically extract text from photos and create metadata about where the photos were taken and the objects in them. Microsoft already offers a separate Cognitive Services AI service, which is used by developers to create computer vision models for easier image recognition.

There will be some coming personal productivity improvements for end users, based on the use of Microsoft Graph technology underlying Office 365 services. Microsoft recently defined the Microsoft Graph as "a cloud-backed data store" where AI can "reason against that data."

On the personal productivity side, files deemed relevant to end users by AI will get automatically surfaced in OneDrive, as well as at the Office.com home page. End users will be able to see information about their shared Office files and see who has accessed them, which will be a capability built into Office applications. PowerPoint presenters will get prompted to share their slides after meetings. OneDrive users will get notices to share their photos taken during meetings.

Microsoft also pointed to the ability to use its Azure Cognitive Services and Microsoft Flow with SharePoint and OneDrive to perform analyses, send notices or execute business processes. Both of those services are currently available.

Microsoft is also promising it will be possible to extend data loss protection policies to audio, images and video sometime "later this year." This capability, which searches for sensitive information like credit card numbers, appears to be dependent on the text-extraction-from-photos capability and the coming audio/video transcription service.

Microsoft's various AI technologies getting stuffed into Office 365 services have names, but they don't seem to get used too often in Microsoft's announcements. Microsoft MVP Brien Posey has previously written about a few of them that likely aren't well-known, including Acronyms, Intelligent Search and Time to Go.

It's not clear yet if all SharePoint and OneDrive users will get the coming AI improvements. Microsoft's announcement implied wide availability, but "it may not be safe to make assumptions about that quite yet," noted Hunter Willis, a solutions engineer at AvePoint, a Microsoft partner and provider of migration, management and governance technologies.

While Microsoft's AI uses the Microsoft Graph to surface organizational information, that doesn't necessarily raise compliance issues for organizations, according to Willis:

The encryption and security controls available via Azure Active Directory and Office 365 will still apply. Similarly to Delve, it is safe to assume that users will only be prompted with content suggestions for information they already have permissions to access, but such features only remain secure if access is properly managed across the organizations. As with the mentioned OneDrive restore feature offered earlier this year, it's possible they will allow organizations or users to enable or disable these features as well.

Microsoft's partners provide support and governance controls when using such technologies, Willis noted.

"The governance and data security controls offered by partners like AvePoint can help ensure that access is managed and that the content stored in OneDrive for Business is properly governed, so organizations can maintain greater control over lifecycle and data management policies, as well as access-based security and SaaS backup for Office 365," he said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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