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Microsoft's Project Cortex Blends AI and SharePoint To Create Knowledge Networks

Microsoft's new Project Cortex knowledge network for Microsoft 365 users, introduced on Monday by CEO Satya Nadella at the Ignite event, is powered by SharePoint and other technologies.

Project Cortex is currently available as a "private preview," with limited sign-up to use it at this page. A broader release is planned for the "first half of 2020."

SharePoint Roots
The SharePoint roots of Project Cortex were highlighted this week by SharePoint team members in a podcast. An allusion to SharePoint's role also was made by Jeff Teper, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Office, SharePoint, OneDrive and Streams, in this Twitter post.

The idea of creating a knowledge management solution goes back to SharePoint's origins, when it went by the "Tahoe" code name, according to Adam Harmetz, a partner group program manager at Microsoft.

"In the very first days of SharePoint, one of the first teams that created Tahoe was called 'PKM,' Publishing and Knowledge Management," Harmetz said in the podcast.

Microsoft started Project Cortex as a way to extend Microsoft 365 collaboration capabilities, but the content was already in SharePoint Online.

"This whole things started a few years ago as, 'What would we do if we wanted to create a new product extending the content collaboration of Microsoft 365?' and the content of Microsoft 365 is SharePoint," Harmetz added.

New Microsoft 365 Service
Microsoft announced Project Cortex on Monday, describing it as the "first new service in Microsoft 365 since the launch of Microsoft Teams." Behind it is the Microsoft Graph to find Microsoft 365-associated data within organizations, artificial intelligence (AI) to organize that information and SharePoint data repositories. Microsoft also worked with Microsoft Research in Cambridge and used its data mining technology in Project Cortex, according to Naomi Moneypenny, director of content services and insights at Microsoft, during the podcast.

In addition to using internal company data, Project Cortex has connectors for accessing external content, even in "third-party repositories," via APIs. In that respect, connectors already exist for MediaWiki, Salesforce and ServiceNow solutions. Microsoft also has connectors built for its Windows File Share, SQL Database and Azure Data Lake Gen2 services.

End users of Microsoft 365 applications, such as Outlook, Microsoft Teams and Office, will experience Project Cortex via so-called "Topic Cards," which pop up from text, showing organizational information. Harmetz described them as similar to People Cards, which already exist across Microsoft 365 services. A Topic Card gets created in the background using AI and metadata crunched by an enhanced Microsoft Managed Metadata Service. The card information is based on an organization's "customers, products, projects, policies and procedures," according to the announcement.

These processes and AI create a so-called "Knowledge Network" for organizations using Microsoft 365 solutions.

"Technically, AI is creating knowledge entities, a new object class, in the Microsoft Graph," the announcement explained. "The relationships between those topics -- those knowledge entities -- and the experiences that connect this knowledge with people creates your knowledge network."

The Managed Metadata Service automatically mines tags associated with content. It can also "import, export and integrate custom taxonomy with third party systems."

Project Cortex end users also see Topic Pages, which display content selected by AI. They also have access to a "Knowledge Center" page, which offers a "personalized view of relevant knowledge across your organization." The Knowledge Center page is based on SharePoint.

"These custom knowledge centers are built with and integrate seamlessly into your intelligent SharePoint intranet," the announcement explained.

There are also Content Centers in Project Cortex, which are libraries that permit reporting and analysis processes using AI models. Those models might get built using Power Platform tools, such as "AI Builder and Power Automate which integrate with Cortex." Power Automate is the new name for Microsoft Flow, a service that's used to chain app actions and processes.

The security and compliance aspects in Project Cortex are similar to those of the Microsoft Graph, according to Moneypenny. She said that Microsoft's services in Project Cortex are only mining the things that end users already have permissions to see. Topic Cards only appear if end users have access to those resources, she added.

Cortex Uses
Nadella, during the Ignite keynote, suggested it'll be possible for Project Cortex users to query Word documents using their voice. It might be used to surface details like contract payment due dates, for instance.

Moneypenny suggested that Project Cortex could be used for proposals management, helping organizations keep track of milestones and deliverables. It could also be used to handle forms processing by organizations, she added.

About the Author

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

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