In Q&A, Microsoft Details Its Plans for Project Cortex

Microsoft talked up its emerging "knowledge network" technology for Microsoft 365, dubbed Project Cortex, in a Q&A this week.

Project Cortex is currently at the "release candidate" stage, having been in a very selective private preview program since December. It'll become more broadly available "in the middle of the year," said Chris McNulty, a senior product marketing manager for SharePoint and Office 365, during the Q&A.

In a nutshell, Project Cortex is a new product that combines existing Microsoft technologies, including Microsoft Search and the Microsoft Graph for surfacing content, artificial intelligence for information structuring and SharePoint Online for content management and collaboration. It surfaces information for end users via so-called "Topic Cards." SharePoint gets mined for the Topic Card information, but also the Microsoft 365 suite. "Eventually, we'll get to your Exchange mailbox, too," McNulty said.

The aim of Project Cortex is to save time and money for organizations and make content "smarter," such as when managing legal agreements and contracts, explained Naomi Moneypenny, director of product development for Project Cortex, during the Q&A. It creates a knowledge network from information associated with Microsoft 365 subscription use.

SharePoint is used for Topic Pages and wiki-like capabilities, McNulty added. It's used for advanced content processing, such as forms processing, as well as for building machine teaching functionality, so that unstructured content can be processed to extract what you need, he said.

Microsoft is building Project Cortex because customers asked for it, according to Moneypenny. Top challenges for organizations are about upskilling people, and getting people up to speed quickly when they change roles. Organizations also want a better way to deal with repetitive work via automation, and they want to generate more insight on their data, she said.

Microsoft is planning to offer Project Cortex as a premium product. It won't be included in baseline E1 and E3 Microsoft 365 licensing, McNulty indicated. Packaging and licensing details will be disclosed at the "general availability" product-release stage.

The Q&A revealed that Project Cortex also will be available for so-called "classic" SharePoint Online users, namely those organizations still using the nonmodern user interface form of the product. "Yes, we can mine content from classic sites," Moneypenny said. "We are updating all of the modern metadata services, so classic will have a new modern metadata experience," she added.

The security of Project Cortex was also addressed during the Q&A. Project Cortex is built on the Microsoft Graph, so it has that continuity, McNulty said. Aspects like data residency and multigeographic situations are respected. He later explained that an organization's data stays in their tenancy, but some information is held internationally transiently and then purged. Microsoft will provide documented guidance on compliance issues associated with Project Cortex via the Microsoft 365 Trust Center, he added later.

Organizations can add controls on the topics that get mined, Moneypenny said, adding that "the scoping of the mining is completely up to you." Some organizations have cultures where things are super locked-down, while others want to crowdsource everything. Microsoft offers a range of settings to adapt to the cultural perspective. Nothing is done that's different with the permission settings on documents, she added.

If wanted, organizations can vet the topics mined beforehand through personnel having a "knowledge management" role, Moneypenny said, and "we will have a number of different controls there." One role will be to check who has visited the page. Administrators will be able to scope things on the sites that get mined. A subject manager (experts) will be able to curate Topic Cards and Topic Pages, she added.

The April 8 Q&A will be available on demand at this Project Cortex Office Hours page.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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