Microsoft Inspire 2023: Keynote Highlights and Top News

Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella presents at the Inspire conference keynote on July 18, 2023.
Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella presents at the Inspire conference keynote on July 18, 2023. Image: TechRepublic

Microsoft presented new partner opportunities and generative AI innovations at the keynote for its Inspire conference, which is being held virtually July 18-19. Artificial intelligence was the talk of the show, with Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella saying, “We are in the midst of a massive platform shift with the new generation of AI.”

At Inspire, the company announced pricing for Microsoft 365 Copilot; Bing Chat Enterprise, a version of the chatbot built into Microsoft 365 with considerations around privacy for businesses; and enhancements to the Azure AI model catalog, among other new offerings.

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Nadella goes all-in on generative AI

Nadella pointed out two major applications for generative AI: the ability of AI to make computer user interfaces more intuitive using natural language and information management. Generative AI is a reasoning engine that works on top of all of your data, he said.

“To be able to have natural language as the interface we have with computers is the pursuit,” said Nadella.

“Microsoft’s big bet on generative AI across their product portfolio will rely heavily on their partner ecosystem to be successful,” said Jason Wong, Gartner analyst. “Partners will be critical to ensuring customer readiness of data and talent, effective implementation across multi-vendor technology stacks, and change management to ensure value attainment.”

SEE: Keep up to date with our ChatGPT cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Microsoft 365 Copilot’s price is steep

Microsoft 365 Copilot, which embeds a ChatGPT-based conversational AI into 365 applications, will cost $30 per month per user, announced Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president and consumer chief marketing officer at Microsoft. He demonstrated Copilot by creating a PowerPoint presentation and then a summary of that presentation, all within Teams. Microsoft did not announce when Copilot will be generally available.

“The Microsoft 365 Copilot price indicated how much value Microsoft believes there is to unlock in the digital workplace with generative AI,” said Wong. “The comparatively high price will force potential customers to think more carefully about which employee segments will benefit most from Copilot and to identify concrete use cases with ROI to justify the extra costs.”

Bing Chat Enterprise rolled out

Organizations will be able to access Bing Chat securely from within their own Microsoft 365 ecosystem with Bing Chat Enterprise, a new offering available today. It was created in part to address enterprise concerns about privacy, such as company-wide generative AI. With Bing Chat Enterprise, commercial data protection will make sure enterprise user data is not commingled with web data, not shared with Microsoft and not used to train any AI models. It includes up-to-date information sourced from Bing search.

ChatGPT can be used by logging in to Bing with Microsoft 365 work credentials, which ensures company data is covered by commercial data protection. Bing Chat Enterprise is included for no cost with Microsoft 365 E3, E5, Business Standard and Business Premium plans. Microsoft also expects to offer it from within Windows Copilot in the future, and at $5 per user per month as a stand-alone application.

Mehdi demonstrated multimodal visual search in Bing chat as well. Visual search uses GPT-4 to let Bing Chat analyze images the user uploads; then, it can answer questions about the image. Visual search is available for free today.

Copilot application announced for sales teams

Nadella announced a new application called Sales Copilot, which embeds Copilot functionality and CRM data from Salesforce, Dynamics 365 or other platforms within Microsoft 365. Sales Copilot also includes automated information about sales opportunities, integration with Microsoft 365 Copilot and PowerPoint and tips generated in real time in a Team meeting, such as providing context when the customer mentions a competitor.

Sales Copilot is generally available today.

AI features added to Power Automate Process Mining

AI features will now be available within Power Automate Process Mining to map out sales, finance, HR or other processes and “identify opportunities for how we drive that AI advantage to every customer,” Nadella said.

Essentially, Nadella wants businesses to be able to show how they derive value from generative AI and make it easier for them to find ways to use it.

Charles Lamanna, corporate vice president of business applications and platform at Microsoft, said Process Mining Copilot can be asked, “What are the top insights it has for me?” to find work bottlenecks and what is causing the bottlenecks and make suggestions for other tools to use to automate tasks or track data points more closely.

Power Automate Process Mining will be generally available on August 1.

Meta’s Llama 2, other tools to be added to Azure AI model catalog

Microsoft announced that Meta’s family of Llama 2 open-source foundation models will be available on Azure and Windows starting today.

In addition, Nadella revealed the regional expansion of the Azure OpenAI service to Asia, as well as increased availability in North America and Western Europe.

Azure AI model catalog offers AI options for developers

The Azure AI model catalog, which is currently in public preview, empowers developers to apply AI, including GPT-4 and a library of other AI from Hugging Face, to their applications. Developers can browse for models and fine-tune and deploy them in sandboxes running in Azure.

“This means organizations can quickly and easily benefit from the power of these foundational models, yet they have their own private instance of the model,” said Jessica Hawk, corporate vice president in data, AI and digital applications at Microsoft. Having private instances allows developers more time to improve model effectiveness and ensure their model follows AI safety best practices with built-in guidelines, she said.

“Application developers now can take advantage of both the frontier models of OpenAI as well as the models available in open source to transform every software category there is,” Nadella said.

Azure Migrate and Modernize tool gains new features

In the world of cloud migration, Microsoft has enhanced the Azure Migrate and Modernize tool. This tool is intended for partners who take customers through cloud assessments to Azure migration. They can go to Azure Migrate in the Azure portal and discover the customer’s data center inventory, which has assessment tools to help create a migration path. It can also help organizations build a business case for migration.

Changes include expanded capabilities for the free Azure Migrate tool, extended services in Azure Confidential Computing and a preview for Azure Boost, a virtualization tool for processes traditionally handled by a hypervisor.

Microsoft pushes AI Cloud Partner Program

Much of the Microsoft Inspire keynote presentation was devoted to partner opportunities.

“It’s really exciting to see us completely revamp the enticement, the incentives” of the AI Cloud Partner Program, Nadella said.

“This AI advantage is not just a Microsoft advantage — it is an advantage for the entire Microsoft partner ecosystem,” said Judson Althoff, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Microsoft. He described sharing AI resources as the next step after moving customers to the cloud and encouraging digital transformation across organizations.

Althoff warned against companies trying to “AI-wash,” or use the term AI in their company or product names, without really showing market differentiation and value.

Empowering partners to make their own AI assistants

Throughout the presentation, partners demonstrated how they made their own AI assistants to prepare for meetings and make strategic business decisions.

“Microsoft’s Copilot strategy is not just about their own offerings, but enabling a new cloud and development platform centered on generative AI with network effects that drive more value with more partner participation,” said Wong. “Microsoft wants everyone to be building their own copilots on their platform.”

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