Microsoft has taken a significant step forward in commercializing generative artificial intelligence (AI) by launching new tools designed to enable developers to integrate this technology into their business software. The company’s focus is on “plug-ins,” which facilitate the connection between Microsoft 365 Copilot, a generative AI service embedded in its productivity and collaboration software, and other software applications used by customers.
Microsoft’s latest announcement, made at the start of its annual developer conference, follows similar moves by Google and IBM earlier this month, highlighting the competitive race among Big Tech companies to open up generative AI to developers and embed it into workplaces. The aim is to leverage generative AI to streamline routine back-office work by breaking down the barriers between various software applications commonly used in businesses.
By utilizing the plug-ins, other software developers will be able to consolidate data from their applications into a single “graph” or semantic structure within Microsoft’s software. This integrated data can then be utilized by the large language models employed in generative AI, enabling the technology to generate insights or recommend actions. The plug-ins also enable AI to trigger actions in other software programs, such as generating expense reports or filing IT service desk tickets. Microsoft emphasizes that human approval is always required before executing any action to maintain control.
Rajesh Jha, executive vice-president of experiences and devices at Microsoft, highlighted how this technology can reduce the amount of routine work that hampers productivity, as individuals often have to switch between applications, emails, and meetings to complete tasks. IDC analyst Ritu Jyoti believes that generative AI has the potential to become the foundation of the “operating system of the future” for businesses, simplifying processes like expense approval or supply chain optimization. Developers are expected to adopt this technology to streamline various work processes across different areas, including corporate IT and human resources.
The intense competition among tech companies to provide developers with similar generative AI capabilities at a rapid pace signifies a new battle in this field, according to Rowan Curran, an analyst at Forrester Research. The goal is to transform generative AI from a standalone product, like a chatbot, into an “ingredient” that can power other software applications. Additionally, Microsoft’s announcement showcases the company’s ongoing efforts to position its Teams collaboration service as the central hub for digital work processes, challenging competitors such as Google and Salesforce (owner of Slack) in the collaboration software market.
The integration of generative AI into various applications and services is likely to cause significant disruption in widely used forms of business software. Curran noted that the future landscape of productivity tools remains uncertain, given the rapid advancements in this technology. The next year or so may witness profound changes in how businesses utilize software for enhanced productivity and collaboration.