AI, new battlefield of Office 365 and G Suite

While Microsoft focuses on document creation support, Google is focusing on Gmail with help writing messages.

Historically, Office 365 has been the first productivity suite to integrate machine learning. This dimension was introduced with Delve in 2015. Objective of this brick? Offer the user a personalized and hierarchical view of his content (files, emails, conversations …) according to his relationship and documentary graph: his hierarchical history, collaboration, the mesh of his interests … Delve remains very little deployed to date. Feedback on the application is rare or non-existent. Less and less put forward, Delve is still maintained by Microsoft. It is also marketed in the French data centers of the American group. Four years later, Google is catching up. In mid-2018, the Mountain View company caused a sensation by equipping G Suite with a series of Gmail-based AI functions.

Office 365G Suite
Help content creationx
Bots and team messagingx
Knowledge Managementx
Smart messagingx
Unified and personalized document searchx
Grammatical and semantic suggestionsxx

At the heart of these new advances, Gmail has been given a possibility of smart reply offering predefined answers based on messages received. To an e-mail requesting a call “Wednesday at 11am or Thursday at 17h”, it will for example make several suggestions for replies: “Wednesday is perfect”, “Thursday suits me”, “The two of me go” or ” Neither of the two proposals suits me “. Simple and efficient.

“Google manages to decode fairly complex mail,” says Arnaud Rayrole, CEO of the French consulting firm Lecko, expert in collaborative solutions. “To a message asking to establish a new quote alongside other peripheral information, the smart reply will be able to put forward consistent suggestions: ‘Here is the modified quote’ or ‘excellent news, here is our new proposal'”. Thomas Poinsot, digital consultant at the French service company Spectrum Group, said: “The smart reply is a real plus, especially in a situation of mobility when there is little time to answer.” Google is already planning to extend it to its Hangouts IM.

Gmail: the AI ​​at the messaging service

Another lever of Gmail based on AI: the smart dials. For the time available only in English, this device “auto-complete” a message being input. By analyzing the typed terms, he finds the following most probable words given the context, and thus increases the speed of seizures. “This AI will expand to other languages ​​and get rich over time by identifying how you are addressing this or that person,” says the Mountain View giant (read the official post ).

Signed Google animation showing Gmail’s built-in email help feature. © Google

On the smart e-mail front, Office 365 is currently for absent subscribers. In terms of artificial intelligence, Office 365 R & D focuses on file creation support. Among the first affected Office bricks: PowerPoint. Based on the analysis of the presentations being created, the application recommends related content (images or texts) stored locally or on the web, which can be used for writing. It also uses image recognition to provide complementary photos (read the MSFT article ). 

Smart content in PowerPoint

Of course, G Suite is also developing this approach (read  the post ). But Microsoft pushes it further. In Excel, for example, the editor now includes a smart wizard called Ideas that identifies trends, patterns, or outliers in a table.  The automatic translation is also supported in Excel, PowerPoint and Word , with 60 languages ​​covered, but also in Stream for the automatic captioning of videos. In parallel, Microsoft continues to optimize the machine learning layer of SharePoint . On the program: decryption of images for character recognition and metadata extraction, or sentiment analysis and facial recognitionusing Azure Analytics Services. The same logic for Power BI, the data visualization application can use Azure Machine Learning to refine its processing, including identifying entities (organizations, people, locations). Via Azure ML, it even offers the possibility to build its own model of machine learning (read the post ).

Animation illustrating the capabilities of the intelligent assistant, Ideas, integrated into the right column of Excel. © Microsoft

Another battleground where AI comes into play: the search for content. Unsurprisingly, this is an area in which Google is showing a good head start. Called Google Search , ” the search engineGoogle Drive is very powerful, “says Arnaud Rayrole at Lecko.” It suggests results based on your favorite themes, the frequency of consultation and editing of a particular document. It gives access to a ranking of the results with regard to the authors with whom you exchange the most. “Only downside: Google Search does not go as far as managing skills.” It does not analyze the profiles of employees, their career and their a work history to unearth the knowledge available internally that can be useful for this or that project, “continues Arnaud Rayrole, an approach that Microsoft integrates via Delve or Yammer, the Office 365 enterprise social networking brick .

Google’s strategy more readable

In terms of documentary research, Microsoft still has a way to go before catching up with Google. The group has announced its intention to evolve in this field towards a unified experience. For now, several indexing enginescoexist within Office 365, each associated with an application (Yammer, Teams, Outlook, Drive ….) The publisher intends to consolidate them within a single base called Microsoft Search. R & D work that should be completed by the end of the first half of 2019. The promise? Provide an AI-based search environment that delivers personalized and consistent results across the entire platform. Eventually, the company of Satya Nadella even intends to tend to a common search interface covering not only Office 365 but also Windows 10 and the software package Dynamics 365.

For the consultants surveyed, these Office developments are generally in the right direction, but are less readable against the simple and pragmatic AI levers that draws Google in Gmail.

Last opposition ground: chatbots. Google and Microsoft both integrate this dimension into their respective suite through team messaging application: Hangouts Chat for the first and Teams for the second. Launched in early 2017, just over a year before Hangouts Chat, “Teams has significantly more conversational agents,” says Thomas Poinsot at Spectrum Group. “But like at Google, they are mostly limited to simple tasks, click-to-action.Rare are those equipped with a layer of conversational AI capable of providing the expected response by seeking the good applications. “

Algorithms that shape the business

“In the end, all these efforts have a common purpose: to help users manage ever-increasing volumes of data.” The goal is laudable, but AI is never neutral. no less than a vision of the world coded in algorithms, which ultimately gives Google and Microsoft the opportunity to guide the choices of an organization by prioritizing information according to their own rules, “warns Arnaud Rayrole. “Likewise, they encourage the evaluation of employee performance by following their logic.” On this point, the CEO of Lecko evokes the Office 365 MyAnalytics brick. “It provides KPIs inspired by American culture, for example the rate of users transmitting emails at non-working hours and not by time slots.