The AI Arms Race: Microsoft Brings Its Cognitive Assets to Benefit Office 365 Users

T. Banting

Summary Bullets:

  • Microsoft is adding significant business value across its portfolio by leveraging Azure’s cognitive services and providing benefits to those customers with top-tier Office 365 plans.
  • Without integrating ‘machine learning-as-a-service’ (MLaaS) offerings within business applications and relying on developers to do the heavy lifting, competitors will soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Last week, Microsoft announced upcoming capabilities that leverage its MLaaS to provide video and audio transcription of content stored in OneDrive for Business and SharePoint. Microsoft also previously announced the capability to use its Azure cognitive services to determine where photos were taken, recognize objects, and extract text from photos.

This move by Microsoft aims to make audio and video files more valuable, especially as these sorts of assets can remain hidden in the deep recesses of SharePoint and OneDrive; rather, Microsoft is looking to shine a light on dusty digital content to further help employees find what they need. Not just beneficial to the hearing impaired (e.g., by providing closed captions capabilities), transcription becomes extremely valuable when intelligent search is applied. For example, rather than sitting through a replay of a meeting, users could jump to parts where an attendee is reviewing ‘action items’ or where a specific project or company name is mentioned. Similarly, some people will prefer to skim a transcript over watching a whole video to cut down on unproductive time.

Microsoft is not alone in this market; companies such as Amazon also support a speech recognition service that makes it easy to add speech-to-text capability to their applications. Using an Amazon Transcribe API, audio files stored in Amazon S3 can be analyzed and the service can return a text file of the transcribed speech. Indeed, the Google Cloud Speech-to-Text API recognizes 120 languages and IBM Watson can automatically transcribe audio from seven languages in real time. However, Microsoft differentiates its offering by integrating its cognitive services within its own portfolio besides opening Azure up to software developers; consequently, users can transfer their content from OneDrive for Business/SharePoint to Microsoft Stream (an enterprise video service akin to YouTube for business), as long as they are licensed for Office 365’s E5 plan or purchase an additional Microsoft Stream Plan 2.

Despite its limited language support for English and Spanish transcription, Microsoft is leading the way in terms of well-integrated, value-adding services. These AI-based, cognitive capabilities are the new battleground for business value and those vendors that do not have similar capabilities will soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage as we enter the AI arms race era.

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