Microsoft Ignite 2019: Meet Project Cortex, Office 365 knowledge-management service

Ignite 2019: Microsoft is adding a new, Microsoft-Graph-powered knowledge-management service to Office 365. Here's what 'Project Cortex' is and how it will work.

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Several years ago, Microsoft announced it was going to deliver a knowledge-management capability in SharePoint that was codenamed Infopedia. Though that service never ended up hatching, Microsoft didn't give up on its vision of harnessing expert knowledge. At Ignite this week, officials are previewing its latest take on knowledge management in the form of a new Office 365 service. 

Codenamed "Project Cortex," this new knowledge-management service is the first major new Microsoft 365 cloud service that Microsoft has introduced since it launched Teams in 2017. The service is meant to help organize businesses' content that's accessible in SharePoint and make it available to users in a proactive way. 

Project Cortex can turn customers' content into "an interactive knowledge repository," officials said. It can intelligently ingest content in a variety of forms; analyze documents and contacts; and allow subject-matter experts to teach the system how to understand semi-structured content including information from conversations, meetings and videos. 

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Credit: Microsoft

Project Cortex will create and update new topic pages and knowledge centers that are meant to act like wikis. Topic cards will be available to users in Outlook, Teams and Office. Cortex builds on top of Microsoft cognitive services for image and text recognition, forms processing and machine teaching (via LUIS). 

At the heart of Project Cortex is an updated Managed Metadata Service which enables tagging across Microsoft 365. Cortex can connect to third-party repositories using the new Microsoft Search connectors which already are available for Windows File Share, ServiceNow, SQL Database, Intranet Websites, MediaWiki, Azure Data Lake Gen2, Salesforce and more.

In 2017, Microsoft officials said the company planned to use a personalized People search in SharePoint, powered by the Microsoft Graph programming interface, to deliver the type of knowledge management capabilities it originally was planning for with the cancelled Infopedia portal. At that time, officials said incorporating more signals from Yammer, Teams and Planner into the Microsoft Graph -- which would populate the list of Sites, Files and People. Microsoft's vision was that when users clicked on the Search box in Office, recommendations about people who could provide related information would be surfaced based on information in their Office 365 profiles.

It sounds like that vision is finally coming into being with Project Cortex.The service has been in private preview with more than a dozen customers, Microsoft officials said. Today, Microsoft is opening up a few additional seats to new customers who apply via the Project Cortex Resource Center.

Microsoft has several sessions at Ignite this week focusing on knowledge mining as a way to extract entities and relationships from unstructured documents so as to turn them into a private "knowledge store." Azure Cognitive Search is key to doing this. Microsoft announced Azure Cognitive Search, which is Azure Search with built-in cognitive services, at Build in 2018.