Microsoft Copilot is an initiative to embed Artificial Intelligence and the technology behind ChatGPT into every part of Microsoft Office and the Power Platform. Copilot for Excel promises to enable users to ask questions about data, have Excel automatically complete tasks like inserting columns, charts, and making modifications to spreadsheets.
We’re highly excited to test out Microsoft Copilot when it becomes available to the general public. We’ll look at the information that Microsoft has published, explain the upcoming release date and look at some alternatives to Copilot that people should consider.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What is Microsoft Copilot?
After Microsoft invested over $10 billion dollars into OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT they have been heavily investing and prioritizing the integration of Artificial Intelligence into all of their products. Copilot is the marketing name Microsoft is giving this functionality. It promises to enable people to type in requests in plan English and in response the AI completes a task or answers a question.
Microsoft has published a series of videos highlighting their vision of what AI will be able to do in each one of the Office 365 or Microsoft Power Platform Applications.
The functionality varies quite a bit with examples of Microsoft Word generating pages of text, to Excel answering questions about your data.
The following video shows an overview of the different functionalities that Microsoft has in mind.
As you can see, if Microsoft is able to execute upon the vision that they currently have it will be a very useful tool and increase productivity in the workplace quite a bit.
What is Microsoft Copilot for Excel?
Copilot for Excel is Microsoft’s integration of AI and Natural Language Processing that converts plain English requests into actions and insights. It’s anticipated to be a paid add-on and will require an internet connection. AI systems such as these require a large amount of processing power to work effectively, which may limit some of the usefulness.
Some of the planned features include:
- Natural language data analysis – Ask questions about your data and get near immediate answers.
- Automated data visualization – Tell Copilot what you want to see, and it will create visualizations for you.
- Data-driven recommendations – Get recommendations and surface insights about your data.
- Integrates with Other Business Data – Blend Excel analysis with other data sources available in your company.
The following video shows Microsoft’s vision of Copilot for Excel and some of the features they have planned for the initial release of the product.
The important thing to keep in mind is that these videos were from the initial release announcement. It’s likely that features will be added, or may never fully come to fruition.
A major challenge with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Systems such as these is the ability for humans to concisely and accurately describe what they want to see. There also has to be ample amounts of data available for Microsoft to collect, aggregate and use the train the AI behind Copilot.
When will Copilot be available?
Microsoft has been running an invite only beta with some of their largest enterprise customers who have already been using Copilot with Excel. Copilot will be made available for large enterprise customers on November 1st 2023.
There has been no information released at this time of when Copilot will be generally available to all Microsoft Office and Excel users. It’s likely that Microsoft will slowly roll out Copilot to wider customer bases as they improve the functionality, and have more compute resources coming available to support it.
The Office Suite of products is one of the most widely used office productivity products on the planet with hundreds of millions of active users. We hope that its made more widely available in the near future, but it may take a combination of additional compute resources, and more efficient AI algorithms until its made available.
How much will Microsoft Copilot Cost?
Microsoft announced that Copilot will be a $30 USD per user per month add-on to Office Subscriptions. They have not announced pricing across different SKUs and different regions. Because of the required internet access, it’s likely that it will remain a per user per month add-on with no offline version coming available in the near future.
Is Microsoft Copilot Worth it?
Whether Copilot is worth $30 per user per month is going to depend a lot on how much added capability Copilot gives users across the Microsoft Ecosystem.
It’s an expensive price when you consider an enterprise license of Microsoft 365 E5, a mid-tier enterprise license already costs $36 per user per month. An additional $30 per user per month means Microsoft is asking companies to pay $66 per user per month or $792 per user per year.
When you begin to scale up the cost of Office Licenses with copilots to organizations with thousands of employees the cost easily begins to run into the millions or tens of millions of dollars.
To justify the added software cost, companies will need to find ways to reduce other costs. The productivity gains mean that the cost savings will likely be in reduced labor costs, but there are no guarantees that the proposed savings will come to fruition.
What are the alternatives to Excel Copilot?
While there are a number of plugins for Excel that have some AI integration that work by sending requests to ChatGPT and returning the response these tools look very limited compared to the functionality that Microsoft has in mind with direct Copilot Integration.
However, there are two primary alternatives to Excel Copilot that we think people should consider.
Our first recommendation is ChatGPT Plus, the premium paid tier of ChatGPT. The Advanced Data Analysis feature allows you to upload Excel files, manipulate them with plain English commands and export them back to an .xlsx or .csv file.
We have an in-depth article explaining how to use ChatGPT and Excel together to maximize productivity.
The other reason we like ChatGPT Plus as a Copilot alternative is that it is less expensive at $20 USD per user per month and can complete a wider range of tasks across other applications. It can generate Python code to help you automate processes, or connect to a multitude of different systems to complete tasks on your behalf when working with applications outside of the Microsoft Ecosystem.
ChatGPT has been rapidly improving and even has capabilities to use AI to read text out loud, understand images, convert PDF files to Text, and a lot of other cool use cases.
Excel Training and Automation Tools
Microsoft and other companies have already released a lot of AI features in their software. The promise of a new found level of productivity is there, but the reality has been much less underwhelming. It’s incredibly difficult to describe a process to a computer and have the computer accurately complete it based on your intentions.
It’s even more difficult when working with data. Sometimes this is to the point that it’s easier to perform the task yourself. Power Users who have already invested thousands of hours into becoming Excel Experts may find that Copilot is mostly useless because they can complete tasks faster than it takes to describe a task for AI to complete.
We recommend users check out the following guides to learn some tips and tricks to use Excel faster and to automate common tasks in Excel for free.
Copilot for Excel is one of the most anticipated features in modern updates to Microsoft Office. Microsoft has already recently implemented a version of Python that can run within Excel Spreadsheets and released a new scripting language that helps you automate Excel tasks entirely online.
It’s our anticipation that these technologies combined with Copilot will lay the foundation for a greater level of usefulness in the future. For now, we have to wait and see how Excel evolves and which AI features are useful and which ones are not. Excel is one of the longest lasting software products still in use today and will be sure to continue evolving along with AI.