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Microsoft is rolling out something called 'Project Cortex' to take on rivals like Slack and Google (MSFT)

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  • Microsoft has released a new service within its Microsoft 365 set of business applications to help customers manage and access the information they need to do their work.
  • The new service is called "Project Cortex" and it's similar to a search engine, except it can surface information in real-time within any Microsoft application. It also helps companies manage and sort all the data shared between people in a company through Microsoft 365 – such as files, conversations, meeting recordings and video.
  • For example, if two employees are discussing a project within Microsoft Teams chat app, Project Cortex can detect what they're talking about and surface relevant information such as who's working on the project and related files.
  • Project Cortex is what's called a knowledge management system, basically a means for creating, sharing, and managing knowledge or information within an organization. There's a big opportunity in the knowledge management space, analysts say, because no company has quite figured it out yet.
  • Microsoft has a lead over Slack and Google's competing G Suite set of cloud collaboration tools, but analysts say Microsoft needs to "step up its game" on artificial intelligence – and cracking the knowledge management space with a service like Project Cortex could help the company ward off challengers.
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Microsoft has a new service to help customers manage and access the information they need to do their work – and experts say it could give it an edge when it comes to competition with Slack and Google.

The new service is called "Project Cortex" and it's intended to help companies share knowledge between employees. It's similar to a search engine, except it can surface information in real-time within any Microsoft application. 

Project Cortex is the first new service within the company's bundle of subscription business applications called Microsoft 365 since it released the Microsoft Teams chat app in 2017.

Microsoft has a lead over Slack and Google's competing G Suite set of cloud collaboration tools, but analysts say Microsoft needs to "step up its game" on artificial intelligence – and cracking the knowledge management space with a service like Project Cortex could help the company ward off challengers.

"Microsoft intends to maintain its dominant position in the collaboration and productivity space with new capabilities that keep it ahead of the competition," Raul Castanon-Martinez, a senior analyst at 451 Research who specializes in workforce collaboration, told Business Insider. "The overall strategy for Microsoft is to embed context and intelligence into their applications."

How it works

Project Cortex collects all the data shared between people in a company through Microsoft 365 – such as files, conversations, meeting recordings and video – plus information from third-party sources and categorizes that content using machine learning into topics such as customers, products, projects, and policies. 

Project Cortex then takes all of the information associated with a particular topic and creates what Microsoft calls "topic cards" – basically everything an employee would need to know about the topic, such as a list of experts, resources and information about it. Those topic cards appear automatically when a user is working within a Microsoft application such as Word, Outlook, SharePoint, or Microsoft Teams.

For example, if two employees are discussing a project within Microsoft Teams, Project Cortex could detect the topic and bring up a topic card with a list of everyone who is working on it and any related documents.

Project Cortex goes beyond a search engine because it not only points users to particular topics but helps identify those topics and find relationships between them – and, importantly, it can surface all of that information in real-time in any Microsoft application.

Helping users share information across different applications solves a pervasive problem in workforce productivity and collaboration, Castanon-Martinez said.

"Employees need more applications to get their work done but the growing number of apps leads to inefficiencies," Castanon-Martinez said. "This presents an opportunity for vendors like Microsoft to provide assistive technology that can support how employees interact with applications and handle information."

Why it matters

Project Cortex is what's called a knowledge management system, basically a means for creating, sharing, and managing knowledge or information within an organization. There's a big opportunity for companies in knowledge management because no one has quite figured it out yet, Futurum Research principal analyst Daniel Newman said.

"Right now, there isn't a company crushing it," Newman said.

The service already makes Microsoft 365 a "more complete solution" than competitors like Slack and list-making application Trello, Newman said. There's also no reason why Project Cortex couldn't ultimately make its way onto Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform, Newman said, helping the company compete with cloud market-leading Amazon Web Services.

Microsoft still has a lead in workforce productivity and collaboration, but competition is intensifying. Microsoft recently said Teams has reached 20 million daily active users, compared to Slack's 12 million daily active users, but Slack has said its users are more engaged. Google's G Suite lags in terms of users, but Castanon-Martinez, the 451 Research analyst, said it's "rapidly gaining ground."

"Google has built differentiation based on its key strengths with cloud-native capabilities and AI, so it's important for Microsoft to step up its AI game," he  said.

Microsoft also faces competition from Box and Dropbox, which Castanon-Martinez said have gained "significant market traction" as they've evolved past their initial positioning as cloud storage providers to "increasingly becoming a central point for business workflows and collaboration." The same, he said, can be said for Slack.

Mastering knowledge management could help Microsoft maintain its lead in the space.

"By becoming the [knowledge management] tool of choice, Microsoft can elevate its positioning as a productivity and collaboration tool," he said.

Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at astewart@businessinsider.com, message her on Twitter @ashannstew or send her a secure message through Signal at 425-344-8242. 

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