AI-Enabled Excel, More Admin Insights Coming to Microsoft Office 365

Soon, Microsoft Excel will automatically detect and categorize certain forms of data and Office administrators will be able to dive into Teams usage metrics.

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Microsoft is already using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for an array of intelligent cloud services and to help the visually impaired navigate the world, among several other use cases. Soon, AI will also help make Excel spreadsheets smarter.

"Coming in early 2018, Excel will understand new data types, beyond text and numbers, and augment that data based on public and enterprise information," wrote Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office, in a blog post. "For example, Excel will know that 'India' is a country and 'MSFT' is a stock. Insights—a new service coming to Office Insiders this year—also uses AI to find and recommend patterns, helping you derive additional insights from complex data."

The new Excel 1.7 APIs, currently in preview, offer developers more formatting flexibility when they create Excel web add-ins. Developers can tweak, styles, hyperlinks, color grid lines and other elements. Microsoft is also extending single sign-on functionality to Excel add-ins (Word and PowerPoint, too), eliminating the need to log in again when users launch an Office plugin.

For administrators, Microsoft is preparing for the general availability of Office 365 Usage Analytics in early 2018. Although Office usage monitoring has been around a while, the upcoming release will enable users to explore metrics with Power BI.

In mid-October, the Office 365 Admin Center will gain two new usage reports for a relatively new part of the Office ecosystem that Microsoft is intent on growing.

Microsoft will be adding Teams user activity and app usage reports to the Office statistics currently gathered by the dashboard. Microsoft Teams is a chat-based group collaboration service, similar to Slack, that is fast becoming the go-to hub for workplace communications in Office 365 environments.

At last count, more than 125,000 customer organizations have adopted the application since its official release in March. In fact, Microsoft announced during its Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla. Sept.25-29 that the company had plans to replace the Skype for Business enterprise communications client with Teams soon.

The new Teams user activity report, as its name suggest, will show Office administrators which activities are most popular among its workforce and how users interact with a given feature, such as private chat messages or team chats. Meanwhile, the Teams app usage report will offer insights about how users access the service, allowing organizations to gauge its popularity on smartphones and other device types.

Microsoft is also making it easier to find Office content courtesy of new search services and integrations.

The SharePoint search experience has been upgraded to deliver personalized results using Microsoft Graph, a collection of APIs that use the wealth of content and employee information stored in Microsoft's business software and cloud ecosystem to surface contextual information. In SharePoint, a streamlined search interface uses Microsoft Graph data to relevant results based on a user's needs.

The search box in the Windows taskbar, long used to find files on the PC it's running on, can now be used to search Office 365 content and connections. Finally, Microsoft launched a preview of Bing for Business, a browser-based and ad-free search product that uses AI and the Microsoft Graph to help users securely find sensitive enterprise information and public search results alike.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...