How can you prepare for Project Cortex?

Last year at Ignite 2019, Microsoft announced a new way to do Knowledge Management in the organisation: Project Cortex. Cortex (working title), which is coming out this summer, will let AI drive the discovery of topics and will connect the dots on information for you.

Microsoft Ignite 2019 News & Announcements
Announcement of Project Cortex at Ignite 2019

I am not going to explain why, how or what Project Cortex is, but let’s dig a bit deeper into how we can already start preparing if you are thinking about rolling it out in your organisation. This is my top 10:

  1. Create a compelling business case
  2. Make sure your content is in Microsoft 365
  3. Get yourself on modern SharePoint
  4. Work on Microsoft Search: get your acronyms, q/a, bookmarks working
  5. Get yourself familiarized with the workings of the Term store
  6. Source your organisation for the right roles: get knowledge managers and SME’s
  7. Set up a Knowledge Board
  8. Get a budget for the implementation
  9. Start thinking about your knowledge: Get your taxonomy set up, get knowledge flowing
  10. Start communicating

Steve and me recently did a session together at Microsoft 365 Virtual Marathon on “Working with the business: Roles and responsibilities for Project Cortex”.

Make the business case to see if you want to implement Project Cortex

Implementing a new feature needs to be seen as a project. With Cortex, an extra license will be involved. You will need to draft up a “why” statement, with costs and benefits. What are you doing now around knowledge management? Is that enough? What are examples when this tacit knowledge actually saved the organisation a lot of money? What are the limits of your current way of working? Where do you want to go and what kind of budget do you need to get you there?

Rolling out Project Cortex will work well in an agile project, after that a “service” approach will be needed to make sure the right results keep popping up in your search.

As the AI makes more connections, seeds more topics, the process of approving and filling these will take some time and effort from your Knowledge Managers and SME’s. Budget that time in as well.

Choose the right approach for implementation

Find the correct people in your organisation to manage Project Cortex

Project Cortex requires 3 roles:

  • Content Services admin: a technical role to manage the content services settings
  • Knowledge Manager: Responsible for the quality of the information and knowledge
  • Subject Matter Experts (SME): the ones that will seed your topic pages with their knowledge

The admin role is a pretty straightforward one. When it comes out, this person will be managing all the settings there are to do in the platform. This will need to happen together with the Knowledge Manager(s) in the same you are driving your governance within the organisation.

When you set up a “Knowledge board” to meet once a month (or whatever timeframe you want), you have a place and a time where people meet over proposed topics and where they check if additional links or topics can be had. These sessions can be used to track progress and ROI and to prepare feedback for management.

Set up a knowledge board

Think about how many Knowledge Managers you will need to make this a success. In my opinion, being a KM will (in most organisations) not be a full time role, but rather an extra role that a number of people take on. Someone in IT, HR, Marketing, Sales, … with the knowledge of their tools, processes and information needs will make a more powerful combination.

Look at your SME’s as your “champions” of user adoption. Get them on board, give them the knowledge around the topic. Work with them as your other champion programs.

Start sharing information right now to form the habit

In order to start preparing for this setup, a low tech version of knowledge management can be used already. This concept I drew up while I was at a project, where R&D and Shipping didn’t talk to each other. R&D was having great ideas, but they couldn’t be shipped in a sea container so they had to be dismounted with a lot of overhead and extra costs to the customer.

Get every department to share 1 item to all other departments every month

The idea here is that every month, every department gives all the other departments 1 thing they really should know. This could be all kinds of information, but the goal is to have departments talk to each other, explain what they do and what they need in order to do this succesfully.

The end result is that you have better communications, people start thinking about ways to benefit the company as a whole, not just their own department.

Prepare your Microsoft 365 platform

Project Cortex will work best when all your content is prepped and ready. That means that step number 1 is to get your content to the Microsoft 365 platform.

There will be ways to link to other datasources (as you can see int he architecture drawing) via content connectors, but I am guessing it will work best when the content is actually within the space of Microsoft 365. When you keep the data in other platforms, use these content connectors to help search be better.

Project Cortex Architecture

The topic pages in SharePoint will be on modern pages, so if you are still running classic, it might be a good time to start your transition to modern.

Cortex is about connecting people to information. Make sure your user profiles are working. Check the sync from AD. Encourage people to set up a profile picture, fill out their information on their Delve user profile.

Familiarize yourself with Managed metadata and the term store: understand how taxonomy or folksonomy works, what a term set and a term is, how they are grouped together. Check out the new and improved modern term store in your SharePoint admin center.

Flexible managed metadata configurations
Requirements use different levels of scope vs control (Source)

Microsoft Search is an important part of the Project Cortex puzzle. Make sure you are running Microsoft Search and take advantage today of the extra capabilities it has. Set up your bookmarks, Q/A, acronyms and so on, together with your Knowledge Managers. This allows you to get them on board already, start making the effort, start thinking like a knowledge manager and to see how this could start benefiting the people that work in your organisation.

Perhaps this is also a good time to review the security aspect of your implementation. As Project Cortex will adhere to your current security and compliance setup, it could be worthwhile to see who can access what sources of information.

Recap

  1. Create a compelling business case
  2. Make sure your content is in Microsoft 365
  3. Get yourself on modern SharePoint
  4. Work on Microsoft Search: get your acronyms, q/a, bookmarks working
  5. Get yourself familiarized with the workings of the Term store
  6. Source your organisation for the right roles: get knowledge managers and SME’s
  7. Set up a Knowledge Board
  8. Get a budget for the implementation
  9. Start thinking about your knowledge: Get your taxonomy set up, get knowledge flowing
  10. Start communicating

About: Marijn

Marijn Somers (MVP) has over 14 years experience in the SharePoint world, starting out with SP2007. Over the years the focus has grown to Office 365, with a focus on collaboration and document management. He is a business consultant at Balestra and Principal Content Provider for "Mijn 365 Coach" that offers dutch employee video training. His main work tracks are around user adoption, training and coaching and governance. He is also not afraid to dig deeper in the technicalities with PowerShell, adaptive cards or custom formatting in lists and libraries. You can listen to him on the biweekly "Office 365 Distilled" podcast.

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