Ruben Hugo, Content Services Lead at Agilisys, discusses how Microsoft’s Project Cortex organisational productivity endeavour can help public sector organisations take control of their data and enable multiple business benefits

Project Cortex is Microsoft’s newest endeavour to transform organisational productivity by connecting people with knowledge, insights and expertise. SharePoint Syntex, the first product from Project Cortex, will be available to from October 1, 2020, with other innovations from Project Cortex becoming available later this year.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been fortunate to work closely with Microsoft as the product has developed, as well as with one of our local government customers on a private preview, giving me a detailed knowledge of how it can help public sector organisations.

During this time, one mantra has really stood out: to protect your data, you need to know your data. This is particularly true for the public sector. I’ve seen first-hand how local government and healthcare organisations hold vast amounts of data – usually with lots of unknowns in the data sets that they’re migrating to Microsoft 365. And this is a problem because, for me, you can’t achieve total information governance without identifying your data first. Only when you have a detailed understanding of the data in your possession is it possible to apply the appropriate controls required of the public sector.

Project Cortex provides the ideal solution by making it possible to build a comprehensive classification solution that provides information on what documents really are, making it possible to easily associate the appropriate security and retention policies. In short, it’s a reliable way to drive automated retention and information protection.

Rapid path to compliance

With this in mind, Project Cortex can deliver a rapid path to achieving compliance with GDPR and the UK Data Protection Act, something that’s a huge challenge for the public sector.

The sheer volumes of content involved have traditionally made this difficult. Employees don’t have the time, and nor should resource be allocated to a task like this when automation is possible. Even if they did, there would be manual errors and mistakes, as humans wouldn’t consistently classify everything correctly. What kind of content is it? How can it be enriched with metadata to power effective searches? How can I label it for retention and for sensitivity? Getting that accurate with millions of documents is largely impossible if attempted manually. Cortex provides an effective way to automate the majority of this work, utilising artificial intelligence.

Protect and share

Compliance goes hand in hand with privacy too. Take contracts and invoices – or it could be sensitive documents in children’s or adult services. When this information is held in Microsoft 365 it needs to be highly secure, whilst retaining the necessary access controls and the ability to share internally, and in some cases externally. Information sharing with the likes of schools and the NHS, for example, will become ever more important as integrated care systems become a reality.

Indeed, Project Cortex can enable more effective data sharing when used in combination with Data Loss Prevention features of Microsoft 365. Once you can identify content and you’ve applied all the appropriate controls, you’re provided with all sorts of useful tips and warnings, should you try to share something that’s sensitive, for example, with the wrong external party. This can be configured in different ways to actually block you from doing it, or you could go as far as warning and monitoring – there are, of course, valid cases where you do need to share some sensitive information with a trusted partner like the NHS.

Dealing with legacy content

Then there’s the problem of legacy content. Councils have millions of documents that can’t just be deleted. You need to look at them one-by-one to work out if it’s a specific type of content and if it requires special retention. If it does require special retention, then you need to decide where it goes. And you need to decide how to secure it.

Having been up close and personal with the Project Cortex programme, and having seen how automatic retention has developed, it’s exciting to see how, once a piece of content has been classified, for example, as a contract, it is then possible to automatically apply a retention policy. It’s a game changer.

Easy information discovery

The tools within Project Cortex have the ability to enrich an organisation’s data to drive easy discovery of information, which is truly transformative. Searching through exponentially growing volumes of content is not easy. You can still find the information without Cortex, but the question is, how long is it going to take you to find it? How many pages of search results will you need to plough through to find the document you need now. By enriching documents with metadata you can find things faster. And not only find them during the normal work staff are engaged in, but also for those special cases, such as audits, subject access requests, and Freedom of Information requests.

The ability to work faster and spend less time searching for content drives efficiency, freeing up time for staff to focus on the jobs they’re paid to do. That’s a big win; numerous studies say between 20 and 33% of staff time is spent searching for content. Spending one day per week just searching for content is significant.

Retaining knowledge

And finally, there’s the knowledge management side of Project Cortex. Much of the ethos around the development by Microsoft comes back to its argument that a lot of tacit knowledge is lost in organisations, departments even.

As a staff member moves from one department to another, there’s a whole lot of knowledge that they’re unable to share, not least because they don’t have time to write it down, so it’s lost. Hand-over meetings are usually brief and when onboarding people onto new projects, time is lost trying to upskill everyone to the right level. And it’s not just the time of the person that’s coming on board, it’s obviously the time of the people that are helping them to join the project or the new department. The idea that you’re able to more easily capture knowledge and then share it easily in this electronic digital space has huge value that could be another game changer for the public sector.

Project Cortex uses AI to automatically organise content, delivering topic cards, topic pages and knowledge centres in Microsoft Office, Outlook and Teams.

Book your complimentary introduction

If you’d like to know more about how Project Cortex could help you, please contact us to book a complimentary 1-hour introduction to Project Cortex session with one of our Project cortex public sector specialists.

Agilisys is one of just 14 global partners to be given Project Cortex launch partner status by Microsoft – and the sole UK public sector only specialist issued with the award.

To book your session – spaces are limited.