Three Things You can do Today to Get the Most out of Microsoft 365’s Project Cortex

Project Cortex is Microsoft’s new AI offering as part of its Microsoft 365 Suite. It will have several exciting features that organizations can leverage to make connections between content, data, and experts. Cortex will be able to surface knowledge that would have otherwise been buried in people’s mailboxes, SharePoint libraries, meetings, and conversations by generating topic cards, topic pages, people cards, and integrating content into the Microsoft Graph.

Harnessing Project Cortex’s full power, however, will not be as simple as turning on a switch, and there are also pitfalls that could hamper its rollout at your organization. Below, you will find three actions you can take right now to maximize the usefulness of Project Cortex once it is enabled in your organization.

Tidy Up Your Content

One of Cortex’s main strengths and features is its ability to surface content – it can deliver contextual knowledge in the form of topic cards to users as they are working through various Microsoft 365 apps, including SharePoint, Teams, and Outlook. Cards will generally consist of a short description, a directory of related experts, and links to associated content. On many occasions, cards will be curated by knowledge managers, and often, these cards will also be generated automatically by AI. 

All too often, organizations and teams have their content in disarray: duplicates (or near duplicates) of content items, outdated information, or obsolete guidance are scattered throughout their sites. By cleaning up your content, you will make it easier for knowledge managers to load topic cards and topic pages with high-quality knowledge, and more importantly, reduce the risk that Cortex will display inaccurate and incomplete information when the AI automatically brings together associated content. Tidying up content is not magic, but it does take planning and effort. Like the old adage goes, garbage in, garbage out.

Maximize the Use of Taxonomies

Cortex will be smart enough to detect important terms in emails, uploaded documents, SharePoint pages, and other Microsoft 365 content. For each of these important terms, Cortex can create topic cards and topic pages automatically. However, we can help Cortex’s AI algorithm by teaching it which topics are important and relevant. We do so by creating a taxonomy of topics within Microsoft 365’s Managed Metadata Services. Say, for instance, a manufacturing company creates a taxonomy of their product offerings – Microsoft 365 would know to create a topic card and a topic page for each of their products, and surface product information for users as they read their emails or contribute to a Word document without having to interrupt their work. If you want better topic cards appearing on users’ screens as they work, then you need a well-designed taxonomy complementing Cortex’s AI capabilities.

In addition to powering topic cards and topic pages, the taxonomy will also serve as a common tagging scheme across Microsoft 365 apps including SharePoint, Word, OneDrive, Teams, and Yammer. Essentially, the Managed Metadata Services delivers on the promise of taxonomies by providing a layer that connects users to similar resources and to other experts on the topics relevant to their work. 

Set up the Right Levels of Access to your Content

Even though Project Cortex will excel at surfacing knowledge and documents, it will not do so indiscriminately. Indeed, it will respect each individual content item’s security and access policies. Users referencing a topic card or topic page will not be able to read nor gain entry to restricted documents or private conversations. The challenge organizations face is to find the balance between setting up access frameworks that are not too restrictive or too permissive, and creating a site architecture that allows the organization to implement these frameworks.

Finding a balance can be difficult. At one end of the spectrum, teams can be too risk-averse and feel overprotective of their content, restricting access to a fault and excluding others across the organization who would benefit from leveraging that content overprotective. Organizations may also set up their SharePoint sites, teams channels, etc., and their respective access to mimic their org chart – essentially replicating knowledge and information silos within Microsoft 365. For example, a project team may keep all of their expenses within a completely restricted document library – for somebody in accounting (who may have a valid reason to read and use this information) it may be impossible to access it. Regardless of the rationale behind limiting access, frameworks that are too restrictive may impair the delivery of useful knowledge to users who have a valid (and sometimes urgent) reason to reference it, thereby rendering the full power of Project Cortex and the Microsoft graph moot.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are frameworks that are completely open. There may be numerous reasons for this openness. Sometimes it may be a deliberate design to encourage knowledge-sharing and transparency, but on other occasions, openness may be a result of weak governance roles and procedures or the lack of guidance for site and content owners. Regardless of the underlying reasons for the lack of security, the risk in this scenario is that Cortex may prove too good at surfacing knowledge and deliver confidential or sensitive information to users who may not have the appropriate privileges to view it.

The right security and access framework will ensure that knowledge is shared with users who need it while protecting the organization’s sensitive information.


Project Cortex is one of the most exciting developments for Microsoft 365 in recent years. Its potential to empower organizations to leverage their own institutional knowledge is unlike anything Microsoft has ever released. Although it is just rolling out this year, and many organizations have had limited exposure to it so far, these three tips can help ensure that you hit the ground running once you enable it. You can start today no matter how far along your organization is with Microsoft 365.

Interested in making the most of your SharePoint and Microsoft 365 instance? Contact Enterprise Knowledge to learn more.

Guillermo Galdamez Guillermo Galdamez Guillermo Galdamez is an information professional specializing in knowledge management, taxonomies, and enterprise search. He enjoys collaborating across organizational boundaries to deliver solutions that help clients meet their strategic objectives. More from Guillermo Galdamez »