Introducing Project Cortex: The future of enterprise knowledge gets a big boost at Ignite

Today, at Microsoft Ignite 2019, Microsoft unveiled Project Cortex (final name to be announced in the first half of 2020), a new service in Microsoft 365 that uses AI to shape organizational data and organize it into shared topics like projects and customers. This announcement represents a glimpse into the future of knowledge management software – a big step in a vision that began in the 1990s when enabling technology first started to address this critical organization need.

Project Cortex: the realization of a vision of knowledge management software

Twenty-five years ago, I was the director of knowledge management at a global consulting firm. Our key goal was to make sure that as an organization, we knew what we knew and delivered that collective knowledge and experience to every client engagement. We relied on a collection of people activities (communities of practice), processes (a culture that encouraged knowledge re-use and a promotion culture that required the demonstration of knowledge leverage, not just revenue generation), and enabling technology (a collection of Lotus Notes databases that were frustratingly difficult to search – but were the best that we had at that time).

We recognized that people and their knowledge were our greatest assets and we invested in as many approaches as possible to help use technology to support expertise location and leveraging existing work and prior experiences. And we did a pretty good job back in 1995. Still, even with a culture that valued and rewarded knowledge re-use and the many programs and initiatives that we promoted to enable knowledge transfer, it was hard to get people to keep their expertise profiles up-to-date and to integrate the variety of knowledge assets, sources, and locations that we had – spread out over 9,000 people and multiple cities and countries.

We did have a vision, however, for a solution that would integrate our structured knowledge in a variety of databases and solutions and our less-structured knowledge in documents, and deliver that knowledge when and…