Microsoft Syntex drives knowledge creation for NWG

(Microsoft Syntex has been rebranded and incorporated into SharePoint Premium at Microsoft Ignite on 15 November 2023.)

Solution Summary

Many of us take the water that comes out of our taps for granted. We realise that the water originates from the environment and has been treated in some way, but we don’t give it more thought than that. The water industry has embraced many changes over the past few years and the industry leaders need to focus on innovation to cope with these changes. Northumbrian Water Group (“NWG”), via its largest subsidiary Northumbrian Water Limited (NWL), is one of the major water and sewerage companies in the UK and provides its services to over 4.2 million people in North and South East England. Over the past year, NWG has, with the assistance of Microsoft, explored the capabilities of Microsoft Syntex in transforming data into valuable knowledge. As a result of this process, NWG identified a series of business cases for using Microsoft Syntex that they wished to implement over the course of the following year.

As a Charter member of the Content Services Partner Program, Intelogy has been recognised by Microsoft for providing industry-leading services in Microsoft Syntex. Our team of experts provided NWG with Syntex delivery expertise and worked closely with the business to determine how they could best utilise the product to drive productivity and simplify and automate manual business processes.

“Many of the new Microsoft technologies can be daunting and difficult to navigate and it’s not always clear where to start. Working with Intelogy has allowed us to navigate this difficulty, kick start our understanding and build out our knowledge within our Product and Business teams. We have built up a way of working that has helped us to innovate and deliver value quickly back into the business”.

– Craig Stanley, Productivity & Collaboration Consultant, Northumbrian Water Limited

After completing a substantial migration, NWG were facing a large amount of unlabelled and unidentified content, which made it hard to locate. In its current state, employees were not getting value from this content.

“When I heard of their challenges, I was immediately excited about this project as it was a dream use case for Microsoft Syntex”.

– Leon Armston, M365 Consultant & Microsoft MVP, Intelogy

Intelogy surveyed NWG’s content and engaged with the organisation to obtain insight about their content. Our experts made recommendations about where Syntex could be beneficial by enabling employees to work more efficiently and quickly locate the content they need. Syntex AI models were designed to identify and extract values from content. With the files now being identified and tagged, everything is easily accessible for employees through customised search experiences.

“We have really enjoyed working with Intelogy, and have really benefited from the experience and knowledge Leon has been able to share. That combined with the opportunity to take part in the Microsoft preview programme has put NWG in a great position when it comes to realising the benefits of Syntex”.

– Kelly Dougherty, IS Product Manager, Northumbrian Water Limited

Challenges

In the normal course of their operation, NWG maintains large repositories of physical documents, numbering in the millions. As a result, until recently, their business processes and data logging were all manual and paper-based in nature. NWG have since, with the assistance of a professional scanning company, embarked on a programme of digitising these physical records, which include technical drawings (plans), microfiche slides, and even photos of pump plates with serial numbers. Due to the large volume and variety of the records scanned it was not feasible for metadata to be added for each scanned record. The scans were then uploaded “as is” into SharePoint Online. This resulted in millions of files existing in unsorted, unlabelled states, which in turn presented significant difficulties to users in being able to locate the files that they required, both via out-of-the-box search experiences and via manual browsing.

Manually resolving this issue and organising, labelling, and indexing these assets, given the scale of the task, would have proven prohibitively time-consuming and, even if feasible, would not provide any long-term solution for the issue. NWG, therefore, needed a solution that would allow them to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Teaching to identify and classify documents, and then perform entity extraction of metadata values from within the document i.e. drawing code, location, author, date etc. NWG also required that these AI models could be created and maintained by non-developer business users, via an easy-to-use graphical interface instead of using code or a command line interface.

“Working closely with our users and our small Product Team Intelogy have delivered quick wins and capabilities to surface content through to new user experiences and to new types of devices. The building out of quick wins and the building up of our Product Team’s capabilities has been a very successful combination and in Intelogy we have found a partner that aligns well with our current business channels”.

– Craig Stanley

Solution Overview

Launched in 2020, Microsoft Syntex is a Microsoft 365 service that uses advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Teaching to amplify human expertise, automate content processing and transform content into knowledge. It uses AI to understand, identify and provide intelligence to content by extracting key information from files in SharePoint and then automatically adding appropriate metadata tags. This works by teaching Syntex AI models to read content and extract key information in exactly the same way your organisation would but doing this reliably, constantly and at a much greater scale. All without any need to write code or leave the SharePoint interface.

Many organisations can benefit from Microsoft Syntex because it not only classifies and extracts information from your content, but also brings your critical organisational content into the flow of work with AI-driven process automation, driving workflows, security and compliance, along with increasing the discoverability and search potential of content for end-users.

Microsoft Syntex – Content Understanding

NWG engaged with Intelogy for our Syntex advisory services and knowledge in this space. As previously mentioned, Northumbrian Water’s files had been migrated from file shares and other legacy systems to SharePoint. The content was now all in one place and NWG could start to build on this content, empower their employees by delivering the content that they need and drive efficiency in the workplace.

Intelogy worked with Northumbrian Water to scan their environment, then create a Syntex strategy and identify types of content in the organisation that could benefit from Syntex. Our experts designed Syntex models to identify content and interpret and label structured and unstructured content. As part of the engagement, it was also important to teach NWG how to identify use cases for Syntex and create models themselves.

One particularly innovative use case was for the site engineers who use smart hands-free wearables. These high-tech devices are considered ‘wearable’ computers, used as a productivity/collaboration tool by engineers whilst visiting sites to perform checks and repairs. They provide features such as audio and video recording along with a high-resolution microdisplay that appears just below the line of sight. By using these headsets, engineers can browse helpful files whilst completing the job and keep their hands-free i.e., engineering drawing plans identified and tagged using Syntex. Engineers can also dictate notes into the wearables during the site visit, which will be converted after the visit into a PDF file and then uploaded to SharePoint. The Syntex models extract information from these site reports and tag the files, enabling status reporting on the works, but also helpful overviews for engineers who are planning on visiting the same infrastructure location in the future.

Syntex

Some of the biggest wins were realised by creating Syntex models to extract information from engineering documents such as site surveys, engineering drawings, site plans and site assessment reports. By implementing specific models, these files, which were spread across their Microsoft 365 tenant, were identified and then decorated with metadata. This has allowed NWG to streamline their content processes and leverage the extracted metadata by using customised search experiences, workflows and reporting through Power BI.

Syntex
Syntex

PnP Modern Search

As part of leveraging the newly realised potential and discoverability of content within the NWG environment, one of the solutions that Intelogy deployed and configured was PnP Modern Search, an open-source suite of search webparts designed for SharePoint Online and were built in collaboration between Microsoft and the broader Microsoft community. These webparts flourish when provided with a rich series of consistent metadata values to operate upon, and the labels produced and applied to content by Syntex therefore represented a prime dataset to be indexed by such a configuration, allowing for extremely sophisticated and granulated interrogation of data across multiple libraries, sites, and other locations.

Dedicated search experiences have been built to better represent organisational and user requirements, such as instances that employ pre-filtered result sets or apply default search transformations. This allows for these specific experiences to combine different queries and to screen out certain content, allowing for searches initiated from certain locations to only return content relevant to that location, such as Projects, Assets or CCTV files, all without having to impose any broader, top-level limitations.

It was also of critical importance that these search experiences be accessible and perform well for engineers out in the field, who use a multitude of different mobile devices, tablets, and even the smart headsets mentioned before, to access content whilst performing tasks such as repairing infrastructure. Requirements were gathered to customise search experiences so the intended audiences can quickly find the content they need. Search results are styled to show metadata fields, and content previews and to allow users to filter results according to those metadata fields.

“NWG have worked closely with Intelogy to accelerate our use of Syntex and PnP Search, turning embryonic ideas into delivered solutions and quick wins. Intelogy have taken the complexity out of the technology and have helped us build capability & understanding to allow our Product Teams and Citizen Developers to do more to help us index, tag and retrieve information”.

-Craig Stanley

Syntex – Content Assembly

As part of the broader engagement, the HR team at NWG expressed interest in exploring the Content Assembly functionality of Microsoft Syntex in the context of providing a mail-merge facility. This would allow the team to generate documents from a SharePoint document library, on a one off basis or in bulk i.e., for all employees. The employee data is contained in SharePoint lists that are synced with external HR Systems. Intelogy hosted several sessions during which our Syntex and Content Services experts provided advisory services to NWG whilst gathering requirements for this part of the solution.

Syntex

A Power Automate solution was developed to meet the requirement of generating and sending personalised letters to employee in bulk, using personnel details as stored in a SharePoint List. Using this personnel information, this automation iterated over each employee and injected relevant details into a subsequent document generation process, ultimately resulting in a series of dynamic, employee-specific personalised letters which otherwise corresponded to a master template. This was transferred into a framework so this process could become repeatable for other documents on a bulk or ad-hoc singular basis.

Client benefits/results

By leveraging the power of Syntex, NWG has unlocked the latent potential of their content, allowing for unprecedented capabilities in locating and utilising key organisational knowledge. The organisation can save time and money by automatically extracting data from the documents instead of doing it manually and ensure better compliance.

This has provided both initial direction for NWG’s content utilisation journey, and has laid robust foundations for the future, such as ensuring the enforcement of information governance across their documentation and sustaining and benefiting from high-quality discoverability.

“Intelogy have helped accelerate usage of NWG’s Microsoft 365 cloud content platform. Intelogy have worked with our Product Teams and directly with our users to deliver quick wins and significant new enhancements to collaboration, communication, and compliance capabilities. We look forward to continue working with Intelogy to better understand the opportunities of AI powered solutions in the Microsoft Cloud”.

– Craig Stanley

Intelogy were delighted to collaborate with NWG and evangelise both the relevance and potential of Syntex in their broader industry objectives and desire to be a leading performer in their industry and to provide their customers with the best quality water and effective sewerage service, whilst at the same time protecting and enhancing the environment by turning their content into knowledge.

“It’s been a very exciting and engaging partnership – realising the power of Microsoft Syntex with their content and seeing first-hand the improvements it has made. I am looking forward to the next workstreams and helping NWG gaining more value from their content”.

– Leon Armston