How a new AI-powered service is helping one global company transform employee knowledge sharing

Published on November 9, 2019


Developing a master plan to transform John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Replacing a double-deck road with a massive tunnel in Seattle. Keeping beachgoers safe from polluted waters in New Zealand with advanced analytics.

Those are just a few of the thousands of complex projects delivered each year by Mott MacDonald, a global engineering, management and development consulting firm headquartered in London. With 180 principal offices in 50 countries, the company helps solve some of the world’s most urgent social, environmental and economic challenges.

Because Mott MacDonald doesn’t create physical products, its success relies on the knowledge and expertise of its 16,000 employees. To help them share and learn more easily, the company uses Project Cortex, a new service in Microsoft 365 that is part of Microsoft’s vision to transform knowledge and help people learn and grow their skills and expertise.


Announced this week at Microsoft Ignite, Project Cortex uses artificial intelligence to create a knowledge network that automatically connects and organizes organizations’ content into topics and generates topic cards, wiki-like “topic pages” and other new experiences in Microsoft 365.

The experiences will appear seamlessly in familiar tools like Office, Outlook and Microsoft Teams to help people find information, learn quickly and get up to speed faster within the apps they use every day. When employees see an unfamiliar acronym or project in email or chat, for example, they’ll be able to hover on the word and pop out a topic card with a description and related experts, documents and videos. A click on the card will call up a topic page, curated by AI and experts, with richer information like diagrams that link related and adjacent topics.

These capabilities “are going to further enhance our ability to reach our business goals with quicker access and connection to colleagues and their expertise — what we call our connected thinking,” says Simon Denton, Mott MacDonald productivity applications architect. “They’re going to help us build an even stronger knowledge network so people can have the right knowledge at the right time to deliver more excellent project outcomes for our clients. It’s going to be brilliant.”

The company already organizes its many experts and vast business knowledge into 47 communities that cover aviation, bridges and other practice areas. It began building its initial knowledge management system a few years ago to classify content in SharePoint and add people to Yammer groups based on interest.


Project Cortex, currently in private preview, will give Mott MacDonald even more advanced capabilities. Already secure and compliant, the product will allow automated policies based on precise document tags for added security. Its knowledge experiences, which build on an organization’s existing SharePoint content services, will permeate everyday work tools in Microsoft 365 and could one day include learning content from such platforms as LinkedIn Learning.

The solution will have powerful capture technology to make ingested content smarter. Powered by AI, it can extract information from structured content like forms, receipts and invoices. With machine teaching – having experts teach the AI how to respond – Project Cortex can also pull information from unstructured content like legal contracts and employee agreements.

It then adds metadata and classifies the documents into topics, automatically doing tasks that are traditionally manual and slow.

I’m really excited by Microsoft’s vision for creating knowledge networks. It fits completely in with [our] strategy for knowledge. The idea of connecting people to content and content to people, powered by Microsoft 365 – it’s going to be a game changer for us.

Simon Denton (Productivity Applications Architect, Mott MacDonald)


“We’re really excited about that,” says Denton. “We’re already talking about processing 30 years’ worth of drawings with good information on how something was built and how it needs to be maintained for the future. It’s going to unlock a lot of latent knowledge.”

At Mott MacDonald, Project Cortex will help build stronger connections across the company’s large, global communities and deliver timely information that helps employees create solutions to many complex challenges, build expertise and save time, all while enhancing service to customers, Denton says.

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