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What is Microsoft Viva Topics (Project Cortex) and SharePoint Premium (Syntex)?


In 2020, ClearPeople was announced as one of just 17 Microsoft global launch partners and recognised with Preferred Partner status for Project Cortex (now called Microsoft Viva Topics), Microsoft’s initiative to make AI capabilities available within Microsoft 365.

Gabriel Karawani, ClearPeople’s Co-Founder, explains more about Microsoft’s latest products.


What is Microsoft Viva Topics (Project Cortex) and what is all the excitement about?

Microsoft describes Microsoft Viva Topics (Project Cortex) as a new AI-powered service in Microsoft 365. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create a knowledge network by making sense of data and then automatically organising it into shared topics like projects, customers, matters and more.

For me, and undoubtedly for others that work in the field of knowledge management (KM), it feels like the time has come for the future of KM.

The vision for Project Cortex is the next generation technology services providing smarter and automated features for advanced document management (DM), data compliance, records management (RM) and knowledge management in Microsoft 365. It enables the mining and extraction of knowledge from data and organises the information into a knowledge network of shared topics.

Microsoft Viva Topics (Project Cortex) is primarily focused on converting data into valuable knowledge. 


What is SharePoint Premium (formely known as SharePoint Syntex)?

SharePoint Syntex was the first product released out of the Project Cortex programme. SharePoint Syntex uses advanced AI and machine teaching to amplify human expertise, automate content processing, and transform content into knowledge.

You can train SharePoint Syntex to understand specific patterns and types of content like you do, to recognise the type of document, key information within the document, and then to tag content automatically. In other words, SharePoint Syntex improves and automates the process to extract knowledge from within both standardised and structured documents.

SharePoint Syntex builds on the foundational content services of SharePoint and mainstreams advanced AI capabilities from Azure, Microsoft Research and Microsoft 365.

  • SharePoint Syntex creates no-code AI Models to classify and extract information from content to automatically apply metadata for knowledge discovery and reuse.
  • SharePoint Syntex automates capture, ingestion and categorization of content and streamline content-centric processes using Power Automate.
  • SharePoint Syntex controls and manages content to improve security and governance with integration to Microsoft Information Protection.

SharePoint Syntex has been available to Microsoft 365 commercial customers for purchase since October 1, 2020. As of the January 2021, SharePoint Syntex licenses are also available for new Atlas customers (subject to relevant terms and prerequisites) allowing business functions such as Finance, Legal, Procurement and HR to enhance their knowledge projects.


SharePoint Premium (Syntex) Features include: 

  • Content understanding

    Create AI models that capture expertise to classify and extract information and automatically apply metadata.

  • Enriched content and metadata

    Find key facts in your content to improve search and teamwork.

  • Automatic content classification

    Use advanced AI to capture and tag structured and unstructured content.

  • Content compliance

    Manage content inside and outside of Microsoft 365 to improve security and compliance with integrated MIP sensitivity and retention labels.

  • AI-powered machine teaching

    Build no-code AI models that teach the cloud to read content the way you do.

  • Content processing

    Automate the capture, ingestion, and categorization of content and streamline content-centric processes using Power Automate.

  • Streamlined content processes

    Integrate with Power Automate to build workflows that leverage extracted metadata.

  • Content protection and management

    Enforce your security and compliance policies with automatically applied sensitivity and retention labels.

Why do we need Microsoft Viva Topics (Project Cortex)?

It is natural for many to assume that with modern cloud-based technologies it would become easier to work with and search for content. The reality is different and even more silos have been created with the plethora of apps, tools and cloud services made available to each and every user. This is also true for Microsoft 365. 

Microsoft however, continues to work on its long-term ambition to deliver a more coherent data strategy, consolidated data services and a more universal approach to search. Many of those efforts appear to be coming to fruition, in parallel with maturing AI technologies, such as machine learning and Natural Language Processing with LUIS (Language Understanding Information Services).

Importantly, Microsoft is introducing the concept of ‘Machine Teaching’ (different to Machine Learning) into the available AI stack. This is particularly relevant to knowledge management as it doesn’t require massive data sets or data scientists, but rather smaller sets of sample data, using the knowledge manager or subject matter expert as the teacher. We are seeing this implemented in the SharePoint Syntex Models.

And finally, Microsoft Graph should not be underestimated in terms of its importance to make a lot of new developments come together. While still a relatively young data service technology, it’s maturing fast and it is effectively the glue for organising the representation of data.

In my view, we’re seeing this big leap forward now - with Project Cortex - as a result of a whole series of technologies that have been innovated, evolved and matured, coming together.


Covid-19 has changed the work landscape and Microsoft Viva Topics (Project Cortex) has become even more relevant to organizations

The pandemic has made it more clear why organizations need to change and think about how they work and how they connect the “knowledge dots” with less reliance on people tapping into tacit knowledge because they happen to be physically together. Project Cortex builds on products such as SharePoint and Teams, surfacing knowledge and expertise that may otherwise be hidden or inaccessible.

It is clear that Microsoft sees Project Cortex as an enabler for people to use the knowledge available within an organization, allowing “individuals to learn and work faster together”.

Microsoft are clear in terms of the business challenges and benefits that are being addressed with Project Cortex. In particular, Project Cortex seeks to address some of the deep rooted knowledge management challenges experienced every day in the vast majority of organizations:

  • Information is everywhere and is often unstructured
  • Information is stuck in silos
  • Information is hard to find, and the findability will depend on whether you know anything about it or whether it is knowledge you don’t even know how to ask about.
  • Knowledge needs capturing to be useful and findable - which often does not happen.
  • Not collecting knowledge is costly, especially when tacit and when someone leaves with uncaptured knowledge.


How does Project Cortex relate to Microsoft 365 and to SharePoint?

Project Cortex adds new capabilities to the apps and content you already have across Microsoft 365. It includes abilities to find and share knowledge and expertise in apps like SharePoint, Outlook, and Microsoft Teams, and lets you apply AI to classify and organise content in SharePoint libraries.

The main difference end users will notice in Microsoft 365 is the appearance of topic cards. A topic card gives you an overview of a knowledge topic within your organisation. These cards show up as in-text links and will open up a pop-up screen with the information. The topics are also clickable, which will then take you to a specific page with more information on the topic.

Project Cortex Topic Card


Microsoft Viva Topics is retired

On February 22, 2024 Microsoft announced that Viva Topics will be retired (

If you are looking for an alternative to Viva Topics, Atlas Knowledge Topics provides enhanced functionality and outcomes compared to Microsoft Viva Topics. 


Other relevant blogs


Microsoft Viva Learning interactive image


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Author bio

Gabriel Karawani

Gabriel Karawani

Gabriel is Co-Founder of ClearPeople, responsible for the overall technical and Atlas Intelligent Knowledge Platform vision. He works closely with colleagues at Microsoft on roadmap alignment and innovative Content AI Services programs such as Microsoft Viva Topics and SharePoint Premium (previously known as Syntex). Gabriel was part of Microsoft's partner program for Project Cortex.

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