Tuesday 17 January 2023

Syntex Pay As You Go - how it helps and how to use it

In previous articles I've covered many of the capabilities of Syntex and how it can be used, and from my perspective organisations are becoming very interested in Syntex to automate processes involving documents. In a notable development Syntex now has a Pay As You Go (PAYG) model for pricing - in preview until February/March 2023 with no costs charged. In the same approach used for Power Platform PAYG, Azure billing is used and charges appear in Azure Cost Management within the subscription linked to your Microsoft 365 tenant. In this article we'll consider cases where the PAYG may be more appropriate than the 'per seat' licensing model, how to configure it, and considerations for using it. A big factor here is precisely which Syntex features are available in the PAYG model - it's not all of them, and Microsoft are starting in some places and expanding over time.

Why use PAYG for Syntex?
In short, many processes you might automate with Syntex don't align well with a small, specific group of employees who will consistently use the capability (suited to the per seat licensing model). Some do of course - the finance team who are using Syntex to automate invoice processing or receipt analysis, or the research analysts who need automated tagging and powerful search across articles they create. However, sometimes we want all employees to participate in a process where Syntex is used despite the fact this only happens occasionally. Examples could include:
  • Processes and documents related to an event - a webinar, or month-end/year-end processes, company results time etc.
  • An organisational CV store where any employee can upload and maintain their CV
  • Using Syntex for governance i.e. the AI detecting sensitive data in documents in order to automatically apply a sensitivity label in Microsoft 365 - to drive encryption, conditional access, or other security measures
  • Using Syntex for compliance - driving automated retention labels to ensure content isn't retained for longer than permitted
These examples all relate to Syntex content understanding capabilities i.e. Syntex analysing and/or extracting contents of your documents to do something with that. 

On the content creation side, Syntex Content Assembly might be used to generate new documents in an automated (or semi-automated) way by many people but only occasionally. Perhaps it's a large team of engineers who occasionally create risk assessments or safety reports, or a finance or HR process which creates a document but can be triggered by a large number of people.

Other areas where it will often make sense to pay as you go relates to Syntex content management capabilities coming later in 2023, such as eSignatures. PAYG will be very relevant here - see my list lower down.

Which Syntex capabilities can be used with PAYG?

Let's break it down into what's here today (January 2023) and what's coming tomorrow.


  • NEW - Unstructured document processing
  • Structured document processing (via AI Builder)
  • Freeform document processing (via AI Builder)
In short, all document understanding capabilities can now be used via PAYG (subject to preview conditions until Febrary/March 2023 - more on that later). The fact this now includes arguably the most powerful type, unstructured document processing, is significant.


Note: This is my list, not Microsoft's. While Microsoft have not announced that Syntex PAYG will support all the big features coming this year, given the nature of the 'content transactions' in these areas I think it's a reasonable bet that Syntex PAYG will support all of these in time:    

  • Content Assembly
  • Image tagging
  • Translations 
  • Summarisations
  • Backup/restore
  • Archiving
  • Syntex eSignatures (forthcoming alternative to DocuSign and Adobe Sign) 

How much does Syntex cost under PAYG?

Each type of operation (e.g. a document being understood by Syntex, or a document being created by Syntex Content Assembly) will have it's own cost - and Microsoft have not yet announced pricing as of January 2023. Logically, I'd expect pricing models to look something like this:

Capability Charged by
Content assembly Per document generated
Syntex eSignatures Per signature
Syntex backup/restore Volume of data (and perhaps number of restores)
Syntex archiving Volume of data (and perhaps access frequency or volume of data accessed)
Syntex document summarisation/translation/image tagging etc. Per item processed

Regardless of the specifics, this will give 'pay per use' consumption pricing which should make Syntex appealing to many organisations. Simpler than 3rd party products which compete with some of these features, no wastage, and for orgs bought into Syntex no complex planning for exactly who should get a Syntex license and how to force processes around that.

A note on the PAYG preview (running until Febrary/March 2023):

For the preview period, unstructured document processing (the key new item in the 'today' category above) is 100% free - and no predicted costs show on the bill, because pricing hasn't been announced. What you do get to see is how many documents are being processed and in which sites in your tenant. The idea is for organisations already using Syntex with licensed users to have a method of measuring consumption and therefore having a means of calculating costs based on real usage when PAYG becomes available. However, I'm not sure how valuable this personally since relatively few businesses are in production with fully-enabled Syntex processes today - seeing consumption across a bunch of POC test cases isn't too helpful.

Configuring Syntex PAYG

You need the following:

  • An Azure subscription in the same tenant
  • A resource group in Azure to use for the Syntex billing resources
  • An Azure storage account - used to store Excel exports showing Syntex billing

Step 1 - associate Syntex billing in M365 to Azure

To set up we start in the Microsoft 365 admin portal. Head to the 'Setup' area followed by the Syntex configuration option within the 'Files and content' section:

Here you'll see a new item to set up billing: 

In here you need to select the Azure subscription, resource group and region to use for billing storage:

Once that's done the initial configuration starts to happen:

Step 2 - configure Syntex billing exports to Azure storage

So far we've just told Syntex that we do want to use PAYG - this makes it available in the tenant (i.e. to non-licensed users), but what's needed now is the ability to monitor costs. Since this is done in Azure, head into your subscription. The first thing we need is a storage container to hold the files, so let's create that first - you can have the Azure wizard create the storage container for you, but generally better to do quick one-off steps manually so you truly know where things are. I named my container "syntex" (needs to be lower case):

We now configure the export. This ensures the Excel billing files showing your Syntex consumption will be exported regularly from Microsoft 365 to Azure so you can monitor and analyse. To do this, go to the Cost Management blade and then into the 'Exports' area:

Now we select the options for the export. You'll generally want to see actual costs (the alternative is an ammortised view) and I chose the  'daily' option to get a new file each day - in production you may be happy with weekly or monthly:

The storage container is also chosen at this point (select the 'use existing' option if you created it already):

Once this is done the export is set up:


Syntex billing reports

Once the export has been processed files will start to appear in your selected Azure container, with a folder for each export configured:

Drilling into the containers will take you to the Excel files. Once downloaded, you'll see data for all your Azure operations so if it's a busy subscription there'll be a lot in there. To isolate the Syntex rows, add an Excel filter on a column such as:
  • meterCategory = Syntex

This will give you a view of your Syntex PAYG transactions:

  • Today you'll only see 'Document Understanding' items, but in the future you'll see transactions for Syntex eSignatures, Content Assembly, backup/restore actions etc. A number of fields reflect this, including 'ProductName'
  • The 'tags' field - this gives details of the  SharePoint sites and libraries where the Syntex AI model processed the document, helping you understand the actions your users are taking and in which
  • The 'quantity' field - this relates to the number of pages processed by Syntex AI, across all processed documents 
  • At the moment, some useful details such as the specific Syntex AI model used and precisely who is triggering consumption does NOT come through to the logs. This is a shame because being able to see 'invoice processing' and 'contracts model' etc. would simplify understanding how Syntex is being used a lot. Let's hope additional detail like this comes through in the future  
  • Preview note - since Syntex PAYG is free in the preview period the 'effectivePrice' is 0 - so as described above, the preview doesn't help you fully predict costs at the moment, but does convey usage - which you can use when pricing is announced

How do I predict and stay in control of Syntex PAYG costs?
As usual with Azure billing, the answer is by configuring budgets and alerts

Using the metadata for Syntex operations which comes through to Azure billing, we can create a budget within Azure Cost Management to alert an operations team that consumption is higher than expected - at which point some investigation and/or intervention action can occur. In common with Azure Cost Management in general, we can't set an absolute limit at which point consumption is blocked - and indeed, most organisations wouldn't this for production processes. The last thing you want at month end is to discover invoices are no longer being processed and for it to take a day to find out why. But Azure budgets and alerts give you the foundations to implement the control processes you need.

Let's look at this in the next section.

Configuring an Azure budget to stay in control of Syntex PAYG costs

To configure budgets and alerts for Syntex consumption, head into the Azure Cost Management and then into 'Budgets'. 

The key step is to add a filter for one of the Syntex fields - for example 'MeterCategory = Syntex':

As more Syntex capabilities arrive which support PAYG, you could choose to be more specific e.g. monitor spending on document understanding specifically:

The next step is to configure the alert so that someone is notified at the right point (e.g. 80% of the forecast OR actual spend has been reached):
Once you have the budgets configured as you need, admins can track and forecast Syntex PAYG costs as we progress through a month or quarter, and you're in control of your spend. Job done.


Being able to pay only for what you use opens the door to Syntex adoption without an extensive business case and/or complex licensing decisions. As of January 2023 the capability is only in preview, and only for Syntex unstructured document understanding - the other two document processing flavours (unstructured and freeform) are already covered since they are charged through AI Builder credits in the Power Platform. However, this is the first truly native Syntex capability to get PAYG - and in the future we can expect Content Assembly, eSignatures, backup/restore, archiving and other Syntex capabilities to be charged in this way or at least have a PAYG option. Having this done through Azure Cost Management provides an existing model which admins in most organisations will already be very familiar with. 

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