Earlier this year, Microsoft rolled out a pair of new applications that have the potential to radically change the way Office 365 users do their day-to-day work: Office Graph and Office Delve. Both apps work hand-in-hand to discover and present highly relevant content to users based on organic triggers, such as search queries, relationships, file usage, and Microsoft Exchange data.
In the limelight is Office Delve, an Office 365 app with a relatively straightforward card-based interface. Each card displays information that is uncannily meaningful to specific users. For example, if you have a meeting coming up, Delve will proactively collect all content that’s related to your meeting and present it to you — sort of like a behind-the-scenes assistant. If you’ve been searching OneDrive for PowerPoints about project management, Delve will take the initiative by suggesting some to you… and not just any PowerPoints, but ones created by people that you directly work with.
The data source pool doesn’t stop there: Delve will also present content from e-mail attachments, SharePoint, Exchange Online, videos, Yammer, Lync, and OneNote. The information isn’t random at all; it’s selected based on your actions. Every action you take in Office 365 is remembered and used to create a sort of internal “user profile”… a snapshot of who you are, what you do, who you work with, what content you use, and how you interact with all of those elements. Office Delve, however, is really just a presentation layer — the real muscle behind it all is Office Graph.
Office Graph Powers Delve
Delve may be front & center, but Office Graph is the real star of the show. Graph is Microsoft’s experiment with machine learning, data science, and predictive analytics. Put simply, Graph’s job is to map relationships between people, content, and Office 365 user activity. It does the dirty work of grinding through huge amounts of data and connecting disparate data points, effectively crafting a picture of every single user and how they interact with Office 365. Delve simply skims off the most highly relevant bits from the tip of the data iceberg, in real time, and serves it up to users in an engaging manner.
Obviously, the potential here is huge. Microsoft is making a significant investment in these new apps, particularly Office Graph. Delve is simply the first app to be powered by Graph; as explained by Julia White, the GM of Office 365 Technical Product Management, “Delve is the first of many experiences we will release, tapping into the connections and insights from Office Graph.” In the words of Anna from The King and I, Microsoft is truly “getting to know you, getting to know all about you.”
Questionable Road Ahead
Even though the potential is significant, the road ahead is still a questionable one. At the moment, the scope of Office Delve is quite limited — to the point where it’s quickly falling into the category of becoming an overpowered social intranet portal. The pool of data, though expanding rapidly, is also limited to the Office 365 universe. With the right APIs, Office Graph could include data from a wide array of data sources outside of Office 365, such as SAP and Salesforce.com. This would enable Office Graph to power an entire family of presentation layer apps with the capability to present content that truly reflects user interests. The appeal of this must be obvious to Microsoft’s upper management, as it would further strengthen the branding of Office 365 as the ultimate productivity platform — a one-stop shop for meaningful content.
Another concern is the quality of relevant data that is suggested to users. At the moment, all content mapping in Graph is made at the machine learning level; the relationship between content and users is asynchronous, meaning that content is selected by Graph and then directly fed to users via Delve without further refinement. There are no checks to determine if the data is useful or not. The reality is that when humans are taken out of the picture, there will always be hits & misses. Microsoft probably already realizes that the journey to intelligent content selection can be facilitated by incorporating user feedback into the process, but implementation may be easier said than done.
Privacy vs Convenience
A final concern is the technology involved. Over time, users may become worried over the fact that every single action they take is saved, collated, and analyzed. While there is typically no expectation of privacy in the corporate world, the capability of solutions like Graph to comprehensively create a profile of who you are can be quite disconcerting. Of even greater importance is the capability of management to misuse and abuse this data for purposes outside of simply “serving up” relevant content.
For all of the current obstacles, the reality is that Office Graph and Office Delve are just taking their first steps. We are at a very early stage and Microsoft is committed to a long-term strategy. As explained by Cem Aykan, Microsoft’s Product Manager for Delve, the future is characterized as “…an ongoing journey. It’s hard to say exactly what will happen a year or two years from now.”
The expansion of Graph to include a wide variety of data sources does seem to be in-the-cards, however, as Aykan states, “We’ll have a very strong extensibility scenario.” So, for all intents & purposes, it’s likely that a future version of Office 365 may not only share info about an upcoming meeting, but will also be able to convey information about all aspects of your life. The Privacy vs. Convenience debate, it seems, may have only just begun.
Crow Canyon Systems has 16 years of experience assisting organizations in leveraging their existing infrastructure, rather than requiring new hardware & technologies. We specialize in building upon your collaboration platforms, such as SharePoint and Office 365, in order to give your Help Desk and Support Staff the tools they need to provide assistance without the need for additional infrastructure.
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