Delving into Delve

It's been a while since Microsoft came up with a shiny new product. Sure, we've had upgrades of this and that: Windows, Office, development tools, and other products, but little that made people sit up and take notice.

At the Microsoft Convergence conference this spring, that changed. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed off something new: Microsoft Office Delve.

Delve (formerly codenamed Oslo) is a new component of the Office 365 suite that uses machine learning to figure out what's important to you. Powered by Microsoft Office Graph – something else you've probably never heard of – it maps connections between people, content, and interactions across all of the components of Office 365.

The result is a dashboard that shows you an ever-changing view of items that Delve believes matter to you. It bases that wisdom on the emails, documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF are supported so far, with other products such as OneNote to come), contacts, social interactions and meetings it sees in Office 365.

Delve screenshot
Click to view Delve screenshot

Office Graph ties together all of the pieces into six views: Presented to Me; Shared with Me; Modified by Me; Trending Around Me; Liked by Me; Viewed by Me. For example, if you're in a meeting in which someone made a presentation, that presentation will show up in Delve for future reference, saving you the trouble of contacting the presenter to ask for a copy. You don't even have to know where any of the items are actually stored; just click on them in Delve.

Based on the premise that people remember people better than they remember things like document names, merely typing someone's name into the search box will pop up a dashboard showing the documents that individual has worked on, and the people he or she interacts with. It even categorizes the people, flagging those with whom you work, as well as the person's manager, peers and reports.

That, of course, raises concerns about security. What if the person is your boss – should you be looking at all of his or her documents? Naturally, the answer is no. Delve will only show you material that you have permission to view; there's no chance of a peek at the department salary spreadsheet. And no one can see your private documents either.

Documents also must be stored where Delve can find them, and that usually means in the cloud, on OneDrive for Business or in Sites in Office 365. Email attachments are only discoverable if they arrived via Office 365 email. Videos and Yammer links are currently only available to companies who have enrolled in the First Release program which gives them access to new features before general release.

Since Delve is personalized, your view depends on what you do, and with whom you interact. Consequently, a colleague may see items that you don't, and vice-versa. In that case, Microsoft suggests that you check your colleague's page to gain access (assuming you have permission to view the item).

The Delve dashboard is presented as a series of content cards, tiles that describe the item and tell you why it's appearing (eg: "15 of your colleagues viewed this document", or "<person> modified it"). A menu also lists people you're currently connected to, and will change over time based on interactions.

There are some major downsides with the current version of Delve, however. It's limited to a few file types, all from Microsoft Office. It can only see items on specific cloud services, so users of non-Microsoft services like Dropbox, Box, Salesforce.com, and social media other than Yammer are out of luck. That means that, at the moment, Delve is for companies that are wedded to the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem.

Mind you, that might be part of Microsoft's grand plan. Subscription services present advantages to software vendors, not the least of which is a continuous revenue stream rather than the episodic bucks that arrive with desktop software licenses. Making sure people are totally hooked with something like Delve is smart.

But customers can win too, thanks to continuous updates – there's no waiting for patches, or for new features that require an expensive upgrade to a new version of the desktop software. And shifting the cost to opex from capex is almost always appealing to CFOs.

Microsoft Office Delve is included at no extra charge in the Office 365 business and enterprise versions.

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