Delve Ushers in New Era for Office

Delve Ushers in New Era for Office

A new Office feature for Office 365 business customers

Microsoft announced Monday that it has begun rolling out Office Delve to its Office 365 business customers. This new Office solution surfaces the information that is most relevant to users based on the work they are doing and the people with whom they are engaging, Microsoft says. But I think Delve is no less than the future of Office, a new way of presenting and working with data.

If you're familiar with how effectively Microsoft has moved Office to the cloud with Office 365 in particular, you may be thinking that we're already experiencing the future of Office, with its services-based access to Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync Online, and easy access to the Office desktop applications and a growing collection of mobile apps.

But that was just the first step. The best things about Office 365 today are the reasonable licensing, the simpler management capabilities, and the way that it's democratized access to Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync capabilities. But from the perspective of most users, we still interact with Office using locally installed apps, as we always have, and the experience of hitting cloud-based services on the backend is no different than that of accessing on-premises servers.

What excites me about Delve is that it's a fresh way of interacting with the content and data deluge we're all experiencing. I think that Delve, or something like it, could eventually replace Outlook as the center of most people's Office experiences, the portal we use to interact with Office services and the data they contain.

Outlook came about when Microsoft added a workgroup email client to its Schedule+ personal information tool, creating a portal of sorts through which many information workers still experience their workday. But when you think about it, Outlook is old-fashioned, a tool from another era. It does of course connect to online services—Exchange Online, for example—and it provides notifications when email arrives or some other event is happening. But you pretty much need to manage things yourself, navigate between its many different views, and learn what has become a complex and tangled user experience.

Delve isn't an email client or a personal information manager, it's more than that. Delve works in the cloud and utilizes Microsoft's Office Graph machine learning technology to map relationships between the people and the otherwise siloed data you deal with every day. The capabilities exposed by Office Graph are increasingly important to Office these days because Microsoft's backend capabilities have moved to the cloud.

Delve is the first app that takes advantage of Office Graph. It's both a new solution and a new type of solution, a visual way to interact with the connections Office Graph creates. It can work with data stored in Exchange, SharePoint, Yammer, and OneDrive for Business today, and more content sources—email attachments, OneNote, and Lync—are coming aboard soon. Extensibility is planned for the future as well, as is support for hybrid deployments.

Implemented as a web app at Office365.com, Delve provides a simple and dynamic card-based interface that is organized so that the content that is most important to you is shown first. There are Yammer-like social networking elements to Delve, so that each card displays "likes," views, comments, and tags. You can share documents with others, thanks to SharePoint. You can easily see all the files you've worked on recently, in one simple, card-based view, no matter where they're actually stored. You can see the information that's "trending" around your coworkers, which is, of course, based on likes, views, comments, and other activity.

Delve is currently on a slow boil and its rolling out first to those organizations that can best take advantage of it: The larger businesses on Office enterprise, and academic and government plans that have signed up for the First Release program, which provides early access to new features. Then, those on Office 365 Business Essentials, Business Premium, Small Business, Small Business Premium, and Midsize Business will get Delve starting in January 2015.

If Delve has a downside, it's almost certainly that it's a bit too out there for the traditional IT worker. But in the same way that Outlook addressed the emerging communication needs of the turn of the century, Delve, I think, neatly tackles the data deluge problem we now face. It's a new solution for a new day.

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