The release of Delve, the first application to use Microsoft's Office Graph machine learning engine, will be remembered years from now as either the genesis of a revolutionary technology or as a fireworks-style launch that dazzled everyone only for a brief moment.
Whatever the future holds for Delve and the Office Graph, the stakes are sky high for Microsoft, its rivals and its current and prospective customers. So it's important to pay attention to how Microsoft further develops the technology, how customers adopt it, how competitors respond to it and how enthusiastically -- or timidly -- partners choose to support it, if at all.
If Microsoft realizes its Office Graph vision -- and it may take years to materialize -- then the way information workers interact with business software today and the way they find digital information will seem ancient and grossly inefficient. And Microsoft might fly past competitors in the enterprise with a technology that creates a sort of cockpit that automates and simplifies for employees the use of their Microsoft and non-Microsoft software.
Delve specifically is designed to intelligently automate in real time for every employee the tasks of prioritizing their work and of finding the information -- files, colleagues, documents, data -- they need, while staying abreast of important project developments. In theory, individual and collective productivity would go through the roof with Delve as a sort of ultimate personal assistant that understands how employees work and steers them with precision through their day.
"It's a unique play on the use of a social graph and advanced analytics to put information in front of users in a simple and compelling way," said Forrester Research analyst Rob Koplowitz. "We'll know if it's a game changer if users adopt it in big numbers."
How Delve taps the Office Graph and what it does for Office 365 users today
Microsoft, which announced Delve and the Office Graph in March, started a gradual rollout of Delve to most Office 365 customers on Sept. 8. The rollout won't be completed until next year. When Office 365 users tap Delve, they see a graphically rich, card-based dashboard displaying the data that it determines is most relevant and important to them at any given point.
Delve bases its output on an underlying Office Graph analysis and mapping of a number of user behavior signals and content from Exchange Online, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online and Yammer. Soon, Delve will also be able to take into account elements from email attachments, OneNote and Lync Online.
For example, Delve knows that "Joe" has a meeting in an hour, what its topic is and who will be in attendance. So, Delve proactively fetches relevant documents, files and information about the topic and the participants, and displays them on its dashboard, so Joe can be prepared for the meeting. Joe didn't have to spend 30 minutes compiling all this data manually, assuming that he even would have had the time to do it, and if he did, that he would have been able to find the information, a big challenge for employees of all stripes everywhere.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.