Secrets about the New Microsoft Revealed by Office Graph and Delve

Dan Holme

by Dan Holme on 10/24/2014

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Business Productivity, Delve, my first time, Office 365, Office Delve, Office Graph, Search, SharePoint Online

Office Graph and Delve have been released, and are being rolled out to Office 365 customers around the world. In a previous article in this series, I provided an overview of what these two technologies do.

But what is more interesting, perhaps, is to look at these technologies with an analyst’s perspective—as a window (pun intended) into the Microsoft of Satya Nadella.

Microsoft has invested a lot of money and effort into Office Graph and Delve. What do the results suggest about Microsoft’s priorities? What do they tell us about Microsoft’s world view and its vision of the future and value of technology? What do both the products and the marketing campaigns tell us about Microsoft’s next steps, and its relationship with its customers? And what might Office Graph and Delve do to change the discussion about the cloud and enterprise social?

As I read the tea leaves of Office Graph and Delve, these are the messages I hear Microsoft telling us:

We are entering a new era

We are transitioning from the information technology age into the social/big data era. We’re moving past the Google-modeled world of search-against-indexed-content and provide a “ten blue lines” user experience into a world where our interaction with information and with each other can be monitored, measured, and mined to deliver value. Ambient intelligence, machine learning, and emergent connections are buzzwords to watch.

Customers will get maximum capabilities from Office 365

Office Graph and Delve create value out of information, content, users, and behavioral signals from Office services. In order to maximize the value of these trends, computing must be ubiquitous, and services must be integrated. Office Graph and Delve will be most valuable to organizations that are in Office 365. Said conversely, the more you’re “in the cloud,” the more benefit you get from services like Office Graph and Delve.

Along with Yammer, Office Graph and Delve expand the “gap” between what customers can do on-prem, and what they can do in Office 365. There are customers who are adopting these new technologies quickly and thoughtfully, and are getting exceptional business value. The key is thoughtful adoption.

Our services will still be platforms

Microsoft has committed to APIs for Office Graph, so that third parties can send signals to Office Graph. You can also write your own application on top of Office Graph—Delve is just the first app. This indicates Microsoft’s continued recognition that its customers do use non-Microsoft services, and that Microsoft is still working hard to create platforms, as well as services.

I personally think the success with which Microsoft opens Office Graph to third parties, and the rate at which Microsoft can drive adoption by third-party services, will be the key to Office Graph’s ascension as one of the most valuable technologies Microsoft has ever created.

We “get” hybrid

Microsoft has indicated there will be support for Office Graph and Delve in hybrid environments. Microsoft clearly “gets” the reality of hybrid. Microsoft itself is hybrid—it still has a lot of workloads on-prem. And it recognizes that customers will either migrate through a hybrid model to the cloud, or maintain hybrid services for quite a while.

Our silence speaks loudly

Microsoft has not given signals as to what will be required for hybrid scenarios of Office Graph. And that silence speaks loudly to me. If I had to place my bets, I’d say that the hybrid model will require “vNext” of SharePoint and other Office services. I can’t imagine Microsoft back-porting this functionality to legacy versions of its server products. I went into more detail about the question of hybrid Delve. If Microsoft can hit it out of the park with Delve, it might be a significant driver of adoption for SharePoint vNext on-prem.

We’re committed to more transparency about our roadmap

Microsoft has shared its roadmap for Delve over the coming 12 months. This is a wholly new Microsoft, which was previously hesitant to disclose plans for fear that customers would be noisily disappointed if plans changed. Microsoft now knows that customers value as much clarity as possible so that they can make informed plans and technology choices. So far, I’ve heard very little complaining about Microsoft selling “vaporware” or “promises.” Customers are well aware that these services and capabilities are down the road, but at least they know which road is being walked. Kudos to Microsoft for this very important transformation.

The cloud has enabled our own agility

The roadmap for Office Graph and Delve has several milestones for 2014-2015. We know that Microsoft expects Office Graph to start receiving signals from other Microsoft services, from on-prem services, and from third parties, all before the end of 2015.

The roadmap reveals the new agility that Microsoft has found, thanks to the cloud. It can release functionality quickly, and iteratively. It no longer needs to spend years testing every possible configuration and backward-compatibility angle for an on-prem product release. Because Microsoft controls its cloud and its configuration, it can innovate much faster.

And these innovations are not just little tiny features—these are big things. Compare what Microsoft is talking about—even just with Delve and Office Graph—to any of its competitors. Microsoft is leading the pack with its vision. If Microsoft can execute on most of what it has promised, it will be a huge deal for its customers, its employees, its partners, and its shareholders.

We can change the discussion about cloud and social

I believe that Office Graph and Delve have the potential to be game-changers for business decision makers. In my experience, many executives and business decision makers (BDMs) are still stuck in a mode of thinking that equates the cloud to a cheaper alternative for on-prem platforms. There hasn’t yet been a really significant “aha!” moment for this audience to see that the cloud has the potential to be so much more than on-prem could ever hope to be. Salesforce (which gets the closest) is a replacement for on-prem CRM. Lync is a replacement for on-prem telecommunications. Exchange and SharePoint are direct replacements for on-prem servers.

But there’s never really been anything like Delve, with the power of Office Graph behind it. It’s seen as something truly innovative—not merely a port of on-prem functionality to the cloud. And it just looks different—it’s clearly not a tool in the vein of other familiar Microsoft Office applications. I see BDMs taking notice of Office Graph and Delve and seeing “net new” capability and, to some extent, realizing how difficult it would be to ever achieve such capability on-prem.

Delve is also a tool that—because of its innovativeness—is waking BDMs up to what “enterprise social” can really mean. It’s not just “Facebook for the enterprise”—it’s gaining real productivity from social networking technologies.

Search + Social + Enterprise Intelligence (Machine Learning) is going to be the future. I think we still cannot see all the potentials there!


Tea Leaves

The “secrets” I’ve laid out by reading these tea leaves are not revolutionary. Microsoft has been saying such things for months now. Some in the community find that Microsoft marketing-speak is fluffy and easily discounted. But when we start to see actual products… er, services… that deliver on marketing promises and vision statements, I certainly start to applaud.

There’s a long way to go, both on Delve and Office Graph as services, and on Microsoft’s transformation. The journey will have rough edges and mistakes will be made on all sides. But if Office Graph and Delve are any indication, it’s going to be a really exciting journey, and I know many of my customers have faith that Microsoft is really the only company that has the potential to deliver on these kinds of big, enterprise-focused promises of the cloud. So here’s hoping they can!

If you put on your “analyst” hat, what do you see in Delve and Office Graph? Continue the discussion below.

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  • Thanks for the insights Dan ! In all this talk around signals and emergent connections, the one thing that I haven't seen being discussed is who owns this "digital persona" of an employee with the organization? Is it the employee, the organization or the service provider (like Google or LinkedIn)?
  • That's a great question. I'm going to ask the Microsoft product group about their "compete" messaging related to IBM--I'm hearing a LOT of pull for that info from the community... more than Google enterprise apps. I'll see what I can dig up.
  • Interesting PoV. It's still not clear to me what the current and future differentiators are for CIO to decide between O365 and, for example, IBM Connections. While it is always best to align product purchase with business requirements, it would be useful to have clear road map of near and far benefits that support the proposition.