In-Depth

Pondering the Graph that Binds SharePoint and Office 365

Office 365 artificial intelligence API may help individual users manage content complexity in the next wave of SharePoint releases that use Microsoft Graph.

As Microsoft last month outlined deeper integration between a dozen Office 365 cloud-based tools such as Mail, Teams and SharePoint Server document management, the company emphasized a simplified portfolio interoperation with AI to meet growing organizational adoption with employee empowerment.

Ironically, it is the very artificial intelligence tools Microsoft and other vendors have been adding through the evolving Microsoft Graph application program interface and SDK that CEO Satya Nadella talked up at last month's Build conference. These are making the entire system of individual cloud-based tools more valuable to business end users, often overwhelmed and confused by the wide choice of what still appear to them as discrete applications.

The Microsoft Graph API and SDKs are adding shared intelligence among Outlook and SharePoint's traditional Office365 document tools including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as with Skype, Skype for Business and Cortana, to name a few. But while Microsoft's Virtual SharePoint Summit was taking place online in May (available for replay here), ISVs and consultants concurrently discussed the emerging capabilities at a gathering held at the company's New York office called SPExpo2017 , where speakers and attendees discussed how natural language and machine learning in particular were coming together through Graph to simplify operation both within the Office 365 and third party extensions.

Ruven Gotz, Director of Digital Workplace and Innovation for Avande, a global IT and business consulting firm, explained that users working in SharePoint instances, either on premise or through newer Azure cloud versions, have been confused about where their documents may be when working in Teams, Groups and other Office 365-compatible tools.

Gotz relayed to local attendees the gist of Microsoft's virtual event, saying the announcements "will let users working in Teams access designated SharePoint folders associated with that specific Team room from within the team app. This integration connects people to the work at hand in ways they are accustomed to working today, and it should help the adoption rate, already listed at 150 million users, continue at a strong pace."

Sean Nichols, Principal Solutions Engineer for consulting firm Metalogix, spoke of the rapid uptake of Office 365, which, for many customers, wasn't on their radar that long ago. "Two years ago, every large company I spoke with told me there was no way in hell they were going to adopt Office 365," Nichols said. "Today, every one of these same companies tell me that it will become reality within their enterprise within calendar 2017."

Why the change? Said Gotz, "They want out of the e-mail business." While large end users rush away from e-mail systems, which Gotz said Generation Z will do as well when they later come to dominate the workforce, Harmon.ie, an Israeli Office 365 solution developer, is harnessing e-mail as the focal point of managing Office 365 applications.

Harmon.ie founder and CEO Yaacov Cohen told the group that his company is using artificial intelligence capabilities embedded through the Microsoft Graph API to surface relevant key words of "topics" from across the multiple applications in its recently released Collage Outlook tool. For example, Natural language identifies key words such as nouns from the sentence strings within unstructured documents as Metadata key words.

Aggregate topics tracked across the 12 basic Office 365 apps using metadata through machine learning will create a tag cloud in the e-mail home screen's left column atop the most relevant documents, discussions and events based on these key words, along with who the user is working with most frequently, their most recently documents and the history of what they were working on.

"By looking across the applications at the most relevant topics, we are going from an application focus to a more human focus where it's more about what people in business functions are trying to get done and less about where we left it," said Cohen, who explained that end users spend most of their time working in Office 365 mail, so that this page is the natural place to put the navigation. "This is where the users need it."

Gotz, a Microsoft SharePoint MVP said that this concept of using AI to enable Office365 productivity was not lost on Microsoft. He said last week's demonstration included capabilities that might use Cortana to search Bing for a synopsis of an author's latest book, once the system knows the user had scheduled a meeting with the author. This was similar to the Harmon.ie's internal use of knowledge of a meeting with an individual to suggest a document the two users had previously collaborated on.

About the Author

Elliot Luber teaches management at the State University of New York’s Empire State College School for Graduate Studies, where he earned his MBA in Management, and has worked at a variety of companies in the technology industry including IBM and CA Technologies and holds a BA in Journalism from Northeastern University.

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