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Microsoft Delve faces challenges in enterprise search tool role

Microsoft Delve may turn out to be the best enterprise search tool users could ask for, but it needs to work as well with on-premises data as it does in the cloud.

Microsoft Delve for Office 365 sounded like the silver bullet for enterprise search, but one major limitation prevents...

all the artificial intelligence in the world from making this tool work the way in which users need.

There is so much information in the emerging big data universe that employees may not be able to find exactly what they need when they need it, without a tool to help find it, wherever it resides. Put simply: An effective enterprise search tool means the difference between success and failure.

Delve into search

It's clear from the evolution of its technologies that Microsoft understands the challenges of enterprise search. Since 2003, every version of SharePoint has advanced the scope and effectiveness of its search utility. And yet, every new version has disappointed, to some degree -- offering enough progress to earn notice, but not enough to satisfy.

What users have needed all along is what Microsoft has finally delivered with Office Graph, and by extension, the Microsoft Delve interface in Office 365: an enterprise search tool that touches every content source in its domain and uses machine learning to identify what the user really needs.

Delve aspires, via the Office Graph analytical engine, to deliver content based on a user's daily routine, preferences, contacts and behavioral patterns. Delve specializes in content management and essentially serves as the user's digital assistant.

While Microsoft Delve and Office Graph are more sophisticated than their predecessors and have much to offer users, adoption has been slow for a number of reasons.

More than keywords

Delve's uptake in the marketplace has been anemic -- industry criticisms of its standalone architecture and superfluous features are what drove Microsoft to repackage it, which only muddled market perceptions further. This is all somewhat puzzling, given its sophistication in comparison to conventional search. Beyond simple keyword-based retrieval, its Office Graph back end is able to map the user's social graph -- the pattern of interaction with other users, clients and outside parties -- and fold that mapping into its functionality.

Moreover, Delve uses the best of search functionality found in the leading engines -- Google and Bing, among others -- in basing its strategy on semantic analysis. Delve can fine-tune the accuracy of its results by understanding the user's intent and the context of the search terms the user submits.

Seek and ye shall find -- maybe

Despite lots of functionality, however, Delve isn't being used to its full potential.

Despite all of this functionality, however, Microsoft Delve isn't being used to its full potential. Deployed within the cloud-based Office 365 (O365) environment, it can monitor activity and retrieve information from SharePoint, OneDrive and Outlook in a single pass -- and that's pretty impressive. But few organizations have migrated their entire enterprise to O365, and a majority never will: Hybrid deployments and blending cloud systems with on-premises platforms are the norm.

This means Delve's boldest ambition -- to become a digital assistant that supplies all the information that might be relevant on any subject, regardless of source -- is dead on arrival. If Delve can only search the sources in the cloud, and an organization has mostly on-premises data, its search results will always be incomplete.

Enterprise search must reach cloud and on-premises data

In the face of this problem, Microsoft repositioned Delve earlier this year by touting it as a social media mashup, offering the functionality of Facebook and LinkedIn within the enterprise -- the problem being, everyone already has Facebook and LinkedIn in the enterprise, so Delve is just a me-too.

The only way Microsoft Delve's promise can be realized is if it can become a true enterprise search tool -- surfacing data from sources in the cloud and on the ground. That extended range would make it the indispensable digital assistant it really wants to be.

And hybrid Delve is in progress. Microsoft's impending SharePoint 2016 offering will include an on-premises product that's actually based on SharePoint Online -- a first -- raising the possibility that the shared architecture of the cloud and on-premises versions can be accessed for a truly integrated crawl of an organization's entire data landscape.

Microsoft hasn't provided a timeline for when this will be available, but it needs to arrive soon.

Delve is already a tainted product, and Microsoft users won't wait around forever.

Next Steps

Delve search tool could prompt Office 365 adoption

Functionality overlap in Office 365 services creates confusion

Office 365 services benefit one another

This was last published in February 2016

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