Seamless access to all other personally important apps should be a mandatory feature of any high value personal assistant app

The differences I’ve noted between Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s competitive Google Now and OK Google, which I cited in the prior two posts to this blog and are important for me, are emblematic of my need for a Personal Assistant (PA) application to seamlessly interact with like applications on any mobile computing device I own. I imagine I’m not alone in this. So how do Windows Phone 8.1 and Android 4.1 KitKat compare on this point?

When I ask Cortana directions, the PA passes the request over to Bing Here maps. Once the handoff is complete, any voice interaction appears to be with the Bing Here app, and not with Cortana. In contrast, when I set Google Now and “OK Google” on the same task, the voice interaction is strictly with “OK Google”, which appears to manage the Google Map application for me.

This distinction is potentially a big deal if either PA is limited as to just what can be indexed when it comes to compiling a set of content for search. Let’s include Microsoft’s Delve Office 365 application into the discussion. I have added Delve to the Office 365 E3 plan I maintain for my business. But when I use Delve I don’t get much of anything at all. Why? I am a consultant and the only user on the Office 365 subscription I maintain for my business. As well, I am not making much use of One Drive for Business, but I am making a lot of use of the rest of SharePoint Online for an Enterprise Document Management (EDM) application.

Nevertheless, when I call up the Delve application, I am served with the following message: “Give Delve more to work with[:] Store and share your documents where Delve can get to them, such as in OneDrive for Business, and Delve will automatically bring you the most relevant content.” But why can’t Delve work with the content in the Document libraries I’ve set up in Office 365, or with the voluminous amount of email messaging I have available across my email accounts (I have more than 5 active email accounts)?

Unfortunately I haven’t an answer to share with readers on this question. But it may be helpful to consider why, and how product marketing at Microsoft opted to proceed careful with regards to just what information Delve would be permitted to parse, index, and then to serve up in response to queries. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which side of the Privacy debate a reader happens to choose) I suspect privacy concerns have limited how this potentially very helpful application can do.

Bottom line: I find Google Now, “OK Google” approach to a PA to be more useful right now. I’m genuinely excited about what a “manager of managers” kind of PA can do to help my personal daily productivity. Perhaps readers will share this enthusiasm.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Microsoft Magnetizes a Large Turn Out for an Online Q&A About Delve, a New Feature of Office 365

On September 10, 2014, Microsoft’s Delve and Office 365 teams hosted an online question and answer session on Yammer. The session was very well attended by what appeared to be technical representatives from a cross section of corporate tenants of the Office 365 service. The question topics were all specific to Delve, a new feature of Office 365, which addresses data search from a new angle. Delve first serves results from the most frequently used content sources (prioritized in “trending” order). It can even push information out to Office 365 users from any content repository for which “signals” have been configured.

The Delve question and answer session took the form of a Yammer “yamjam”, which is, presumably, Yammer’s version of Twitter’s “tweetjam”. This writer noted well in excess of 100 posted questions on a wide range of topics. Of particular interest were several on the question of the controls available for corporate tenants to selectively expose content for search use to this new feature. The answers posted from Microsoft personnel indicated a lot of forethought had been undertaken by the Delve and Office 365 teams on the question of information privacy in advance of this public forum. So it should be safe to assume a comparatively smooth rollout for the feature.

On the topic of just how quickly Office 365 tenants can add the feature to their subscriptions, it appears the right answer is “very quickly”, indeed. With merely one changed settings to our Office 365 Enterprise plan subscription, we were able to set up our tenant for Delve. We were happy to find a new tab in our Office 365 ribbon within less than 2 hours of changing the setting. The feature is not yet operational, but we expect it to “wake up” overnight, or very soon, thereafter.

What kind of impact can the availability of a feature like Delve create for Office 365 consumers? Given the importance of search, as a persistent, daily activity for most Internet consumers, and the unique requirement of corporate online consumers for a type of search capable of sifting through a very wide range of content repositories, the short answer is likely to be “big and positive”. This likely reaction should be even more likely for corporate Office 365 consumers in heavily regulated industries.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


What’s the Significance of an Enterprise Search Feature Capable of ‘Standing’ the Whole Concept ‘On Its Head’?

Sprinkled within Satya Nadella’s remarks during Microsoft’s Q4 2014 Earnings Conference Call were some words about “Delve”. For readers unfamiliar with “Delve”, this new feature, which is only available via an Office 365 subscription, is a further refinement of something called “Code Name: Oslo”. “Code Name: Oslo” was presented at Microsoft’s annual SharePoint Conference, 2014, as something called “Office Graph”. Nadella noted “Delve will turn enterprise search on its head as information that is relevant to you finds you. Think of this as the Facebook suite for productivity.” The remark is a concise summary of the features of the product, with the allusion to Facebook serving as a placeholder for the Enterprise Social features of the product.

How big a market is there for “enterprise search”, and how does this market differ from the public “search” market? In this writer’s opinion there is a promising market for the type of substantial improvement to enterprise search Nadella cites as likely once Delve hits the “virtual shelves”. Almost every highly regulated business will want to at least take a look at the feature, if not purchase an Office 365 subscription to obtain it. FINRA’s 10-06 regulation, which requires financial services firms to archive Social Media conversations, represents yet another burden on smaller banks, brokerage houses, etc. Given the low per user cost of public Office 365 subscriptions, it may be safe to assume lots of these firms will want to at least take a look at Delve, and, therefore, consume some Office 365 subscriptions. Similar requirements exists for heavily regulated businesses in the health care industry. We can wrap up merely a cursory look at likely markets by including law firms in this category.

Another very promising potential inherent to Delve is any possible hooks to Cortana. Once again, for readers otherwise unfamiliar with Cortana, this product, which was recently announced during a debut of the new features to be included in Windows Phone 8.1, is Microsoft’s entry into the market for voice assistants, and can be seen as a direct competitor to Apple’s Siri and “OK Google”. Cortana has been touted as a method of leveraging Microsoft’s Bing Search Service via voice commands. If Cortana can also connect to Delve, then the whole mobile market for the above mentioned heavily regulated businesses may want to consume this new “Enterprise Search” whiz, as well.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Microsoft Publishes a Memo from Satya Nadella for Public Review

Satya Nadella sent a lengthy, detailed memo to all Microsoft employees on July 10, 2014 at 6 am PT. This memo has been published on Microsoft’s public web site. Anyone with an interest in Microsoft should take the time to read the memo, in its entirety.

The timing of the publication of this memo, 12 days prior to Microsoft’s scheduled date to report its earnings for the latest fiscal quarter, and approximately 2 weeks post Google’s Developer I/O 2014 Conference, appears to have some purpose to it. This writer listened to the entire web cast of the Google event and wrote several posts to this blog on related topics. In the last of these, we noted how Sundar Pichai, Senior Vice President, attempted to directly address a core theme of Satya Nadella’s own articulated vision — productivity.

So the importance of “productivity” to the memo under discussion in this post appears to be more than coincidental. In fact, “productivity”, along with the detail included about the sheer volume of computing resources available to anyone in what Nadella refers to as our “cloud first, mobile first” world, are cast in a very different light in this memo, at least as we have read it. Perhaps everything does come down to a critical balance, as Nadella seems to state: “We will build the solutions that address the productivity needs of groups and entire organizations as well as individuals by putting them at the center of their computing experiences.” (quoted from a memo from Satya Nadella to the staff at Microsoft, which was published on July 10, 2014. We have provided a link to the entire memo at the top of this post). On one side are the “computing experiences”, and on the other are “individuals”.

Perhaps Nadella is providing his audience with a glimpse of Microsoft’s unique niche in this new market where it competes directly, principally with Google and Apple. The bet seems to be on the importance of what we refer to as the “personalization” factor. In other words, tons of data are really great, but if the data isn’t tailored for my unique requirements as a consumer, it might just be too much for me to handle, and, therefore, not worth much at all.

Anyone using either Windows Phone, or the Surface tablet (and perhaps XBOX as well) is experiencing a different approach to computing, one which appears to be imbued with this “personalization” factor. It will certainly be interesting to see if our reading is accurate.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved