SharePoint Search is a feature that feels like it’s not seen much love since the shift from 2010 to 2013. It is not that the opportunities have not arisen for Microsoft to update it. Even in SharePoint Online and 2016 On Premises, Search is essentially still the Search of 2013 (which is a reboot of the search of 2010…) .
The arrival of Delve and the Microsoft Graph hinted at a change in approach but in the 3 or so years since Delve’s emergence Search remained unloved. Whilst Delve received tweaks and updates e.g. Boards, Yammer integration, Search and its components steadfastly remained rooted in 2013. From our telemetry we can see that Delve has had the effect of pulling users away from the Search Centre (tenanturl/search) as it solved the two needs of their search: linking people to people and linking people through their content. On the other hand, SharePoint Search only works in one dimension – you are looking either for people or looking for content.
It is not just the lack of updates that hampered the search experience. Search also suffers from the inevitable comparison to its consumer competitor, Google (sorry I must get more aligned) Bing. Whilst we would explain that the comparison was unfair and we’d tell them about the infinite corpus of information, the army of engineers and tiny robots tweaking Google search etc. they remained unconvinced. When we showed them Delve they then said “That’s more like it”. See whilst Delve does not have the advantages of Google it does have personalisation and the magic of the Graph.
Over the 3 or so years that Delve has been around the Graph has continued to improve with signals being added from other services and refinements to its algorithms. Whilst developers could consume the Graph through their code and in apps, it was hard to do the same in Search with its (SharePoint only) result sources and ranking models. For us at least, Delve remains the primary way for users to access the Graph and Search remains siloed. Thankfully, the announcements at Ignite 2017 change all that. Suddenly Search has the potential for a very bright future as Microsoft have finally shown it a whole lot of love.
Putting you at the centre of search in SharePoint
The announcement regarding the personalisation of Search using the Graph will undoubtedly improve the search experience as it will place a greater relevance on the results that are specific to you. Based on Delve’s success this has to be good but it raises a challenge for us. The challenge arises as to whether the SharePoint Search Centre will remain as a destination. Granted that the announcements included the complete redesign of SharePoint Search but think about it for a second. The Search Centre is the top of SharePoint’s ‘Top-Down / Bottom-Up’ search hierarchy and the challenge lies in the search journey – the path a user takes to find what they are looking for. As they’ve added a horizontal dimension across products the question is ‘which way should a search journey take you?’. Should it Willy Wonka style take you ‘up and out’ in a glass elevator – first up through the product and then out into the wider Office 365 or should it offer height and breadth at every search opportunity like the glass elevator can when it moves around the Chocolate Factory. In Delve, Microsoft already have a product that offers both height and breadth. It can already take you down into an individual’s OneDrive, up to the organisations SharePoint files across into people and so on. Microsoft could choose to replace the Search Centre with Delve and in a way that would make a lot of sense. After all, under the hood, the Search Centre is just collection of pages for tailored advanced search with the key configuration elements done elsewhere in the SharePoint Admin Centre. Reading between the lines, Microsoft’s bet is that tailored pages have little relevancy if they can get the signals and algorithms right in the Graph. (And it’s probably not a bet as they probably have the research and telemetry to prove it.). At this and prior conferences they’ve hinted at the fact that they are working on the ability to customise Delve and so that could be the way organisations tailor the search experience. The alternative destination could be the tenants office.com landing page, which it was announced will also benefit from the search improvements, but I feel that it will remain focussed on being a landing page rather than a destination.
Search your organization, PC, and Office 365 right from your taskbar
The announcement that search will become consistent across all services has to please users as it should remove the disjoints in their search experience. Hopefully in time they’ll no longer need to switch to a specific app to conduct their search e.g. look for emails in Outlook, files in SharePoint, people in Delve as every search box will give them a consistent and personalised set of results from across Office 365. This will feed through into SharePoint Search as it will be given an increased scope and no longer be limited to itself and the boundary of people or content.
The announcements regarding search did not stop at SharePoint. Search in Windows 10 will be extended to enterprise locations like SharePoint which opens up more possibilities for us to work with Cortana to tailor a user’s search journey and improve the relevancy of results through conversation with Cortana. Imagine the flow “I need a case study for an airport bid”, “I found this in SharePoint for you and there is a Yammer Group for airports. Does this help?”, “The document is ok but I need something more focussed on apron design. Oh and thanks I did not know about the Yammer group”, “Hold on, I’ll look again, ah would this document be better. I can open the Yammer Group in the app?” etc.
Bing for business – a new Microsoft Graph powered search experience in your browser
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella ‘s background is in Bing and it seemed fitting that he was the person who announced that Bing would extend into Office 365. In a way this is not new as organisations have long been able to deploy Google Search appliances behind their firewall. However, Microsoft’s approach is not based around hardware. Bing will be able to interact with the Graph and through the interaction it will be able to present organisational results mixed in with a user’s public internet searches. This is really exciting and there are a number of use cases for this inner loop – outer loop search experience. Reading between the lines the announcement seems to signal that Bing recognises that it needs a shift in its approach in its head to head battle with Google. Shortly after Ignite Satya said that Bing will focus on expanding in the PC search market after losing its deal with Apple as it switched search in Siri to Google. This serves to reinforce the importance of the Ignite announcement.
Unified search for global clients with multi-geo capabilities for Office 365
Microsoft have been working towards multi-geo capabilities for Office 365 for a long time. At this Ignite they signaled that they are almost there with the announcement of multi-geo for SharePoint. This should be the starting gun for organisations to seriously look at multi-geo. Though I doubt that given the nature of our teams and how they work across boundaries that mutli-geo will be suitable for us.
Undoubtedly multi-geo for content is highly beneficial to global organisations but it falls apart whilst search is siloed in the home tenant. One area where this manifests is PowerApps. You can regionalise a PowerApp but you cannot (currently) regionalise any related SharePoint content. This proves problematic when you have a list feeding into an App. Even if you follow the PowerApps advice and set indices for the searchable and filterable columns it can take an age for results to appear as SharePoint remains localised in the home tenant. Hopefully by regionalising the SharePoint content and Search it should speed up the process as the indices will be stored closer to the app with perhaps only the result being sourced from the home tenant.
What are we going to do?
I thought I would round off my post with a summary of how we will use the knowledge gained from Ignite. We already had project in the pipeline for the moderisation of the Search Centre and solutions that use SharePoint 2013 based search web parts and the new knowledge will change our approach. Modern search web parts like the Recently Added part have gained advanced configuration options that sound like the display templates of SharePoint 2013 but they are not so we have to adapt to using them. The new approach to displaying results will be felt most strongly in our adoption of Microsoft Teams and Office 365 Groups as the connected SharePoint site is a modern site (and so needs modern web parts). We will also investigate the potential for Bing for Business and Search in Windows 10.
The challenge for us is ‘the when’. This is my third Ignite and I’ve started to learn the lessons from the first two. After my first Ignite I was understandably naïve, I thought that I would see each announcement appear in product within months of the conference. Several like ‘Infopedia’ never made it to production. At last the Ignite, Microsoft and Adobe announced a partnership and it was not until last month that they announced the first output of the partnership – that Adobe would use Teams as their preferred collaboration service for the Adobe Creative Cloud, Document Cloud and Experience Cloud. So I’m a bit more mature about the when. Estimated release dates where given for some of the features but I’d treat them with a pinch of salt. My advice is to keep your eye on the roadmap and follow announcements in the Tech Community, message centre and Regarding365 for the most up to date information.