Microsoft Ignite is happening this week in the sunny Orlando, FL. Office 365 was one of the most important topics of SharePoint Conference North America in May, 2018, and we expected some further news for Ignite, too. – And here it is: Microsoft just announced Microsoft Search, the “cohesive search that intelligently helps you find, discover, command and navigate”.

Let’s see what this means.

Background

At Ignite last year, Microsoft announced the new wave of modern, personalized search across Office 365.

At SharePoint Conference North America this May, Microsoft went further, and demonstrated some of the new (future) capabilities:

  • Search in SharePoint mobile app;
  • zero-time search with organizational custom results (e.g. SharePoint list);
  • custom entities;
  • custom search verticals;
  • custom filters;
  • answers directly from search (rather than “results”).

 

As you can see, most of these features are about search customizations (which are missing so much from Office 365 modern search today!)

Following the conference, the Office 365 Roadmap was updated with new Search features, too:

 

Microsoft Ignite 2018 – The Most Important Announcement: Microsoft Search

If we have Office 365 Search in Office 365, now we’ll have Microsoft Search in Microsoft 365.

“With Microsoft Search, we’re introducing new organizational search experiences into the apps you use every day, including Bing.com and Windows, and our vision to connect across your organization’s network of data.”

As expected, most of Ignite’s announcements were future releases:

  • Search will move to a prominent, consistent place across the apps you work with every day. From Outlook to PowerPoint, Excel to Sway, OneNote to Microsoft Teams, Office.com to SharePoint, the search bar will be in the same place—across desktop, mobile, and web.
  • Personalized results as soon as you click in the search box, such as people you share with the most and documents you were working on recently. No query is required to get suggestions.
  • The search box itself will also command the application where you are working. For example, begin typing “acc” in Word to get list of suggested actions such as Accept Revision or Accessibility Checker. You no longer need to hunt through toolbars to look for a command.
  • Search results will include results from across your organization. For example, within Word, you can find not only other Word documents, but also a presentation you were working on. You can navigate straight to that presentation or you can choose to incorporate slides from that file directly into your document.
  • Extending that same organizational search experience wherever you are working—in Bing.com (when signed in with your Office 365 account), Edge or Windows. Search wherever you want to and get the same experience.
  • Unified administration of your organizational search results, including admin-curated results such as bookmarks.

[Source: Microsoft, highlights from me.]

 

 

Connecting Office 365 Search to Third-Party Applications

Connecting Office 365 Search to third-party systems has been a challenge: organizations either had to live with the limitations of federated search (custom result sources) or deploy hybrid search to be able to crawl the external content. Microsoft is now committed to rolling out new search connectors next year:

“we will build native connectors for popular third-party applications that will surface search results inline with Microsoft data into all the search experiences you have, including Office, Windows, Edge, and Bing.com. 

(…)

Further extensibility with APIs will also be possible. Organizations will be able to customize the search sources and the display of search results with custom refiners and verticals, and control the display of how sources of information look in result pages.”

 

Office 365 Search / Microsoft Search training

What does this mean in practice?

As I wrote after the SharePoint Conference North America in May, 2018:

“Today, there are so many search experiences in Office 365, it’s hard to even count them. Users are confused about it. Naomi hasn’t made any explicit announcement about it, but used the expression “consistent search experience” several times. So if we read correctly between the lines, hopefully this means consistency is a goal of Microsoft these days.”

Looks like my prediction was right: Microsoft Search is all about providing a consistent and cohesive user experience across every application in Microsoft 365, including the cloud (Office 365), client applications (Word, Excel, PowerShell) as well as Bing.

And of course, everything is powered by Microsoft Graph and applied artificial intelligence from Bing.

Combining this improvement with the formerly announced customization features (coming early next year), the new, modern, personalized search experience is pretty impressive.

Being able to connect external sources to Microsoft Search will be an extremely useful feature, too.

However, don’t forget: your search can be only as good as your content. Search never can be smart enough to fully replace human involvement.

It can help, yes.

It will help, yes.

Our work as search consultants will change, yes. Not because “search consulting” will not be needed anymore. It will! The backend gets more and more complex, and with these new features search’s complexity doesn’t get easier at all. Moreover… To be honest, I expect more and more complexity.

We have to learn not only new dev technologies like SPFx, but also machine learning, AI and many more. Understanding the nuances of how search works, how it processes the content and metadata becomes more and more critical to be able to optimize the content as much as possible. Metadata, taxonomies, information architecture – they must have a renaissance soon! Without this investment, this new, modern world of search becomes just another shiny object people admire but don’t understand – and fail.

Being able to use all the benefits it provides we have to invest into it, and learn a lot.

I am looking forward to these changes. Do you?

 

One more thing…

Every demo, every news, every announcement is about the “embedded” search experience: there is no word about custom web parts that we can add to our own pages, creating custom search-driven apps and pages. Without these, even with the best “modernized” enterprise search features, we still miss a lot.

It’s a huge gap – therefore I expect new 3rd party web parts (like in this PnP video). Maybe Microsoft will add new search web parts to SharePoint modern pages, too, beyond the current “Highlighted Content” web part.

With this missing piece, the upcoming, consolidated and personalized (“modern”) search will definitely be a success. The road ahead is still long, but we can be optimistic now.

What do you think?