Will Microsoft embrace topic computing?

Microsoft has quietly introduced, as part of the Microsoft Graph, its Office 365 big data and AI engine, the concept of topic, enabling developers to get the list of people who are involved in a particular project or customer. Is this the sign of a strategic move toward topic computing?

microsoft graph

Microsoft has quietly introduced, as part of the Microsoft Graph, the concept of topic, enabling developers to generate a list of people within an organization who are involved with a specific topic. The Microsoft Graph, the successor to the Office Graph and the Yammer Graph, provides developers access to Office 365 data through APIs, enabling them to gather insights into an organization. For example, developers can retrieve a list of people working with a specific person. The retrieved list includes the names of people this person is the most frequently interacting with via any of the Office 365 collaboration tools including Email, Instant Messaging, Teams and Groups. This capability enables developers to develop smarter apps: for example, highlighting in the user interface, the inner circle of people someone works with rather than simply showing the traditional alphabetic list of contacts.

The new Topic API goes one step further and enables the discovery of people relevant to a specific customer or a specific project. I have tried the new API using our company’s Office 365 data set and was impressed by the accuracy of the results. I was able to specify a customer and to get back via the API, the main contributors working with this customer. I was also able to name an important R&D project and get the key members of that project. This ability to automatically analyze the text of a discussion, an email or a document and to extract its topics, to then build an enterprise graph connecting people and topics, and to provide APIs to access the people related to a topic is the sign of the emergence of the next evolution in cloud computing: topic computing, i.e. the ability to focus on important subjects rather than looking for related information in disconnected apps as knowledge workers are increasingly frustrated by app overload, the ability to deliver information the way the human brain works, making technology work the way people think, instead of the other way around, is becoming a priority for leading business cloud vendors like Microsoft. Topic computing breaks app silos, by delivering information to workers by topic, so they don’t have to waste time toggling between apps. Information workers actions such as discussions, document updates, emails or CRM opportunity updates become signals which can be monitored to build an enterprise graph which connects people and topics. Topics can be scored for a specific person or for a group of people such as a team, a department or a geographic location.

An enterprise graph connecting people, topics and cloud events is the foundation for multi-vendor topic computing, because it enables cloud vendors to deliver prioritized events to information workers based on the topics they are the most interested in, regardless of the app where the event originated. For example, an account manager will be presented with document upload and help desk updates which are related to her priority customers, rather than being inundated by irrelevant app notifications. The association of cloud service events, such as document upload, new help desk issues or CRM opportunity updates, to topics enables a prioritized delivery of events based on the topic that is most important to the recipient.

Because workers are free to select the best cloud service for any task, the enterprise graph must encompass events from all cloud service vendors. A single-vendor approach, like Microsoft’s, while a step in the right direction, is ultimately limited, since it ignores critical cloud events that impact the relevancy of topics in real business situations, such as projects, sales efforts and case management.

Only time will tell if Microsoft will open its graph to encompass cloud services from other vendors, to truly deliver on the promise of topic computing. One thing you can be sure of: we are only at the beginning of what promises to be a new age of how workers interact with technology.

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