Microsoft talked about a lot of interesting new technologies at this week’s Build developer conference, from artificial intelligence and machine learning to Windows PCs that work better with Android and Apple smartphones, to some smart new workflow features in Windows 10. But one of the underlying themes was the company’s push to get developers to better leverage the Microsoft Graph. This evolving technology shows immense promise and may well be the thing that keeps Microsoft front and center with consumers even as it increasingly focuses on selling commercial solutions.
Understanding the Graph
The Microsoft Graph isn’t new-it originated in 2015 within Office 365 as the Office Graph-but at Build the company did a great job of articulating what it is, and more importantly what it can do. The short version: the Graph is the API for Microsoft 365. More specifically, Microsoft showed a slide that said the Graph represents “connected data and insights that power applications. Seamless identity: Azure Active Directory sign-in across Windows, Office, and your applications. Business Data in the Graph can appear within your and our applications.”
Microsoft geared that language to its developer audience, but for end users, it means this: Whenever you use Microsoft platforms, apps, or services-or third-party apps and services designed to work with the Graph-you’ll get a better, more personalized experience. And that experience will get even better over time as Microsoft collects more data about what you use and how you use it.
The Microsoft Graph may have started with Office, but the company has rolled it out across its large and growing list of properties. Just inside Office 365 there’s SharePoint, OneDrive, Outlook, Microsoft Teams, OneNote, Planner, and Excel. Microsoft’s Azure is a cloud computing service, and Azure’s Graph-enabled Active Directory controls identity and access management within an organization. Plus, there’s Windows 10 services, as well as a long list of services under the banner of Enterprise Mobility and Security services. And now that company has rolled it into many of its own products; it is pushing its developers to begin utilizing the Graph, too.
Working Smarter, and Bridging Our Two Lives
The goal of the Microsoft Graph is to drive a truly unique experience for every user. One that recognizes the devices you use, and when you use them. One that figures out when you are your most productive and serves up the right tools at the right time to help you get things done. One that eventually predicts what you’ll need before you need it. None of it is quite as flashy as asking your digital assistant to have a conversation for you, but it’s the type of real-world advances that technology should be good at doing.
What’s also notable about the Microsoft Graph is that while it focuses almost entirely on work and productivity, these advances should help smooth friction outside of work, too. If we work smarter, perhaps we can work less. Inside this is Microsoft’s nod to the fact that while it still has consumer-focused businesses such as Xbox, most people will interact with its products in a work setting. That said, most of us have seen the lines between our work and non-work life blur, and the Graph should help drive continued and growing relevance for Microsoft as a result.
Don’t Forget Privacy
Of course, for all this to work Microsoft must collect a large amount of data about you. In a climate where people are starting to think long and hard about how much data they are willing to give up to access next-generation apps and services, this could be challenging. Which is why throughout Build Microsoft executives including CEO Satya Nadella made a point of driving home the company’s stance on data and privacy. Nadella called privacy a human right, and in discussing the Microsoft Graph both on stage and behind closed doors, executives Joe Belfiore and Kevin Gallo noted that this information ultimately belongs to the end user and it is up to Microsoft to keep it private and secure.
The privacy angle is one I expect to see Microsoft continue to push as it works to leverage the Graph in its ongoing battles with Google and Facebook. (I expect Apple will hammer home its stance on the topic at the upcoming WWDC, too.) In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft’s developers buy into the promise of the Graph, and how long it will take for their subsequent work to come to fruition. By next year at this time, we may be hearing less about the potential of this technology, and more about end users enjoying the real-world benefits.