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Get Ready to Unleash Your Data Across Systems with Connectors, Microsoft Search at Ignite 2019

Tony Malandain

BA Insight founder and head of development Tony Malandain joins us today to share his experience at Microsoft Ignite 2019. The continued investment in Microsoft Search is paying off with announcements from the company in AI, Modern Search UI, and more. But the keystone for us is around Microsoft Graph and connectors paving the way for a new wave of integration through the BA Insight ConnectivityHub, currently in preview. This week on the show, Tony gives us our own preview and a set of resources to help you make sense of the changes ahead.

Links & Notes


Tony Malandain
Founder and Director of Product Development
BA Insight


Pete: Welcome to Shared Insights, the podcast from BA Insight. I’m Pete Wright and I’m joined today by our very own founder and head of development, Tony Malandain. Tony, it’s about time. Welcome back.

Tony: Hi. How have you been?

Pete Wright: Very well. It’s been too long since we’ve had you on the show and you come bearing a bouquet of news today. You have spent the last a week at Microsoft Ignite, and you come with a lot of news about Ignite and Microsoft’s renewed interest in Search. So, let’s get into it. What have we learned from Microsoft’s investments, and certainly the way they’re talking about Search right now?

Tony: The Microsoft Search is, to me, a big shift in what has happened on the Microsoft World so far. I mean, they used to have Search inside SharePoint, which was just a feature of SharePoint. Now you’re really getting the Search to be across the whole Office 365 Suite, basically. So you can have the Search working, not only just in SharePoint, but in, in Bing, everywhere. It’s becoming a much more stand-alone, full-fledged capability for people to use, basically.

Pete: It feels very much like, as watching the news and watching where their continued investments seem to go in search, that suddenly, we’re able to see a picture emerging of their long-term goals with search. As you say, bringing it just outside of SharePoint, extending it beyond to the other Microsoft products. What is your sense of the big push and their intention for search? How do they want partners to use and implement search?

Tony: So there’re really three aspects, I would say, on the Search. The first aspect is making search available from anywhere. So wherever you are, you should be able to search and consume the content. The second one is also to be able to get content from anywhere, and that’s been much related to that connector announcement. Where you will be able to push content from any other sources, be it SAP, Box, Service Now. Any of the connectors that we have. You could push the content to Microsoft Search and now, make it searchable from anywhere. The last piece is basically, that AI layer that they are adding into search, to improve relevancy and personalization and make the content much more useful for information workers.

Pete: Can you give us an example? What does that mean? What are the kinds of things they’re showing off that uses some of this technology?

Tony: A couple of examples. Well actually, the two examples that really made a splash, I would say, were the Project Cortex was one. Which actually uses search and uses the connectivity of search, to be able to understand the content, and how people and content relates. So that when you are searching for information or when you are visualizing information, be it in Outlook or Teams or anywhere, you will be provided with information cards built by Cortex, to show people related to the projects or the customer that you’re looking for. It will be able to show your documents. It will be able to show you events, anything that is related to that. All of that map will be built dynamically, based on the AI and based on what the AI understands of the customer or the concept, basically.

Pete: How do you feel about this? Because, I mean, we’ve been talking for years on this show about the importance of metadata and in order to surface relevance and expertise. All of these things that real human beings and knowledge workers are looking for, when they’re using these kinds of systems. Is this the brass ring? Has Microsoft figured out how to give us great, smart metadata, thanks to AI? And free humans from clumsy data entry?

Tony: It certainly looks attractive when you see the demo. I think there’s demo and there’s real-life examples.

Pete: Sure

Tony: But I think they’re on the right track with the intent. I don’t think you will be fully freed of metadata and the products like a AutoClassifier, for example, are still going to be essential, to be able to have good, quality data. But the AI, if it’s being fed the right information and has good metadata on that information, will definitely be able to take advantage of that, to be able to relate the information together and help people consume better information. And bring more relevant information to the users.

Pete: So, tell us a little bit about innovations around connectors.

Tony: This one has been a long-time wishlist on my side. Where Microsoft is providing now an API for connectors, which means that we can push content to Microsoft Search and the Graph Connector, the same way that we would be able to push content with other engines like Azure Search, for example, or Elastic. That gives us a lot of flexibility with our connectors. To be able to provide the content, to be able to make incremental crawls be near real-time. Because now, we can really just process the amount that has changed and only provide those three or five documents that changed during the crawl. So that new API is really helping creating an easier connections between systems. Also, will simplify for administrator, the experience of dealing with connectivities between siloed information.

Pete: It feels very much like this was the piece that needed to be unlocked, in order to unleash a flood of new opportunities to connect systems together. Am I thinking about that the right way? How do you envision clients being able to really start unleashing the power of this?

Tony: Yes. Yeah, I would agree. I think the Cloud, as they say, was a good attempt… Being nice, was a good first attempt to provide content online. But I think the connectors, the crash connectors are really going to help companies be able to bring that data into the Cloud and bring the data into Office 365, with much less overhead and much more transparency and visibility on what’s happening. That will lower the effort to bring connected data and increase the value that you can get out of your systems.

Pete: A couple of other items you mentioned that are worth noticing. Modern Search UI progress?

Tony: Yes. So, on the Modern Search, the Modern Search that was released last year, give or take, was a pretty closed experience. So Microsoft was taking control of the experience and provided what they thought was the best experience for end users. But there was some limitation with that, such as you cannot decide on refiners, you could not decide on the verticals. You had, really, just the one experience and nothing else.

Tony: They are actually working now on expanding that, so that there’s more flexibility. Both you as an administrator, you can have more flexibility in terms of how you configure that, but you also have flexibility to be able to use a different experience than Modern Search, if you decide to. So if you have a dedicated application that you want to build on top of Office 365, you’re not going to be restricted to the Modern Search experience. You can actually decide to build your own search and provide your own search experience within that application, even if it’s sitting on top of SharePoint Online, for example.

Pete: Okay, okay. Well, I wanted to talk just a bit about that. Because it seems to me like continued investment in Modern Search UI and progress there is going to be directly relevant to this flood of new information, as users are able to start and systems are integrated across these data sets. So, is now a good time to talk a little bit about Microsoft Graph, Connectivity Hub, and all of the exciting things that BA Insight announced?

Tony: So on our side, basically, we announced that all of our connectors, our 70-plus connectors, will now work with the Microsoft Search Graph API. Which means that any of the connectors that you were able to use until now in SharePoint On Premise or SharePoint Online, you can now use them with the Graph API and Microsoft Search. That will make those content available from any front-end, basically.

Pete: I sort of feel like you… I mean, you’re a very subdued guy, Tony. I don’t know if anybody’s ever told you that. I kind of feel like you are underselling that and maybe you should, at least for the coming few weeks, be walking around with a band or confetti poppers. That feels like a big deal.

Tony: Yeah, it is. I mean, it’s still a preview product, so in subdued indeed, isn’t it?

Pete: Yeah, right.

Tony: So, it’s still a preview product. But it is a big deal, to be able to have all of those connectors work with that new API. Because the Graph API and Microsoft Search is going to be a foundation for a lot of the improvement that Microsoft will provide in Office 365. So, being able to have all of our connectors available, and for customers being able to connect all of those systems together and take full advantage of the AI and the Microsoft Search improvements, definitely, will make a difference.

Pete: Can you give us an example of… I mean, obviously as a preview product, it is not in wide release. But as a preview product, you’ve been working with customers to look at it, to evaluate ConnectivityHub. Can you share a little bit with us, our customer enthusiasm for what is to come? What are customers saying about this?

Tony: The preview program was a private preview with Microsoft. So we worked, essentially, along with Microsoft, to make sure that their API and our products, basically, would work well together. We are seeing customers that have been aware of the program and have been waiting for the preview to become public, basically. We definitely have customers looking forward to kick the tire and evaluate the products together. That’s something that will become available. Now that it’s publicly available, that’s something that will become available and be lined up on our side.

Pete: You have a call to action around Graph connectors. What is your message to those who are implementing these things?

Tony: There is a URL that Microsoft provided, which is the That’s, basically, the way you can go and request that Graph API and the connectors to become available in your tenancy. So, the conversation is very simple. If you’re interested on having those systems available in Office 365 and seeing how the Graph connectors can help you along with Project Cortex or Project Sharing, and getting better Search experience to users, simply go and request Microsoft to enable the connectors, the Graph API on your tenancy. Reach out to us for connectors and we’ll be happy to help you evaluate how those connectors can help you.

Pete: You can give us a little bit of a roadmap of your enthusiasm? What comes next for you? What are you most excited about delivering to customers next, in light of these changes?

Tony: That is a good question. Well I would say, first and foremost, is definitely to be able to reach GA. This is still a preview program.

Pete: Sure.

Tony: The API will change. So it’s really, to be able to bring it to GA, general availability, both from Microsoft and on our side. To make sure that that information, that the connectors are rock solid and ready for production. That is very much the first priority. I would say that the second aspect is to be able to work with Microsoft and our customers, to… Now that we are able to push information into the Graph, make sure that the user experience, both in Modern Search and also in products like SmartHub, is matching those expectations. Also, build up on the AI capabilities and leverage the AI capabilities from Microsoft Search, so that AI can understand the data that we’re bringing in from the different sources and help improve the user experience and the relevancy and the personalization of those results.

Pete: I recognize, as I ask this next question, that you likely will not answer it, but I have to. What is your sense of timeline to reach GA?

Tony: The Microsoft side, from what was communicated at Ignite, is that the connectors will become available towards midyear, next year.

Pete: Okay.

Tony: Our expectation is to be able to align, loosely, with that release date. So obviously, there is no timeline and there is no dates set today.

Pete: Sure.

Tony: But we expect to be able to closely follow Microsoft, on their availability and ours.

Pete Wright: Well, there are a lot of moving parts. This is a fantastic announcement and a great addition to the fantastic software that BA Insight already offers. What great news to uncork the dam with Microsoft and Connectivity Hub. Thank you, Tony Malandain, for joining us today. We sure appreciate it.

Tony: Absolutely, it was a pleasure.

Pete: And thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show, on behalf of Tony Malandain. I’m Pete Wright and we’ll catch you next time, right here on Shared Insights, the podcast from BA Insight.