Microsoft Office 2016
Microsoft
By John Patrick Pullen
September 22, 2015

When I look at my email inbox, I can’t help but feel like I’m drowning. More than a hundred messages pour in every day, and if I’m lucky, I can reply to a couple dozen. The rest get tossed or ignored—and possibly wash over me again later when the sender follows up. (A note to people reading this who email me: Please stop following up.)

I’m hardly alone. “We’re definitely getting to the point where we’re saying, ‘You can’t keep up; don’t try to keep up; process your mail quickly and make sure you’re on top of the hottest stuff,’” says Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s general manager of Office apps and product marketing. Thankfully, with Tuesday’s release of Office 2016, Microsoft is promoting a tool that can make these overwhelming waves of data actually useful.

Working as a news feed for your work, Microsoft’s Delve uses machine learning to help you keep your head above digital water. The app got little fanfare when it was released last September, but now with a year under its belt, newly acquired analytics startup VoloMetrix making it smarter, and Office 2016 pulling more users’ data into the cloud, it’s about to get a lot more useful.

Delve works by scouring your emails, calendars, files, to pick out the things it thinks are the most relevant, pertinent, and pressing for you, based on your own personal work habits. The app looks at the activity on your files — including who’s opened them, who’s viewed them, who’s edited them, and who those people are in relation to you — and presents this information with a card-based interface similar to Pinterest.

For example, if two dozen co-workers opened a Word document on the company server in the past week, Delve would highlight that file as something you might want to look at. Or if someone edits an Excel spreadsheet you made three years ago, Delve may also bring it to your attention, since you were the only other person to use that file.

Though Delve has been available for the past year, Office 2016’s new cloud-based collaboration features are a big reason why Microsoft is touting its smarts now. With the advent of more social features like Outlook Groups, these spreadsheets, documents, and presentations are about to create a new dimension of user data with huge potential.

The leap Delve may soon make for business is comparable to how college dorm whiteboards morphed into Facebook walls. Back when we left pithy quotes with colored markers, no one was adding ‘likes’ or leaving comments, and computers certainly weren’t gobbling up analytics from them. Likewise, old Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations filed away on a server previously told us nothing. But we’ll eventually learn a lot about our jobs and organizations as Delve watches and learns.

In the meantime, don’t bother organizing your emails or throwing away those old archived folders on the server. That data may not only help you later, but weeding through them is just keeping you from doing your job now.

“There’s just no way you’ll be able to do everything that we’re asked to do,” says Spataro. “You just have to prioritize and get done the most important things each day.”

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