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Document Search for Office 365 & SharePoint Should Be Unnecessary

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of SharePoint, and what we can do with its search engine, but this isn’t what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the fact that we assume businesses today still can’t solve a fundamental issue with working with documents. And that’s finding them when we need them.

We can’t find our content. This is the problem we have been trying to solve

Over the years, I realized that the same underlying problem requires organizations to keep trying new software when it comes to documents.


We can’t find the content we’re looking for.


Of course, there are others related to training or business processes, but this is the one I’ve seen time and time again.

Documents on our shared drives and file shares

From the world of folders and file shares that we’re all too familiar with, we’ve come to realize that it’s near impossible to organize and find the right content when we need it. I have a new document, and it’s a Contract for Customer ‘X’. Should I put it in the ‘Contracts’ folder, or in another called ‘Customers’. That’s right. Each document we saved, or worked on, could only be saved under one folder structure. This led to involuntarily displaced documents and, of course, duplicates. Not to mention the lack of features around these documents, such as approval processes, versioning, and many more.

We then migrated to SharePoint and document metadata

I’m going to skip the first SharePoint versions and go straight to SharePoint 2007.

We liked the idea of document metadata, and adding tags to our documents, without placing them in one specific folder structure. So, for seven years, and three SharePoint versions, we slowly eliminated folders, and started tagging our documents.

Yes, I know there were other platforms that allowed document tagging before that and, regardless, the problem stayed the same…we weren’t satisfied with the file shares and folders, as well as having to connect through VPN, and such, to find our content. The success of SharePoint relied on the premise that, through a web browser, you can file your documents, tag them, and find them when you need them.


However, there’s something we greatly underestimated, and that’s the effort required by individuals to enter that metadata. Without it, SharePoint was just another document dump.

Our efforts continued by improving SharePoint Search

With SharePoint 2010 as well as our upgrade to SharePoint 2013, we thought the search engine was the answer. If we can go to Google or Bing, type what we want to find, and find it, surely we can do the same with our documents in SharePoint. So huge investments were made, both by the platform itself, as well as in our implementations. Though the new Search in SharePoint 2013 is extremely powerful, very few actually take the time to configure it. In fact, my travels and sessions led me to realize that very few people even know the difference between crawled properties and managed properties. If organizations invested time and effort in the search engine, to configure and maintain it as the organization grows, then perhaps it could have been our solution.

These days, I see the Search often used as a ‘thing’ that runs on its own, to which we ask questions from time to time, or use to display customized content on different pages. However, it hasn’t yet played a part in our quest to find our content.

Companies started offering simple solutions, so OneDrive for Business was born

While we were busy trying to solve the issues with metadata, search, and SharePoint, companies like Dropbox started getting stronger on the market. People were willing to go back to folders, because this method was still easier. Of course, it also offered new benefits we didn’t have with file shares. It’s accessible through the browser, integrates seamlessly on your desktop, and allows for the quick and easy sharing of documents.

Therefore, it came as no surprise to me that Microsoft had to quickly ‘inspect and adapt’. SharePoint is an amazing platform, if not the most widely used platform, to build Intranets. However, it was not winning in the ‘document’ space, if I can call it that, because it didn’t offer a simple approach to solve our problem. We want to be able to find our content, but not by having to fill out a form for every one we upload.

For that same reason, OneDrive for Business was born. As I mentioned, when building the new SharePoint Wheel, SharePoint the platform will still be as it was, and be this awesome platform we use to build things like Intranets. But OneDrive for Business will offer us part of the solution to our problem: creating, finding, and sharing our content quickly and easily.

My hopes regarding the new Delve app, and the promise it makes

Delve, ‘to search for information about something’. This is the new app formerly known as project Oslo during the keynote at the SharePoint Conference 2014. Ladies and gentlemen, be ready for a new buzzword: ‘Machine Learning’. This is something that has existed, of course, for a very long time, but will start becoming the topic of choice very shortly.


“I don’t care where you put your PowerPoint presentation, I just want to see it”


Don't search for SharePoint Docs


I am convinced that Delve – if not Delve it will be the apps that will follow – will allow us to do just that. Regardless of where the document is, a Yammer Group Site or someone’s OneDrive for Business, Delve will find it, and suggest it to us. Connected to our different tools, like email, calendar, people, OneDrive for Business, Yammer, etc…it will have enough information so that we will no longer need to tag documents, or follow a folder structure.

For us to move past our problem of ‘finding our content’, we, in turn, need to stop searching for it.


Do note that this is merely my perspective, based on my experience working with SharePoint for so many years. There are many other issues, and I have over simplified the situation for us, in order to see some of our basic problems, and to show the history behind where we are heading. Would love to hear your feedback!

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