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Customer data platforms make it possible for small retailers to create single customer views, and as a result, fuel omnichannel experiences PHOTO: Pj Accetturo

If data and content drive the digital workplace, search is its beating heart. Without effective search, it is impossible to find the content and data needed to run all the apps being used by workers. While this has always been an issue, with the digital workplace makes the problem a lot more complicated as there are more interconnected apps working from dozens of locations.

Microsoft has been tinkering around under the hood of its search engine and announced at its developer conference, Build, the general availability of Microsoft Search, an intelligence, enterprise search application that uses the artificial intelligence (AI) technology from Bing and deep personalized insights surfaced by the Microsoft Graph, to make the search app more effective.

Microsoft Search is a cross-domain search solution that goes everywhere, including SharePoint, because of its connection to Microsoft Graph. Microsoft Graph is a developer platform that connects multiple services and devices. Initially released in 2015, the Microsoft Graph builds on Office 365 APIs and allows developers to integrate their services with Microsoft products, including Windows, Office 365 and Azure.

The result is that users can find anything anywhere and act on it. “Microsoft Search is everywhere you are, in the header of the apps you’re already using including Office, Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, Bing and Windows to name a few. It’s a single, unified and consistent search experience that evolves the definition of search in the enterprise,” Bill Baer, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft, wrote in statement.

Search should be a major addition to the digital workplace, although mere search doesn’t really describe the things Microsoft says it can do. It comes with task completion to help users accomplish key tasks. If you’re adding an image to a document or presentation, for example, Microsoft Search will guide you through the most common tasks to work with that object, such as cropping, rotating and more. Task completion with Microsoft Search is not only available across Microsoft 365 apps, but is contextually aware based on where you’re working.

Microsoft Search was originally launched at Microsoft’s Ignite conference in 2018 and is similar to Google’s Cloud Search in that it searches through all the different data silos to find files, contacts, org charts and anything else. It can also answer queries.

There’s more to come too. Baer writes: “As we move forward we'll continue to add new capabilities including the ability to integrate Microsoft Search into your own applications with popular third-party connectors so you can make the most of all of your information whether that is located in Microsoft 365 or in your own systems, we’ll make it customizable to tailor to your liking, and surround it with a rich set of APIs. We’ll also continue to extend the unified search control to applications like Yammer and Microsoft Teams in Microsoft 365.”

Microsoft Ups its Azure Game

Microsoft also announced a bunch of new services for Azure services spanning AI, mixed reality, IoT and blockchain. “It’s an incredible time to be a developer. From building AI and mixed reality into apps to leveraging blockchain for solving commercial business problems, developers’ skillsets and impact are growing rapidly,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud and AI Group, said a statement released before Build outlining the new services. Among the new additions are:

Azure Decision: Azure Cognitive Services enables applications to see, hear, respond, translate, reason and more. Microsoft is launching a new Cognitive Services category, called “Decision,” that delivers users a specific recommendation for more informed and efficient decision-making.

AI to Azure Search: The conference saw Microsoft announce the general availability of the cognitive search capability, enabling customers to apply Cognitive Services algorithms to extract new insights from their structured and unstructured content.

New Interface: Visual machine learning interface provides no-code model creation and deployment experience with drag-and-drop capabilities.

Azure SQL Database Edge: Microsoft has provided a SQL engine optimized for lower compute requirements with built-in AI, the product combines data streaming with in-database machine learning and graph capabilities to enable intelligence on the edge.

IoT Plug and Play: A new open modelling language to seamlessly connect Internet of Things (IoT) devices to the cloud, enabling developers to navigate one of the biggest challenges they face — deploying IoT solutions at scale.

There are also new additions to Microsoft’s augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) offerings along with additions to its blockchain technology. There were literally dozens of announcements over the course of the three-day conference, much of it focused on AI and the cloud. Over the coming weeks a lot of the announcements will be fleshed-out so there will be a lot more on this.

Google Reins-in Cookies in Chrome

The Google IO developer conference is in full swing. Like Microsoft there will be a lot of emphasis on AI and how it can improve the performance of Google apps and technology. For the first day at least, there was a good deal of focus on hardware and its Android operating system, but there was also some interesting additions to the Chrome browser.

Google launched Chrome in 2008 with the goal of building a speedy, simple, secure and stable web for everyone, everywhere. However, over the recent months in particular it has received consistent feedback from users about transparency, choice and control when it comes to data privacy on the web.

The result is a new way of managing and using cookies. The changes, according to a blog post, will result in cookies becoming more private and easier to control. While some of the changes will directly impact the Chrome browser, third-party developers will have to adapt their cookies to this new reality.

The idea behind the changes is that while cookies look the same to all browsers it is difficult to tell how each cookie is being used in different browsers, which limits the usefulness of cookie controls. The result is that Google is updating Chrome to provide users with more transparency about how sites are using cookies, as well as simpler controls for cross-site cookies. “We are making a number of upcoming changes to Chrome to enable these features, starting with modifying how cookies work so that developers need to explicitly specify which cookies are allowed to work across websites — and could be used to track users. The mechanism we use builds on the web's Same Site cookie attribute, and you can find the technical details on web.dev,” the post reads.

In the coming months, Chrome will require developers to use this mechanism to access their cookies across sites. This change will enable users to clear all such cookies while leaving single domain cookies unaffected, preserving user logins and settings. The overall idea is to provide users with more control over how their data is shared.

There aren’t many more details yet, but the fact that Google has gone this far should be a warning that website managers need to check how their site fits in with the new practices once the full picture becomes clear. “Making changes to how the browser treats cookies requires us to consider the broader web ecosystem. Blunt approaches to cookie blocking have been tried, and in response we have seen some user-tracking efforts move underground, employing harder-to-detect methods that subvert cookie control,” according to the blog post. “This is why Chrome plans to more aggressively restrict fingerprinting across the web. One way in which we’ll be doing this is reducing the ways in which browsers can be passively fingerprinted, so that we can detect and intervene against active fingerprinting efforts as they happen.”

Dropbox Offers Two-Tier Storage

Meanwhile, Dropbox is trying to make its long-term storage less costly and more effective than it has been to date. This is not a new development as it had started moving storage away from Amazon Web Services a few years ago and start putting them in its own storage centers.

The storage architecture that it developed was called Magic Pocket. It is now improving that. In a post about the new upgrades it explained: “Today, we’re announcing an advancement in our storage technology for less frequently accessed files, called cold storage. This new storage tier improves efficiency and lowers costs, while maintaining our high standards for reliability. Dropbox users are much more likely to access recently uploaded files compared to those uploaded years ago. So we divided file access into two categories — warm and cold, based on how frequently they’re accessed — and assigned them to the appropriate storage tier.”

In other words, data that is less regularly accessed will be stored in the ‘cold’ storage tier and will cut disk usage — and consequently cost — by 25%. The end-user experience, however, will not change.

Gmelius Closes Seeding Round

Finally, this week, Gmelius, a startup that aims to consolidate business workflows and bridge the widening gap between internal and external communications, has closed a seven-figure seed round from Fongit Seed Invest, ACE Investment Partners, Swiss ICT InvestorClub (SICTIC) and several Angel investors.

Gmelius offers a solution that seamlessly integrates into any existing Gmail or G Suite inbox and transforms it into a complete workspace. With it teams can manage projects together, answer customer queries and automate their outreach.

The company claims that the eService, which exists as a browser extension and a mobile application is used daily by more than 150,000 professionals, including teams at Spotify and Uber.

Gmelius plans to use the new funding to expand its account-based marketing and sales efforts, especially in the US where two-thirds of their current customers are based.