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SharePoint Takes Ignite Spotlight with Project Nucleus and Syntex Announcements

Microsoft detailed some upcoming advances to SharePoint at Ignite this week, including a new Project Cortex product called "Syntex," and a caching improvement for Web apps used with SharePoint called "Project Nucleus."

Jeff Teper, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, Teams, OneDrive and SharePoint, summarized these developments and more during a Tuesday Ignite talk called "Enabling collaboration, communication, and knowledge sharing with Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Project Cortex, and more." He also summarized the talk in a blog post.

Teper began the talk by explaining how his team has been supporting Microsoft 365 as "the world's productivity cloud." To that end, he suggested there's a holistic concept behind its various products:

First, we provide collaboration services with Microsoft Teams, OneDrive and Lists. Second, we provide employee engagement and communication services with SharePoint, Stream and Yammer. And third, we connect people with knowledge and expertise through Microsoft Search and Project Cortex. These are all part of an integrated experience and platform for developers.

Microsoft has so far seen a tenfold increase in SharePoint use since COVID-19 compelled many people into work-from-home scenarios, Teper noted. The coming new capabilities, described in the talk, will help enhance organizational engagement and help "better connect employees to leadership," he suggested.  

Syntex: Trainable AI
SharePoint Syntex is the first product to emerge from Project Cortex, which is currently at the private preview stage, although Syntex will be arriving next month. In a separate Ignite session on Syntex, Chris McNulty, senior product manager for Project Cortex, SharePoint and Microsoft 365, said that Syntex would "reach general availability for all of our commercial customers worldwide on Oct. 1 of this year." Syntex will be sold as an add-on for Microsoft 365 E3 and E5 plans, priced per user, he added.

Microsoft had introduced Project Cortex at last year's Ignite event as a "knowledge network" built using SharePoint and artificial intelligence (AI). It relies on the Microsoft Graph, which "aggregates content and signals" and uses Microsoft's machine learning and machine teaching AI technologies, Teper explained. Microsoft previously explained its "graph" term as a cloud-based data store that uses AI technology.

Teper explained that Project Cortex "will be coming to customers through a series of innovations," and Syntex is the first product after Microsoft improved taxonomy services for SharePoint back in July. Syntex essentially is trainable AI for finding important metadata within organizations.

"Syntex applies AI to amplify individual human expertise to convert content into knowledge at scale for the entire organization," Teper said.

Microsoft sees metadata as "critical" for content management in organizations, according to Naomi Moneypenny, director of product development for Project Cortex, who spoke during the Ignite talk. She described how Syntex could be used to surface information, such as looking through legal contracts for specific information:

Take a specialized skill like contract processing, for example. Your contract-processing expert can teach Syntex to read a contract like they do -- to recognize that key information and automatically tag contracts. Syntex lets your experts capture their knowledge about content, and AI models that. They can build with no code. For an example, an expert can teach Syntex to extract the value of a contract, along with the expiration date and key terms and conditions. Syntex then uses your model to automatically process content, and capture that important information as metadata.

The idea is to use human experts to first train Syntex, and then use that model more generally.

Syntex taps SharePoint content services, plus advanced AI capabilities from Azure, Microsoft Research and Microsoft 365. It works with Power Automate, Microsoft's low-code toolset for connecting workloads. It also works with the Microsoft Information Protection service, which adds security to an organization's content, Moneypenny explained. She said that Syntex "gives you content management superpowers, enabling you to capture, scale and repurpose the expertise of your people."

Project Nucleus: Caching for Web Apps
Project Nucleus is a SharePoint platform improvement, also coming to Microsoft Teams, that aims to improve the performance of Web applications by keeping a cache of information on the client. It was conceived last year as a way to improve the performance of progressive Web apps using "intelligence synchronization" technologies that were developed to optimize the OneDrive storage service, Teper explained:

Project nucleus will power the next generation of our Web apps and custom portals. It uses intelligence sync to a database to keep a cache on the client that our web apps use to deliver and leapfrog performance.

Project Nucleus was described as making things easier for end users. It'll let them to work with large lists, regardless of their Internet connection speeds. It'll work even when users are offline. Changes to list views and column sorts will take place once the user reconnects to the Internet.

The arrival time for Project Nucleus wasn't described. Teper said it's "just the latest of our investments coming to the SharePoint platform, powering both experiences inside Microsoft 365, and your custom solutions."

Microsoft Search
Other nuggets were in the 30-minute talk, including some news on Microsoft Search integration work.

Microsoft Graph Connector technology, used with Microsoft Search, is going to enable partner solutions integrations.  These connectors will let partners integrate parts of their applications into Microsoft 365 applications via the Microsoft Graph, Moneypenny explained.

In a separate announcement describing Microsoft Search announcements at Ignite, Bill Baer, senior technical product manager for Microsoft Search, stated that "Microsoft Graph connectors for Microsoft Search will be generally available later this year." Partners working on integrations include "Box, Adobe, Cognizant, Go1, LumApps, Accenture, Raytion, Cognizant and BA Insight," he added.

Microsoft Search improvements include enhancements for finding people, skills, Power BI reports, conversations, images, acronym definitions, calendar schedules and files. "Topic answers will come later this calendar year as part of Project Cortex," Baer added.

It'll be possible to see one's personal query history with Microsoft Search. Users will be able to tell search administrators about their search experiences with a new admin feedback feature. Also, there will be a new Microsoft Search Insights dashboard for admins, giving them a view of employee searches in chart format. The ability to use "custom verticals and filters" with Microsoft Search will be coming "over the next several months." Microsoft Search also will be coming to Microsoft Teams and Windows 10.

SharePoint, Teams and Lists Enhancements
Teper said Microsoft continues to invest in the SharePoint Framework. He described it as "one of Microsoft's fastest-growing modern development platforms, reaching millions of end users every day." Microsoft's next step with the framework will be to enable the building of Microsoft Teams apps with SharePoint Framework effects, he added.

It's now possible to use prebuilt templates to quickly create news and announcements within a SharePoint intranet, which supports an organization's branding and column setups. Company branding can also be applied to a new "auto News Digest feature," which sends a summary of key news items within an organization. Information can be pushed to the top of an employee's news feed, as well.

There's a new "Conversation Insights" capability to show the effects of a person's communication efforts in SharePoint. Microsoft also will have "a new automatically generated analytics digest," which will get delivered to a person's e-mail inbox.

Microsoft Teams currently supports up to 10,000 users per team. Microsoft is planning to expand that limit "soon" to 25,000 users per team, it was announced.

Teams is getting a new "Home Site" app that will bring SharePoint feeds into Teams.

Lastly, Microsoft Lists will be coming to the mobile iOS platform, which will happen sometime "later this year."

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