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Bing for Business gives you the power of web search but for your own company information

Even after all these years of intranets, SharePoint sites and wikis, most employees still turn to web search rather than internal tools to find what they’re looking for – even when what they’re looking for is to do with your own organisation.

It happens at every company, corporate vice president for AI products Jordi Ribas told us at the Ignite conference. “Inside Microsoft we have so much information about the company but it’s difficult for us to find information inside the intranet. Many companies have the same problem; you want to file expenses but you don’t remember off the top of your head where the intranet site is. Some links are hard to find; at Microsoft the only people who know the links for the cafeteria menus are administrative assistants. Even though there are other places to look, people still have this habit of going to the browser to try and find files and people. What if you were able to use the power of AI and intelligent features?”

That’s what the new Bing for Business feature in Office 365 and Microsoft 365 will do, using the Microsoft Graph to provide information about people and documents inside your company, along with company information stored in SharePoint sites, and in modern Groups.

You don’t have to remember a different URL; just search Bing as usual once you’re signed in with your organisational account and you’ll get internal business results. Search for people and instead of seeing the most famous person of that name, you’ll see a people card for the person who works in your organisation; that includes their contact details from Office, with the details that pulls in from LinkedIn, the documents they’re working on (that they’ve shared with you or that you’re authorised to see), their team and manager and position in the org chart, what groups they’re part of, and even the building plan for where they work if that information is in a system Office 365 connects to.

“Groups are very important for finding people,” vice president for Bing and Cortana Product Ecosystem Gurpreet Singh Pall told us. “If you’re part of a group working on a project, if I can’t find you [to talk to], I can find someone else in that group.”

Image: http://bit.ly/2wTFtld

Keyword searches will show you relevant documents, using information from the Microsoft graph and Delve, and bookmarks set up by admins to internal web sites, or to databases and applications like expense tools and vacation booking. Bookmarks can also show actions you can take. “You’ll be able to see your vacation days here, we’re going to add the balance on your card for the cafeteria. If there are expenses waiting for your approval, you can approve them right here.”

The next step is giving direct answers to common questions, Pall said. “There are some questions that are asked a few hundred times a day, like ‘how do I unlock Bitlocker?’ or ‘I’m doing an expense report but I lost my receipt; what do I do?’ It’s better to give them the answer than to send them to a web site.” The Bing team is working to integrate Microsoft’s existing QandA Maker tool for bots. “You’ll be able to just point it to a website or site map and it can go and generate the question answer pairs and then those can be answered through the same search box; it’s all based on machine learning.”

In future, Bing for business will integrate with more Microsoft and partner services and maybe even crawl your network to find line of business applications employees need to use.

“The idea is to be integrated across the entire Microsoft graph,” Ribas said, which will include Dynamics 365. A demo of using Cortana to book time off through the Microsoft HR site is only working internally at Microsoft, but it’s the kind of direct action Bing for business aims to offer any business that uses the service.

Below the internal results Bing for business shows the usual public web results, in case you weren’t looking for information about your organisation – or if you want to compare your options for having lunch at work or nearby.

These aren’t currently personalised to users, but over time the aggregated search terms for your business will be used to create a personalised newsfeed. And because you’ll be able to sign in with both your company and personal Microsoft account (something users at Microsoft asked for so they could keep earning Bing Rewards), if you want the search personalisation that Bing does for your personal account to be used to tune the results you see for the web results on Bing for business, you’ll be able to give Bing permission to do that.

Because Bing for Business is part of your Microsoft 365 tenant, you don’t have to worry about unauthorised access or issues of confidentiality. It’s currently in private preview (over 500 organizations have already signed up and you can apply at http://aka.ms/b4bprivatepreview). You need to be using Azure Active Directory and Office 365, in the cloud or as part of a hybrid deployment. When it’s generally available the IT admin for your tenant will need to enable it; setting up the service will take about an hour after that. To see any results about your organisation, users will need to authenticate to Office 365 or Azure Active Directory as usual (which includes policies like conditional access and rights management). The same role-based access that protects information in SharePoint and other document stores lets you set policies like not showing the location of executive offices, say.

Admins can see an anonymised feed of what terms people are searching for, to help them add missing information, but Microsoft doesn’t see or log that – so if your research team is searching for terms that refer to confidential projects, that won’t ever get exposed by those terms showing up as search suggestions on the public version of Bing. “All the data stays on your private tenant – even things like search history and queries,” Pall confirmed.

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Mary Branscombe has been a technology writer for more than two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the Web and most things in between, including enterprise architecture and cloud services. She also dabbles in mystery fiction about the world of technology and startups.

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