Microsoft Viva Topics | Information Management | Vendor Vignettes

Microsoft Viva Topics


Founded 1975 | HQ Redmond, WA | 163,000 employees | $125.8B revenue (2020)

Viva Topics technology is good and builds on solid foundations; arguably, it is the most advanced KM system to come to the market.


The Company

Microsoft is one of the world’s largest software companies. The company was founded in 1975 and is headquartered in Redmond, Washington, with revenues of $125.8 billion in 2020 and 163,000 employees. Microsoft Office, one of the firm’s core product offerings, was launched in 1990 and has gone through many evolutions including the 2011 release of its cloud version, Office 365 (later renamed Microsoft 365). SharePoint (released in 2001) is another critical offering from Microsoft and provides enterprise content management (ECM) functionality. In 2019, Microsoft announced Project Cortex, an artificial intelligence (AI) initiative to enhance Microsoft 365. In late September 2020, the first release from Project Cortex was announced, SharePoint Syntex. This report focuses on the February 2021 release of Microsoft Viva, specifically its Topics component.

The Technology

Microsoft Viva Topics is billed as a core component of an employee experience program; it is the latest product to spin out of Microsoft’s original Project Cortex work (see our report about Project Cortex at https://www.deep-analysis.net/vendor-vignette/microsoft-project-cortex-analyst-report/). Essentially, Viva Topics provides knowledge management (KM) functionality via the use of AI within Microsoft 365 environments.

More broadly, Microsoft Viva delivers four critical elements of functionality to empower employee engagement:

  • Insights – Corporate and employee wellness metrics
  • Connections – Communications between employees, and information access
  • Learning – A connected e-learning marketplace
  • Topics – Cards and pages that summarize key concepts and terms and provide links to relevant people or information sources

In our analysis, the most critical element of these four is Topics. Though there is no questioning the potential value of e-learning and corporate wellness, they are mainly concerned with HR and are beyond the scope of our research. Similarly, “Connections,” while also important, is in large part an extension of existing communication tools within Microsoft 365 with Teams’ and SharePoint’s portal capabilities. This is why Viva Topics is the core focus of this report.

As a concept, Viva Topics is simply the aggregation and collation of disparate pieces of information into logical information areas and chunks. It is the converse of search, where an employee needs to “search” for the right information; rather, with Topics the correct information is pre-curated, by both AI algorithms and human knowledge experts, and pushed dynamically to the user at the right moment in their workflow. Though the concept of topics and topic cards has been with us for decades, the ability to populate, automate, and manage this information/knowledge, and surface it to users, through a combination of AI and human curation is new. Historically, curating relevant enterprise topics and topic cards was a manual undertaking that was impractical to scale. Today, with Viva Topics, a worker in SharePoint or soon in other Microsoft 365 experiences can hover their cursor over a term onscreen and surface a relevant topic card that explains the term and points them to further resources. Simple in concept, challenging to execute in reality.

At its heart, Viva Topics is a sophisticated network connecting people to knowledge and information sources and to other people. From a technical perspective, Viva Topics is a service that can be accessed through the Microsoft 365 admin center, where the system can be configured to “Connect People to Knowledge.” It does this through aggregating knowledge sources both inside and outside of Microsoft 365, then applying AI (computer vision/ML) to that information to extract meaning and context. The correlated data is then fed into Microsoft Graph to understand how the information is used, how it is interconnected, and how to automate further connections between people and information/data elements.

From an end-user perspective, this background processing is surfaced and further curated through “topic cards” and “topic pages” (see Figure 1). It is important to note the term “further curated.” Despite the impressive underlying AI that sits beneath Viva Topics, delivering accurate information will always require expert human curation to augment the automation work. To its credit, the real-world balance between AI’s ability to automate and the need for human expertise to refine and curate is at the heart of Microsoft Viva Topics. Hence, an internal expert (knowledge manager) must initially decide upon and map knowledge sources and define relevant corporate topics. Once this mapping and definition work is done, Viva Topics provides the mechanisms to automate a lot of the work and recommend further connections. It also provides flexibility to accelerate or throttle information, along with the ability to personalize results, provide granular restrictions, and control the visibility of information, features powered by Microsoft 365’s information protection, compliance, and security capabilities. 

The admin center is well designed and intuitive to use, but beyond this, we particularly like the fact that users themselves can curate and control which topics they wish to access. It is the most comprehensive and advanced KM system we have seen and sets a new benchmark.

Moving forward with Topics, it will, over the coming year, integrate information sources outside of Microsoft 365 via Graph-based connectors. These connectors, over 130 of them, will come from both Microsoft and its partner ecosystem.

At its heart, Viva Topics is a sophisticated network connecting people to knowledge and information sources and to other people. From a technical perspective, Viva Topics is a service that can be accessed through the Microsoft 365 admin center, where the system can be configured to “Connect People to Knowledge.” It does this through aggregating knowledge sources both inside and outside of Microsoft 365, then applying AI (computer vision/ML) to that information to extract meaning and context. The correlated data is then fed into Microsoft Graph to understand how the information is used, how it is interconnected, and how to automate further connections between people and information/data elements.

From an end-user perspective, this background processing is surfaced and further curated through “topic cards” and “topic pages” (see Figure 1). It is important to note the term “further curated.” Despite the impressive underlying AI that sits beneath Viva Topics, delivering accurate information will always require expert human curation to augment the automation work. To its credit, the real-world balance between AI’s ability to automate and the need for human expertise to refine and curate is at the heart of Microsoft Viva Topics. Hence, an internal expert (knowledge manager) must initially decide upon and map knowledge sources and define relevant corporate topics. Once this mapping and definition work is done, Viva Topics provides the mechanisms to automate a lot of the work and recommend further connections. It also provides flexibility to accelerate or throttle information, along with the ability to personalize results, provide granular restrictions, and control the visibility of information, features powered by Microsoft 365’s information protection, compliance, and security capabilities. 

The admin center is well designed and intuitive to use, but beyond this, we particularly like the fact that users themselves can curate and control which topics they wish to access. It is the most comprehensive and advanced KM system we have seen and sets a new benchmark.

Moving forward with Topics, it will, over the coming year, integrate information sources outside of Microsoft 365 via Graph-based connectors. These connectors, over 130 of them, will come from both Microsoft and its partner ecosystem.

Figure 1
Microsoft Viva Topics Homepage

Our Opinion

The goal of KM is simple enough: to curate and provide the right information to the right person at the right time. Doing that in practice is extremely difficult. Microsoft Viva Topics is the latest attempt at delivering on that promise, and it goes a long way to fulfilling it.

Viva Topics technology is good and builds on solid foundations; arguably, it is the most advanced KM system to come to the market. The question arises, though: who will use Viva, as dedicated KM departments and personnel are a rarity? Our answer is somewhat opaque, for, in our view, Viva Topics is less a product and more a platform. Enterprises and partners alike can configure the functionality that it delivers to meet a variety of needs, from intelligent intranets to sales and customer enablement. Time will tell exactly who latches onto Viva Topics; even so, it has a great deal of potential, not least to improve the employee experience in our current disconnected working world.

Advice to Buyers

Any successful KM project relies on well-curated content being available and on staffing the project with subject matter experts. Using Microsoft Viva Topics is no different in that regard. However, it is significantly different in that, when used correctly, it learns from and builds on your input, essentially automating much if not most knowledge management work. Suppose you have a distributed workforce and are an existing Microsoft 365 customer. In that case, we highly recommend you at least explore (via the current free trial) the potential of Viva Topics in your organization.


SOAR Analysis

Strengths

  • Powerful AI-driven KM married to human curation
  • Fully integrated into the Microsoft 365 platform

Aspirations

  • Be the leader in employee experience management
  • Reframe and reimagine the corporate intranet as a knowledge base

Opportunities

  • Expand the functionality into customer experience environments
  • Accelerate adoption across currently disrupted workforces

Results

  • In General Availability from February 2021
  • Already tested and running in Fortune 500 firms