There\u2019s little competitive advantage in running your own mail server anymore; that\u2019s one reason Office 365 is growing so fast. But with tools like Delve and Clutter, Microsoft is keen to position it as a way to get more value out of communications -- especially as the anti-email movement gains credibility from the popularity of enteprise messaging services like Slack.\nDropping email entirely isn\u2019t realistic for most companies, and stunts like \u201cno email Fridays\u201d are usually about publicity. At best, they may raise awareness about how to use email more effectively. The abuse of email fills inboxes with everything from unwanted newsletters, to routine status information that belongs in workflow systems, to endless discussions about where to have the team lunch.\n[Related: Delve, Office Graph Must Transcend Office 365 to Be Revolutionary ] \nCan you reclaim email as something useful for your business by investing in services that filter messages to highlight what\u2019s important and mine discussions to find what people need to know?\nCan Microsoft Tools Clear Mail Clutter?\nOver the years, plenty of tools -- from wikis to SharePoint to Yammer and Slack -- have claimed to unlock information that would otherwise be trapped in email, making it easy for new team members to get up to speed on projects because all the communications about them are public. The technology here matters less than the discipline of getting people to keep those communications in one place. (Consistent archiving is also key for compliance and ediscovery, which is more difficult when staff adopt ad hoc messaging systems.)\nEnterprise messaging and enteprise social networking -- whether it\u2019s Slack\u2019s IRC-like channels or Yammer\u2019s Facebook and Twitter-like fast updates -- are often adopted by employees trying to find a faster way to pass information around. The bigger impact comes when all that visible, public communication cuts across traditional hierarchies and workflows, sparking organizational changes.\n[Related: 10 Microsoft Power BI for Office 365 Success Stories ] \nOne problem is that unless everyone switches, you now have two parallel communications channels. Yammer tries to bridge the gap to people who still work through email: Join in a conversation on Yammer and you\u2019ll get it all mailed to you as well, and you can reply without ever visiting the Yammer website or loading up a Yammer client, with mail attachments getting loaded into the Yammer document store automatically.\n \nDelve highlights files shared with you -- not all email attachments, just those from active conversations. (Click for larger image.)\n\nThe other problem is that even if you get everyone on a new messaging system like Yammer or Slack, the same bad habits carry over from email. You soon start seeing inappropriate messages about badly parked cars and charity sponsorship showing up in companywide channels, the same as in a company-wide mailing list.\nThe Office 365 services Microsoft is building on top of its Office Graph take a different approach, trying to filter and curate communications, whether they\u2019re email, Yammer messages, spreadsheets and presentations, or even video and voice conversations. The Office Graph mines the pattern of communications and the relationships they imply; who you email, who replies to you -- and how quickly.\n[Related: Microsoft Unveils De-Cluttering Option for Office 365 Mailboxes ] \nIf you always respond very quickly to messages from a certain person, that sender is likely to be important to you -- and is probably your boss. If you leave messages from another sender for three weeks and then delete them almost as soon as you open them, that person is probably not very interesting to you. The Clutter service in Office 365 uses that to filter those less-interesting messages into a folder (which automatically shows up as a favorite folder in Outlook so it\u2019s easy to spot when messages have been filed there). If the Office Graph figures out who your boss and your direct reports are, Clutter never filters out mail from them.\nYou can train Clutter by marking messages as clutter or not clutter -- or just deleting and ignoring messages you don\u2019t care about and dragging messages you do care about back to the inbox. Clutter can cope when you reply to the wrong message or ignore something that's important (perhaps because you make a phone call instead -- which Clutter might one day know about if you use Lync).\nThe danger with automated systems is that if they get things wrong, you stop being able to rely on the systems they\u2019re trying to enhance. False positives mean spam filters still block legitimate messages sometimes -- but recommendation algorithms are good enough that we rely on them for Web search and shopping on Amazon and picking movies on Netflix.\n\n\t\n\nPerhaps because it\u2019s not too ambitious and tends to err on the side of caution, Clutter is proving popular, especially with users who don\u2019t already have strong email management systems. And unlike clients like Google\u2019s Inbox or Microsoft\u2019s new mobile Outlook tools, which also try to highlight interesting messages, it doesn\u2019t mean asking users to change their mail tools -- or asking companies to feel comfortable with email and credentials being in cloud systems they don\u2019t control. Users have to use Outlook Web Access to opt in to the system (and it\u2019s not available for any users you\u2019re keeping in on-premises mailboxes), but they can still see Clutter messages in iOS Mail or whatever mail client they prefer.\n \nClutter automatically files messages you\u2019re less likely to look at. (Click for larger image.)\n\nMicrosoft says it\u2019s working to unify Clutter and the mobile Outlook Focused view, so this looks like a useful tool that will continue to be developed.\nNiche or Next-Generation?\nGetting people to put documents in repositories rather than keeping them on their own PCs solves the retention and security problem but replaces it with a discovery problem. The Office 365 First Release program includes a more ambitious and more experimental system, Delve, which also builds on the Office Graph to find documents users would otherwise have to dig for. It\u2019s a portal on the Office 365 site that shows you either the documents you\u2019ve shared with people and when they\u2019ve made changes to them, or the documents other people have shared with you.\n \nDelve pulls out useful information about a document in a card designed to make it easier to see if it\u2019s what you\u2019re looking for.\n\nIf you could see the documents your colleague was preparing for a meeting before you got to the room, you might have a much better chance of having a useful conversation. And being able to find the documents for the meeting you were at last month, by seeing what the people who were there have shared with you, can save a lot of time.\nInitially, the drawback was that Delve worked only with documents in SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, so it only helped teams who shifted to online document sharing. But most people still exchange most of their documents through email, especially when they\u2019re working with someone at a different company. Delve just got a lot more useful because it now finds documents that are email attachments. When you open the document, you also get the conversation you\u2019ve been having in email on-screen (using the Office Online and OWA Web apps), so you see things in context.\nHowever, Delve doesn\u2019t show you all your email attachments -- just those from people you\u2019ve recently been in conversations with. That\u2019s useful, as long as you\u2019re having those conversations somewhere the Office Graph can find them; Microsoft says Delve will soon look at Yammer and \u201cadditional content from across Exchange.\u201d\nDelve can also find videos, as long as they\u2019re in the Office 365 Video service. When it first came out this service looked like a very niche system for organizing company video content. It seemed that it would only really be useful if people started using Microsoft\u2019s new tools like Office Mix and Sway to create things that are more like apps and websites and videos than documents. Actually, it\u2019s more of a proof of concept for the \u201cnext-generation portals\u201d that Microsoft is hoping will replace some of the clunkier options in SharePoint.\nTo organize the content they find and share in Delve, without going back to SharePoint, users can create Pinterest-style \u201cboards.\u201d Curating information in a board will turn into building a portal, and this is where only the most enthusiastic employees are likely to find value. So far, Delve works best as a personalized search system, and only if you can get people to search on a cloud service rather than in their familiar email client. And changing user behavior is hard.\nClutter, Delve and services like these also only work if you\u2019re adopting cloud services. It\u2019s not just that they\u2019re branded Office 365 services; the Office Graph and the machine learning tools that drive it need too large an infrastructure and too frequent updates to be feasible to run on your own servers. If you\u2019re making the shift to Office 365 already, however, you now get the side benefit of making email more useful as well as well as making it cheaper and more reliable to run.