The Dream Team? Or Nightmare? – Microsoft and Yammer

Yesterday Microsoft confirmed the news Bloomberg reported 12 days ago: Microsoft buys 4-year old Yammer for $1.2bn.

Wow! This really has blown the game wide open. I will be honest (and apologies to my friends at Yammer) but I did have some concerns about Yammer being maybe a little too social (vs collaborative) and that it was slightly handicapped by the more limited level of integration with SharePoint and Microsoft Office suite which, lets face it, is pretty essential for most organisations (although Yammer was working on this already).

However, this partnership must have the others (i.e. GoogleJive, Chatter and Newsgator) running a little scared. And not without reason as the potential opportunities of this union could be massive.

The benefits are easy to see: the ease-of-use of Yammer, fully integrated  with SharePoint, Office 365, MS Dynamics and Skype is pretty exciting. If done well this will catapult it ahead of the competition and provide a seriously powerful collaborative platform. Add to that the investment capabilities of Microsoft, and this has got to be a partnership made in heaven.

However, as is to be expected when this kind of news is revealed, the doom-sayers are in a high state of excitement.

Not everyone is a Microsoft fan (suggested by the CEO of Jive) – although this may well be true, I dont think we will see people leaving Yammer in their droves just because Microsoft is now involved. First of all, most multinational businesses I work with have SharePoint and MS Office running in some shape or form and therefore are not Microsoft averse. But more importantly, considering the effort it takes to get a social collaboration structure up and running successfully (even with the easy-to-use Yammer) , I don’t think companies are likely to abandon their efforts and/or switch to an alternative platform just because Microsoft is on the scene.

Microsoft dwarfs Yammer and kills the technology – although Microsoft have made it clear that Yammer “will continue to develop its standalone service and maintain its commitment to simplicity, innovation and cross-platform experience”, there is a risk that they will see this as an opportunity to commercialise their other products through Yammer (i.e. force feed them to us). I don’t see this as a risk but as a benefit. It will add the necessary weight to Yammer’s offering rather than threaten its existence.

The Microsoft curse – the argument that for some inexplicable reason Yammer will suffer the same mysterious fate as some others, like Groove, have suffered after they have been bought by the software giant. The reality is that Groove’s fate was already sealed before Microsoft got involved, but for the more superstitious amongst you, here is a list of investments that Microsoft has made over the years. There are a couple of bloopers but I think you will agree they have won more than they lost.

I am conscious that I am starting to sound like a Microsoft groupie. I am not. In fact, I come from a totally platform agnostic angle. I believe that your needs should define your choice of platform (based on a clear understanding of the user requirements and well defined  business objectives).

However, I do think it is great news, not just for Yammer but for the whole socially collaborative landscape. It is going to spice up the competitiveness (hopefully bringing down the costs),  raise the awareness of the benefits of social collaboration in general and lead to more product development, thereby improving the functionality, usability and effectiveness of the platforms. Lower prices and better products – who doesn’t like that!?!

Social business and the internal evangelist

social collaborationAs we find ourselves on the eve of the largest IPO in history, and Mark Zuckerberg is about the join the elite and enviable ‘top 10 richest billionaires’ list at the ripe old age of 27, there can be no doubt that social media has not only revolutionised the way we spend our time and how we interact but also that it is here to stay.

Facebook is not the only social platform but it has been the most active in adding functionality and content, making sure that we spend more time there. The question is why does Facebook spend so much time, effort and money on making our experience richer? Well, the real reason is because Zuckerberg & Co is not selling a platform…
he is selling us!

We are not the customer, we are the product. A product that has an estimate market(ing) value of $100bn.

What Facebook, and social media in general, offers is an incredible and unrivalled insight into the human psyche, behaviour, habits and likes/dislikes. It is this and the fact that social media has changed the way we communicate that makes it such an asset to the business world.

There are already a wide variety of social business platforms out there including giants like Yammer, Jive and MS Lync as well as lesser known options like Igloo. Even Salesforce, the CRM giant has jumped on the bandwagon with Chatter and I suspect we shall see many more come (and go) over the next few years.

Putting the choice of platform aside there are many obvious benefits to implementing a social business strategy, namely that it allows people to collaborate in real-time, facilitates exchanges of ideas and discussions without geographical boundaries. It is more mobile, and provides the generation Z workforce with a platform that is familiar, slick and quick. It allows them to have conversations on their turf, in their language and on their terms (we are after all talking about a generation which is arguably more comfortable typing LOL than actually laughing out loud!).

And of course then there is the cost benefit. Social business platforms are relatively affordable in terms of licence fees but the enormous savings are made in the deployment. As they are to be used ‘out of the box’ and don’t need (can’t/shouldn’t) be bespoke, they are unwrapped and configured in weeks rather than months and there are less bug fixing or training requirements. You don’t need a battery of people in a dark room tinkering away 24/7 to keep it going. Add it all together and the savings over implementing an intranet are enormous (note: that is not to say one replaces the other!).

The fears about conversations getting out of control or it becoming a distraction rather than a benefit are real but with the right governance in place and the essential absence of anonymity, experience shows that these platforms do become self-policing and hugely effective. The harsh reality is that the conversations are going to happen anyway so the question is: would you rather they ‘graffiti the inside of the company or the outside’ (love this analogy but can’t claim it as my own – Thanks Nick Crawford).

But now the million dollar, euro, pound (and soon drachma??) question is: what makes them successful?

I am sure some may disagree and offer suggestions like usability, adoption campaign/internal marketing (all of which are important!) but for me it is the same ingredient that made external social media platforms such a success: The Evangelist.

This is the person who is first to post a comment. The first to like a post or start a poll. The first to use locations to identify where he/she is. More importantly the person who loves to talk about it and who people listen to.

Identify your evangelist(s), give them subtle incentives, allow them to be the ‘alpha leader’ who influences the rest. Make them part of your core team and let their enthusiasm enthuse others. There are few things as effective as endorsements from your peers and colleagues.

It is these evangelists that have a commanding influence over success and failure. Embrace them, I say!

Intranet trends for 2012

It is generally accepted that Intranets will play an even more important role this coming year, as companies begin to understand the ways they can use it to address their business pains, and help create efficiencies, as well improve employee engagement (and thereby satisfaction). Here are a few trends that I think will be important in 2012.

1. Importance of people

This might seem a little obvious but it is probably the most fundamental trend for 2012 and one that underpins all the suggestions I mention below. Intranets will need to focus more on the users. They will need to talk to them in their language and on their turf. This will be brought about by a shift from the traditional departmentalised approach to organisations (i.e. internal comms, HR, finance, etc.) to working together to focus on the needs and best interests of the user.

2. Higher expectations

As a new generation of employees is being on-boarded, organisations are going to have to accommodate their expectations as well. These new members of the team don’t know a world without apps or social media sites. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have had a profound impact on the expectations of ‘look & feel’, simplicity of navigation, and functionality. Users expect an increased level of engagement and immediate and dynamic communication. This will need to be reflected in your Intranet layout and functionality.

3. Mobile

Most businesses understand the importance of making their Intranet more accessible, whether that is on mobile phones (through mobile sites or apps) or mobile device friendly (including tablets and iPads). The target should not be transporting the whole Intranet onto other devices but to instead to deliver the right content and functionality to an ever-increasing workforce, such as collaborative tools, people finders and segmented news.

4. Social collaboration

I believe that businesses should focus on creating fully integrated social workspaces throughout their organisations. Facilitating knowledge sharing and collaboration will lead to better informed and more engaged employees. To achieve this will require companies to combine the best platforms and technologies, i.e. social collaboration platforms like Jive merging with content management platforms like SharePoint, integrating profiles with LinkedIn, etc.

5. Findability

As user-generated content is being added to the already growing levels of corporate content and documentation, surfacing relevant information becomes more challenging. In 2012, faceted and semantic search functionality will become essential to sift through the noise. Search-driven menus and navigation will become more prominent and Intranet managers will need to spend more time looking at statistics and search logs to ensure the site is making the ‘right’ content available to the user.

6. Content

Although this was one of the trends I highlighted in 2011, I see this continuing in 2012. This will be the year of ‘content culling’ and ‘content segmentation’. As the ‘noise’ levels increase, people will have even less time (and patience) to wade through irrelevant content. Ensure that your content is streamlined, up-to-date and customise-able. Ensure that the content is also relevant to new methods of delivery like mobile devices and don’t forget self-help content and e-learning.

To conclude:

I believe 2012 will see a shift from ‘Intranet’ to ‘digital workspace’ – a space that focuses on the users and the tasks they need to perform rather than on technology. Different platforms will need to work seamlessly together to make collaboration easier and these needs to be accessible whenever and wherever the user finds themselves.

 

Interesting event:  The Intranet and beyond… – 29th February @ Hospital Club

This event, organised by View Plc (where I work), will look at case studies from large multinationals who have implemented SharePoint and enterprise social collaboration software (Jive and Yammer) to communicate with there internal audience. It will focus on the highs and lows, the challenges and the achievements. There will be expert’s speakers, real client case studies and a lovely continental breakfast to accompany it all!

To register your interest please send an email to – nclayton@viewplc.com