News analysis

Dynamic businesses use the network as the CEO

Cliff Saran

Yammer co-founder and CTO, Adam Pisoni, believes businesses need to reassess how they are organised.

Addressing delegates at the at the Microsoft Working Social conference in Amsterdam, he said: "Companies are not designed to learn and adapt. Treating employees like cogs won't work."

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In his vision, knowledge is captured on an enterprise social network, and decision-making is non-hierarchical. An enterprise social network has the ability to streamline the decision-making process that seems to hamper the ability for organisations to innovate.

It may also become an effective tool for capturing an organisation’s knowledge. For instance, when someone asks a question on Yammer, the answer will be stored within the network..

Pisoni believes the time is right for businesses to re-evaluate how they operate. "The world can be having a conversation but companies haven't changed," he said. "They were designed for the industrial revolution where repetitive work was important. In the last 10 years we have seen a growth in non routine work. We are hitting diminishing returns and need to think differently."

He said Yammer lets organisations communicate like a network, by helping people connect across organisational boundaries.

Pisoni described this new model of business as the responsive organisation, which encourages experimentation and works like a network.

In his keynote, Pisoni gave an example of how one of its customers, US insurer Nationwide, was working like a responsive organisation by devolving the decision-making process across different teams. He said Nationwide worked like a network, and was not constrained by a hierarchy. In his example, a call centre employee was able to respond directly to help a customer, whose recreational vehicle had broken down, by getting advice from colleagues across the company's network via Yammer.

In another example, when a crew member from a Quantas flight received feedback from a customer that the food was not right, this enabled the airline to change the menu within three days because front line staff were empowered.

There are plenty of organisational challenges preventing companies from running in a less hierarchical manner. Middle management appears to be the roadblock. Pisoni said: "At the CEO level there is desire to change culture, the challenge is the middle layer."

Oil giant Shell is looking to convince managers to change by demonstrating where Yammer has been successful.

Kevin Austin, collaboration consultant, Shell International, said: "We've had Yammer for five years with slow adoption, but now 40,000 users have signed up. By using story telling and use cases, we are driving adoption."

Shell is looking at a company-wide relaunch. Austin said: "We will tell stories to the whole business and on how working social adds value to the business."

Businesses need to react to change quicker than the traditional hierarchical approach which began during the industrial revolution can handle. Top down decision making is unable to keep up.

Speaking earlier this week to Computer Weekly, Cliff Evans, chief digital officer at Capgemini, said: "Consumers are driving business change. Companies need to be a couple of steps ahead of what 'good' looks like. The concepts behind agile IT need to be applied to business decisions. “Businesses want to remain relevant to customers and stay relevant." Traditional reporting lines and decision-making act as barriers to agility. "Businesses need to continually test ideas to meet customer expectations and reap the benefits," said Evans.

Pisoni’s vision of an enterprise network, holding the knowledge to enable employees on the ground to make decisions without going through management hierarchies, could be the way smart businesses remain relevant to their customers.


Yammer integrates with Office

Yammer, the enterprise social network that Microsoft acquired in 2012 for $1.2bn is being tightly integrated with Office in a bid to encourage greater collaboration.

Yammer brings social collaboration to the enterprise, providing some of the features people come to expect on Facebook and Twitter within the work environment.

At the time of the acquisition, then CEO, Steve Ballmer, said: "Yammer adds a best-in-class enterprise social-networking service to Microsoft’s growing portfolio of complementary cloud services.”

To date, Yammer has remained a standalone product in Microsoft’s portfolio of office productivity and collaboration tools. It is part of a family of disparate products that include Office, Office 365, SharePoint, SkyDrive and Skype.

As the industry turns focuses on the so-called mega trends of social, cloud, analytics and mobile, the new CEO, Satya Nadella, will need to bring together the company’s collaboration and social applications in a way that works across mobile and traditional PC devices.

Pavan Tapadia, chief product officer at Yammer, said the company would be bringing social collaboration to the whole of the Office Suite.

He said the product now provides non-Yammer users a way to connect and participate in Yammer conversations via their Outlook inbox. Every Yammer group has its own email address within Windows 8. Yammer now offers live tiles showing group conversation updates, and the integration with Office 365 provides a way for users to share Office documents using Sky Drive Pro, combined with Office Web apps,

"Tools like Dynamics, Skype and Sharepoint will become part of the network. We are integrating identity and doing deep backend work. Yammer will be part of Office365," said Yammer chief technology officer Adam Pisoni.

 


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