Collaboration: Building Yammer into a SharePoint world

With market penetration of well over 100 million seats, SharePoint is a strategic investment for many organisations. Where does Yammer fit?

With market penetration of well over 100 million seats, Microsoft SharePoint is a strategic investment for many organisations.

For most, the primary goal of that investment is more effective collaboration among knowledge workers. And while returns on SharePoint are positive for most, there remains room for improvement.

Two key faults of SharePoint are user adoption and enterprise social functionality. While SharePoint has excelled as a system of record for storing and managing documents, the user experience has been less than satisfying.

Yammer taps the full power of the cloud Microsoft’s $1.2bn acquisition of Yammer in 2012 appears to be the perfect solution to address SharePoint’s main challenges — but only for those users who can move critical workloads, at least in part, to the cloud.

Cloud-based software is riding two inherent advantages (relative to on-premises options) to market success. First, enhancements can be added to a single, cloud-based code base and delivered to all subscribing organisations at the same moment. The second advantage is that state-of-the-art user interfaces for favourite user devices can maximise user experience. Applying these concepts to great customer – and market – advantage, the Yammer team built an incredibly disruptive company that excels at delivering new functionality fast and advances the user experience.

Cloud applications also excel at delivering new functionality fast. For decades, the supplier’s cry of  "that will be in the next version" plagued us all at one time or another. In the enterprise software world, it was even worse, as users had to wait not only for the "next version" but also for IT departments to upgrade.

The cloud has changed all that and nowhere is this more clear than in enterprise social media. The ability to add the next great thing in months or weeks with no need to perform a traditional upgrade has allowed cloud suppliers to stay on the leading edge of functional requirements. Yammer has been a master of this and has successfully avoided the siren call of, "If you let us put it on premises, we’ll give you a huge contract". By staying true to the cloud, Yammer has been able to keep up with the rapidly moving requirements of the enterprise social landscape.

Improving user experience

From day one, Yammer’s monthly subscription business model has placed a premium on user experience. Why? Because if users didn’t like the experience and stopped using the product, they also stopped paying. Yammer had to drive the best user experience possible to minimise subscription churn. Yammer has taken a very consumer-like approach and uses its large user base as an on-going test lab. Any change to the user experience, including addition and subtraction of functionality, is tested against the group. Changes with overall positive responses are kept, while others are not (often to the consternation of the engineering team) – the user is king in this model.

Microsoft is not going to bundle Yammer into SharePoint for free. Instead, SharePoint customers will have to secure Yammer subscriptions and configure those subscriptions to light up the functionality. Microsoft is the master of bundling and integrating, and the acquisition of Yammer has provided its latest opportunity to work that mastery. The first act was aggressively dropping the price of an enterprise seat for Yammer from $15 per user per month before the acquisition to $3 per user per month.

In addition, Microsoft added Yammer to its volume licensing programme to drive even bigger discounts. For Office 365 users, bundling can mean entitlement to Yammer licences at no additional cost. The ability to bundle Yammer into enterprise licence agreements creates a recipe for Microsoft to seed lots of licences into the market quickly. Expect Microsoft to play this card effectively. That does not necessarily mean that Yammer will be the right answer for everybody, but it will get it on a lot of shortlists. And for many, the SharePoint integration will prove compelling.

Benefits for both Yammer and SharePoint

Microsoft’s road map for integrating these complementary products is becoming clearer. SharePoint will increasingly depend on Yammer’s front-end affinity for serving fast-moving, enterprise social workloads. Yammer benefits because SharePoint will handle the heavy lifting of document management.

The user experience, already nicely integrated through Web Parts and common search, will become more highly integrated. Yammer increasingly provides the user interaction layer while SharePoint plays more and more the role of back-end system of record. Of course, many complex front-end functions will continue to live in the SharePoint interface and rightfully so.

For Microsoft customers, particularly those invested in SharePoint, the marriage of Yammer and SharePoint will be intriguing. However, Microsoft has stated that there will not be an on-premises version of Yammer. For those organisations that cannot put a workload in the cloud for security, privacy or compliance reasons, this will not be an option. In that instance, Microsoft recommends upgrading to SharePoint 2013 to take advantage of an improved user experience and social capabilities.

SharePoint users should start by assessing the viability of cloud use in their organisation. For SharePoint users not yet invested in enterprise social, assess your organisational readiness for a cloud system. Assess cloud readiness in the light of stringent requirements because the ad hoc nature of social interactions means a worker could put just about anything up there.

Those that can use the cloud should assess Yammer. Those not yet invested in enterprise social media and ready to embrace the cloud should consider adding Yammer to an existing SharePoint implementation. In addition to the functional strategy outlined here, expect aggressive pricing from Microsoft. Those that cannot use the cloud should assess SharePoint 2013 and partner offerings. If the cloud is not an option, the landscape of systems that bring enterprise social to SharePoint is rich, including SharePoint’s native capabilities in the 2013 version.

The partner landscape for on-premises systems that integrate run the gamut from offerings such as NewsGator, that run natively on top of Microsoft software, to complementary offerings from leading suppliers, such as IBM Connections, Jive and Neudesic – CIOs should not ignore a market full of other options. Organisations that require document collaboration, intranet portal capabilities and enterprise social media should assess Microsoft’s strategy, but also consider competitive offerings such as IBM Connections or an integration of best-of-breed solutions such as Box and Jive.

This is an extract of the Forrester report: Is Yammer + SharePoint Right For You? (August, 2013). Rob Koplowitz is a principal analyst at Forrester.

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