Larry Cannell

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Larry Cannell
Research Director
2 years at Gartner
25 years IT industry

Larry Cannell is a research director for Gartner Research, in Gartner's Burton IT1 Collaboration and Content Strategies service. Mr. Cannell covers search, content management, collaborative workspaces, as well as open-source collaboration and content solutions. Read Full Bio

My Top Three Social Software Sessions from SharePoint Conference 2014

by Larry Cannell  |  March 18, 2014  |  1 Comment

Although I did not attend this year’s SharePoint Conference, I spent (far too much) time over the weekend going through many of the slides and videos from the conference, which are now available on Channel9.

Here are my top three social software sessions from the conference. I like these sessions because they either provide great advice around the tactics that were used to deploy social software or do a particularly good job describing the opportunities:

  1. Real-World Challenges and Value in Introducing Enterprise Social  (Melanie Hohertz, Cargill) – I especially liked the tactics shared (starting at slide 16)
  2. Driving Enterprise Social From the Bottom Up  (Virpi Oinonen, Businessgoessocial.net) – Clear explanations and effective tactics wrapped in engaging drawings (Dilbert 2.0?)
  3. Microsoft: Our Enterprise Social Journey  (Chris Slemp  and Ethan Gur-esh, Microsoft) – Check out the section: “Tales of an early adopter team” (starts at slide 18)

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Five Things We’ve Learned About Office and SharePoint Since Microsoft Acquired Yammer

by Larry Cannell  |  January 28, 2014  |  Comments Off

It’s been 18 months since Microsoft completed its acquisition of Yammer and a little over a year (about 14 months) since the company shared details of their plans at the 2012 SharePoint Conference. Nevertheless, based on the conversations I have with Gartner clients, many people are just now starting to realize how big of a change this acquisition represents. The focus and pace of Microsoft’s efforts to integrate Yammer with Office hint at the extent of changes yet to come.

Here is a list of five things we now know about Yammer, Office and SharePoint based on what we’ve learned over the past year:

  1. Yammer will remain cloud-only: Yes, Microsoft initially stated quite clearly that Yammer would remain cloud-only. However, many people seemingly overlooked this statement (or, maybe, they just didn’t believe it). Nevertheless, this is proving to be the case and, quite frankly, this is a significant departure for Microsoft and the Office product line. That is, to provide an entire cloud-only enterprise solution that has no on-premises equivalent.
  2. Yammer will remain a distinct product: Yes, Microsoft initially stated this as well after the acquisition. However, at the time many people expected Microsoft to scale back Yammer’s capabilities to better fit in and not overlap with other parts of Office. This certainly happened when plans to integrate OneDrum document collaboration technology (acquired by Yammer pre-acquisition) were dropped. Instead, plans were changed to integrate Yammer with documents stored in SharePoint (aka SkyDrive Pro, now OneDrive for Business). However, other overlapping capabilities remain. For example, Yammer’s Online Now (a feature developed shortly before the acquisition) clearly overlaps with Lync’s instant messaging and presence. However, rather than eliminating Online Now, Microsoft recently released a mobile client app (called Yammer Now) dedicated to the feature. Although Microsoft is busy integrating Yammer into Office (particularly Office 365), Yammer will retain its own identity for some time.
  3. The pace of change around Office 365 is markedly different from the 2010 Office wave: At one time, Office 365 was simply considered to be a Microsoft-hosted version of the on-premises Office server software suite. Major changes to Office 365 were tied to the release of on-premises software. Today, unique features are starting to show up in Office 365. The recently added “Post” capability that integrates Yammer with Office 365 is a good example.
  4. A major on-premises Office server software release is coming in the next 2-3 years: In the opening keynote at the 2012 SharePoint Conference Microsoft said they were doing away with their three-year release cycle. However, it appears to be back. In the announcement for Office 2013 Service Pack 1, Microsoft said that changes for on-premises Office server software will continue at the ”traditional release cadence of 2-3 years.”
  5. Office 365 and on-premises Office server software are already forking into separate products: A clear gap is starting to form between the two. Over time, features in Office 365 may end up in on-premises Office server software. I expect many people who run Exchange or SharePoint servers are hoping this will be the case. However, it’s hard to see this gap ever completely closing, particularly if the Office 365 team is adopting Yammer’s cloud development approaches. Developing cloud products is vastly different from developing software products intended to be installed on an enterprise’s own servers, meaning it could take significant effort to keep the two products aligned. One has to wonder if feature alignment is even worth the effort. At this time, for example, it’s not clear when or if SharePoint 2013′s follow capability will change to support the use of Yammer (although not identical in function, this would be similar to the Yammer “Post” integration recently added to Office 365) or if Microsoft plans to replicate a Yammer-like experience on SharePoint.

In short, most of the assumptions enterprises have relied on since SharePoint 2007 no longer apply or only apply to part of the suite. Office now spans products delivered for use on-premises and from the cloud. Unfortunately, these distinctions are not widely understood and Microsoft often commingles cloud and software features when describing the suite’s capabilities and future plans.

Therefore, many questions remain. In particular, what do these changes mean for your enterprise’s use of SharePoint, Yammer or Office? How do Microsoft’s actions change the social software and collaboration market, indirectly impacting enterprises using competing products?

Two recently (and substantially) updated Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) reports offer details about these products and practical guidance for enterprises:

  1. Microsoft’s Changing Social Software Strategy: Yammer, SharePoint and the Role of Cloud Services Within Office
  2. What’s New in SharePoint 2013 and Yammer for Social Software, and Should You Move to It?

If your company is a Gartner customer, you may already be able to access this and other GTP reports. To see if you do, contact your company’s Gartner Membership Administrator. If you do not know who that is, ask Gartner .

 

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Is Google Getting Serious About Enterprise Social Networks?

by Larry Cannell  |  August 21, 2013  |  1 Comment

Over the weekend Google announced that its Google+ Domains API was coming out of beta. The highlights of the changes brought about by this new API are detailed here. A new domain element has been added to messages posted on Google+. This element adds an access control layer that scopes the visibility of a post to within a domain, meaning the message is only available to people within an enterprise. In essence, these API changes enable Google’s social messaging infrastructure to provide the foundation for an enterprise social network (ESN). Practically speaking, however, it is still a stretch to call Google+ a private ESN (what most competitors provide). I would call Google+ a “public ESN.”

The fundamental disagreement I have with Google is their contention that users should be able to completely control the scope of their posted messages. In the Gartner report entitled “Google Apps in the Enterprise, a Status Check” Matt Cain wrote:

“Google acknowledges the need for enterprise controls, but it believes the decision to allow data outside the organization should reside with the user, rather than administrators.”

Although the new domain element makes restricting the scope easier for individuals to manage (before this, people would have to create their own circles or create a Google+ community to limit visibility), it will still be viewed by enterprises as too dangerous. They do not want to rely on training to keep people from inadvertently posting messages on public social networks.

To understand this point, let’s compare Google+ to Microsoft Yammer (a cloud-based, yet private ESN), as an example.

First, both Google+ and Yammer provide a single user profile that enables someone to login once and participate within multiple circles, groups or networks.The most notable difference between the two are how they approach public, inter-enterprise and private social network interactions:

  • The Google+ user starts by participating within the Google+ public social network. The scope of their interaction is narrowed by the visibility defined in their colleagues’ individual posts. This scope is specified by someone when creating a post and is defined in terms of domains and circles. This comes awfully close to being what most people consider an ESN. Thus, Google+ is a public ESN.
  • The Yammer user starts by participating within a private social network. They can interact with others outside of their enterprise within an external network (using their same login), if invited. External networks are inter-enterprise private social networks. However, Yammer has no public social network.

To be fair, the cultural norms around ESNs have not been fully established. Should ESNs be part of a public social network or should they be kept entirely private? Advocates for the public approach (i.e., Google) point to the ease in which people can exchange email today. However, this analogy falls short when you look beyond messaging and the resulting visibility of content. When I search my email messages the results do not show messages from other people’s mailboxes, even those within the same company. The open messaging paradigm presented in ESNs is a big enough cultural shift that fighting to keep networks within a public space is a losing battle (at least, for now).

Nevertheless, Google+ Domains API should concern other enterprise social network vendors. Google now has the infrastructure to support private ESNs (or they are getting really close). Should Google decide to make it appear that their customers’ ESNs are truly private, this could send tremors through the ESN market. Ultimately, this move by Google begs the question: Are these changes to Google+ a deliberate step towards Google becoming more competitive in enterprise software or are they simply interesting additions to an API?

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One Microsoft Memo in a Word Cloud

by Larry Cannell  |  July 12, 2013  |  1 Comment

One Microsoft Memo in a Word Cloud

* Top 50 words mentioned, common English words removed

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Microsoft is Running Two Office Trains

by Larry Cannell  |  April 23, 2013  |  Comments Off

Microsoft is accelerating the development of Office (at least, the development of Office 365). That is the overall tone of a recent article by Mary Jo Foley ("How Microsoft is speeding up the Office trains") that quotes Jeff Teper, corporate Vice President, Office Servers and Services and Adam Pisoni, Co-Founder of Yammer and now a general manager of Engineering in Microsoft. If you’ve followed Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) coverage of SharePoint and Yammer, much of what is discussed in this article will not be a surprise. The most notable points are:

  • The difference between  Office-cloud and Office-software will soon be apparent*
  • How Microsoft views the relationship of SharePoint, Yammer, and Exchange

The Difference Between Office-cloud and Office-software Will Soon Be Apparent

Cloud services (marketed as Office 365) are clearly where Microsoft is focusing its Office server efforts. Foley quotes Teper as saying, "some features may be only available in the service" and "the idea is the cloud is where you get your best experience." Although, Teper’s language is guarded in terms of specific features and the timing for when customers may see them, Microsoft is clearly placing its bets with Office 365 through more frequent updates of the service and hinting that there may be significant features that will only be available there.

Microsoft once touted their Office server products as being developed software-first (create the software first and then use it as the basis of an online service run by Microsoft). Last year, Microsoft said their latest wave of Office servers was developed cloud-first. However, Yammer is ONLY available via the cloud (you cannot buy a software version). Could we see a day when Microsoft removes any doubt and markets these products (Office-cloud and Office-software) separately? That may be a stretch. Nevertheless, Office-cloud is where Microsoft sees the future of their communication and collaboration offerings.

The Relationship of SharePoint, Yammer, and Exchange

Although couched in terms of organizational alignment, Teper’s comments regarding the positioning of SharePoint, Yammer and Exchange should get the attention of many Microsoft customers: "We think of Exchange, SharePoint and Yammer now as one product." Until this time, Microsoft has been saying that SharePoint and Yammer are being developed as a single product. Teper suggested Microsoft was looking at future cross-server experiences during his keynote address at the SharePoint Conference last November. In addition, new features in SharePoint and Exchange 2013 (such as synchronizing tasks and site mailboxes) hint at the aspirations of Microsoft Office product planners to provide a more unified experience. Architecturally, there is still significant work necessary to bring these three products together. For example, the unification of tasks across Exchange and SharePoint 2013 is still done via synchronization rather than using a central location to store tasks.

Given the faster pace in which Office 365 is being developed, a blended experience may become the most notable difference with on-premises software versions of SharePoint and Exchange. We can see small signs of this happening today. Since there is no software version of Yammer, Microsoft can only offer on-premises social networking capabilities through SharePoint 2013. While similar, SharePoint’s and Yammer’s social networking experiences are quite different. In addition, although Microsoft sells cloud versions of Exchange and SharePoint (Exchange Online and SharePoint Online), the two brands are mostly hidden in their general Office 365 offerings (SharePoint and Exchange are still there, but are not visible to the end user).

Nevertheless, we recommend that enterprises continue to view SharePoint and Yammer as separate products that may become more integrated over time. Tighter integration with Exchange is a longer-term aspiration. It could take years for Microsoft to entirely merge the products (if it happens at all), particularly for Office-software.

* By the way (if you haven’t noticed by now) on this blog I refer to the version of Microsoft Office delivered via the cloud as "Office-cloud" and the version of Office provided by software installed on-premises as "Office-software." If I don’t, then I just confuse myself.

Where you can learn more

You can learn more about SharePoint 2013 and Yammer by watching a webinar I recently gave. A free recording of it is here (available until August 2013). There is no charge for the recording, but registration is required.

In addition, here is a list of research covering SharePoint and Office 2013 available to Gartner for Technical (GTP) subscribers:

If your company is a Gartner customer, you may already be able to access this and other GTP reports. To see if you do, contact your company’s Gartner Membership Administrator. If you do not know who that is, ask Gartner

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Will Yammer Replace SharePoint’s Newsfeed?

by Larry Cannell  |  March 29, 2013  |  Comments Off

Last week Microsoft posted a blog highlighting their progress in integrating Yammer with SharePoint and Office 365. What I found most interesting is how widely this update was reported as new information. Perhaps the implications of Microsoft’s plans for Yammer were lost in the flood of news coming out of the SharePoint Conference last fall. It could also be a case of “selective listening,” where many pundits only read or heard what they expected and are just now noticing the extent of the changes coming. To be fair, Microsoft also has some culpability in this confusion.

Regardless, the question many enterprises are now asking is: Will Yammer replace SharePoint’s newsfeed?

First, a disclaimer. The thoughts provided here should not be construed as a recommendation to use either SharePoint or Yammer. There are many good enterprise social network (ESN) products on the market. I am simply sharing my thoughts about where Microsoft’s social software toolset appears to be heading.

The short answer to the question above is yes, Yammer will eventually replace SharePoint’s newsfeed. Explaining this can get confusing because Microsoft tends to co-mingle two separate SharePoint products: SharePoint running in the cloud and SharePoint software that you can run on your own servers. To simplify this, let’s call SharePoint running in the cloud “SP-cloud” and SharePoint software you run on your own servers “SP-software.”

Yammer is Microsoft’s Long-Term Direction for ESN services

By now, it should be clear that Yammer is Microsoft’s preferred social network experience going forward for both SP-cloud and SP-software. Long-term, I expect Yammer to become the only social network experience available on SP-cloud. However, the fly in the ointment is Microsoft’s insistence that Yammer will remain available only via the cloud and will not be offering an on-premises version of the service. In other words, there is no need to distinguish Yammer-cloud from Yammer-software. Yammer-cloud is the only option, at least for now.

SP-cloud runs on SP-software

Long-time observers of Office server products will note that this runs counter to Microsoft’s strategy of running Office 365 using the same software that it sells to customers. SP-cloud runs on SP-software. Both SharePoint options have their strengths. For example, some scenarios (such as partner collaboration) are easier to accommodate with SP-cloud. However, in order to scale SP-cloud, Microsoft narrows the types of customizations allowed. SP-software’s strength is its customization, something Microsoft has encouraged for years. You can look for other differences in this TechNet article.

For Yammer, this hasn’t been the case. “Yammer-cloud” is the only option, and this is not likely to change any time soon. If you attended the “Yammer’s Secret Sauce” session at the SharePoint Conference, you heard the reasons why. In short, Yammer cannot easily be repackaged as installable software; at least not without destroying the essence of Yammer (as a product and how it is developed). Cloud is part of everything the Yammer team does. Product changes are tested on limited audiences to measure their effectiveness before being released to all customers. The Yammer service is built on an infrastructure that juggles an almost constant state of flux to facilitate the roll-out and testing of new features or changes. I am not judging whether this is good or bad. This is just how it is.

This means if you want to provide an ESN on your intranet and you cannot use cloud services, then the only option Microsoft can offer is SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed. SharePoint 2010 has a primitive activity stream (as part of its My Sites feature), but it hardly qualifies as an ESN. Of course, you can also use a software-based product from a different vendor. These options include NewsGator Social Sites, Jive, or IBM Connections, to name just a few.

SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed is NOT the same as Yammer

At a certain level, Yammer and SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed are similar in presentation and the types of services they offer. However, after using the two products for a few minutes, it becomes clear that they are quite different in subtle but significant ways. It makes no sense to assume that Microsoft will allow these differences to live on.

All of this begs the following questions:

When will Microsoft enable a Yammer-like experience for SP-software?

For SP-software customers willing to use Yammer cloud services, Microsoft provides a Yammer/SP-software integration package today. For a number of enterprises, this integration may be sufficient for some time. However, to provide a more seamless experience between SP-software and Yammer-cloud, Microsoft said that later this year they would “provide guidance for replacing the SharePoint newsfeed on-premises with Yammer” [emphasis added]. For most enterprises, simple guidance will not be enough. They will expect to have the same flexibility and ease of administration as SP-cloud (in the same post, Microsoft announced they would be providing SP-cloud customers a choice of Yammer or SharePoint’s newsfeed as a configurable option this fall). However, given how deeply SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed is baked into the SharePoint platform, enabling this same level of integration within SP-software may require a significant (perhaps major) software release.

To serve enterprises that are unable to use cloud services, Microsoft has not announced any formal plans to deliver a Yammer-software solution. They have also stated that Yammer will not be ported as a software solution. Therefore, I expect Microsoft will eventually change SP-software’s newsfeed to mimic Yammer. Regardless of how Microsoft does this (create a port of Yammer-software, change SP-software’s newsfeed to mimic Yammer or perhaps create a new piece of software), enterprises should expect SP-software’s native newsfeed experience to change at some point. This too is not a trivial change and may require a significant (perhaps major) software release.

How long will SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed (just released by Microsoft) be available?

SharePoint 2013’s newsfeed will likely be available for a number of years. However, do not expect it to receive any new features because Yammer is Microsoft’s preferred social network experience for SP-cloud and SP-software.

How comparable will a Yammer-like SharePoint newsfeed be to Yammer-cloud?

Assuming Yammer’s “secret sauce” data-driven approach to cloud-based software development works, then it follows that the continuously tuned Yammer-cloud experience will be more effective and up-to-date with popular social media than Yammer-software. In addition, Microsoft seems to be motivated to keep the Yammer-cloud experience better than a Yammer-software solution, given their preference to sell enterprises cloud-based solutions.

Where you can learn more

However, the ESN experience is just one of the challenges enterprises face when trying to understand how to position Yammer with SharePoint and other Office components. You can learn more about these other challenges by listening to my SharePoint/Yammer webinar. A free recording of it is here. There is no charge for the recording, but registration is required.

Here is a list of research covering SharePoint and Office 2013 available to Gartner for Technical (GTP) subscribers:

If your company is a Gartner customer, you may already be able to access this and other GTP reports. To see if you do, contact your company’s Gartner Membership Administrator. If you do not know who that is, ask Gartner

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Microsoft’s First Steps Towards Integrating Yammer with SharePoint 2013 and Office 365

by Larry Cannell  |  March 21, 2013  |  2 Comments

Yesterday Microsoft posted an update on their progress towards integrating Yammer with SharePoint 2013 and Office 365. I’m traveling this week, but I still wanted to share my thoughts. This post summarizes the features Microsoft announced and is mostly a rough collection of my initial reactions. At the bottom of this post, I link to a recording of last week’s webinar and other relevant published research, which provide deeper analysis about the future of SharePoint and Yammer.

Specific deliverables announced by Microsoft

Microsoft announced several changes planned for Office 365 and SharePoint 2013. This is the company’s first update since revealing their plans at November’s SharePoint Conference.

Office 365′s first round of integration with Yammer is coming this summer

  • Customers will be able to replace Office 365′s SharePoint newsfeed with a Yammer feed.
  • The top menu “Newsfeed” link can be replaced with a “Yammer” link.
  • A Yammer app will be available via the SharePoint Store to embed a Yammer group feed in a site.

This fall Microsoft will provide further integration

  • Single sign-on across Office 365 and Yammer. Microsoft says this will offer “seamless navigation.”
  • The Office 365 and Yammer experiences will “begin to converge.”
  • The Office Web Apps will be embedded within Yammer, enabling users to view and edit files from within the browser experience.

SharePoint 2013

  • This summer Microsoft will provide “guidance for replacing the SharePoint newsfeed on-premises with Yammer.”
  • Customers running SharePoint 2013 will be able to use the Yammer app (described above) within their local on-premises installations.

My Perspective

Overall, this is an important release for the SharePoint, Yammer, and Office 365 teams. Microsoft said that identity, document sharing, and activity streams were their first priorities. This update reflects progress towards these goals and may demonstrate that the different teams are starting to work closer together. However, this announcement shows there is still a long way to go.

The long-term vision described at the SharePoint Conference was aspirational in nature. Microsoft’s post references this when talking about ‘Connected Experiences” and says they “will combine social, collaboration, email, instant messaging, voice, video, and line of business applications in innovative new ways.” However, this is mostly a summary of what Microsoft already has said and enterprises should not get swept up in these grand visions and lose focus on what is really being delivered.

For example, while Microsoft refers to the fall release of Office 365 as providing “seamless navigation” they later say, “user experiences…begin to converge.” While the fall release will likely be somewhat more seamless than the type of accommodations being made in the summer, I expect there to be many other places in which Microsoft will need to continue smoothing the edges between Yammer with Office 365.

There are also still many details yet to be filled in regarding activity streams. In particular, the newsfeed provided within SharePoint 2013 is more than a stream of messages among colleagues. SharePoint 2013 users can follow tags, documents, or sites. As documents change, tags are applied or as comments are posted to a site, SharePoint 2013 notifies followers in their newsfeeds. Replacing this with Yammer will require changing the “follow” link next to all references to tags, documents or sites.

In short, replacing SharePoint’s newsfeed is not as simple as embedding a Yammer feed.

This announcement also shows how more straightforward it is to improve a cloud-based service versus delivering software. The fall release will be the first version of a Yammer/Office 365 integration (in my opinion, the summer release looks more like a preview of what’s coming in the fall). However, Microsoft makes no mention of these features being supported in on-premises SharePoint 2013, only saying, “we don’t plan on delivering updates for SharePoint Server every 90 days.” It will be interesting to see if the company formally supports their “guidance” for replacing SharePoint 2013′s newsfeed with Yammer. In the past, these types of efforts resulted in code being open-sourced and released on Codeplex. Unless these changes are supported, I expect most on-premises customers will shy away from them.

Lastly, is this announcement indicative of the future of the Yammer brand? The only other brands featured in Office 365 are Outlook and SkyDrive. Perhaps Yammer is Office 365′s newsfeed brand?

Where you can learn more

If you missed my SharePoint/Yammer webinar you can find a free recording of it here. There is no charge for the recording, but registration is required.

Here is a list of research covering SharePoint and Office 2013 available to Gartner for Technical (GTP) subscribers:

You may also be interested in reading Microsoft’s Changing Social Software Strategy: Yammer, SharePoint and the Role of Cloud Services Within Office. This report came out shortly after the acquisition and analyzes the long-term impact of Yammer on the overall Office suite and how this should change IT’s social software game plan, regardless if an enterprise uses Microsoft social software.

If your company is a Gartner customer, you may already be able to access this and other GTP reports. To see if you do, contact your company’s Gartner Membership Administrator. If you do not know who that is ask Gartner.

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Webinar: What’s New in SharePoint 2013 and Yammer for Social Software

by Larry Cannell  |  March 8, 2013  |  2 Comments

Please join me on Thursday, March 14 for a webinar discussing SharePoint 2013 and Yammer.

Microsoft launched SharePoint 2013 with new social software features just months after acquiring the cloud-based social network site Yammer. This webinar discusses the company’s integration plans and guides enterprises on what to do now that Microsoft has competing social software solutions.

In this webinar, you’ll learn:

  • How Yammer changes the future of SharePoint’s social software features
  • Workloads that should be serviced by SharePoint and Yammer
  • If now is the time to re-evaluate the enterprise social software market

This webinar will be presented twice on Thursday, March 14:

  • 14:00 GMT (10:00am ET, 7:00am PT)
  • 17:00 GMT (1:00pm ET, 10:00am PT)

Register HERE

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What I Will Be Looking For at the SharePoint Conference

by Larry Cannell  |  November 9, 2012  |  1 Comment

Next week Microsoft will be unveiling details behind SharePoint 2013. My primary interest is in improvements in SharePoint’s social software capabilities. However, Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Yammer leaves questions about the future of SharePoint-provided social software capabilities, as well as the future of Yammer. In addition, the beta release of SharePoint 2013 and the Office 365 preview hinted at a number of possible changes. Here are a few of the things I will be looking for at the SharePoint Conference.

What are the current and future plans for SharePoint/Yammer integration? It’s doubtful that Microsoft made any significant platform changes to SharePoint 2013 to accommodate a close Yammer integration. There just wasn’t enough time to make these type of changes. However, we may see some creative use of SharePoint 2013’s capabilities that improves the current Yammer integration. In addition, what is Microsoft’s timing to enable a significantly tighter Yammer/SharePoint integration?

What SharePoint features will be provided on mobile devices? The big question in the room regarding mobile will be how well will SharePoint support Apple devices? However, this is not a simple question, given that SharePoint is a broad product. For example, do you need SharePoint’s activity stream visible on your iPhone? How about viewing and modifying a list (not just downloading documents from a library)? Or, how about rendering a full website? In short, the details of what features are supported on mobile devices is important here.

Is there a change in focus from features to applications?: Based on the Office 365 and SharePoint beta there appears to be a change in focus from simply adding new features, to now providing functional sites straight out of the box. In the past, SharePoint site templates have been provided more as a starting point that still needed work.  A beefed-up team site template and the introduction of a community template are expected to ship with SharePoint 2013. They appear to be a cut above past templates and seem quite functional with little customization required.

SharePoint’s new activity stream-based user experience could be also considered an application of sorts, since it provides a social network experience out of the box. This not only shows how important Microsoft views social networking, but could be another example of Microsoft recognizing the need to for SharePoint to provide functional sites straight out of the box. Specifically, I will be looking for indications from Microsoft that this is a long-term strategy. A shift from simply adding more features to delivering social applications built using SharePoint capabilities.

Will we see any hypertext (wiki) improvements? Simple wiki pages were first introduced in MOSS 2007. A template for Wikipedia-style sites was added in SharePoint 2010. I’ll be looking for improvements in how team sites or communities can blend their content with wiki sites. In particular, I’m looking for more cohesive linkages between pages across sites. In SharePoint 2010, the only cross-site experience is provided via search and tags. I’d like to see pages across a SharePoint installation to be linkable using flexible wiki-style links (which should be easy to add by identifying targets using only a page title) rather than a hard-coded http links.

By the way, I am presently writing an assessment of SharePoint 2013’s social software capabilities. As part of this effort, I will be looking for answers to the above questions as well as examining SharePoint 2013 using Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) frameworks and architecture reference templates. These provide mechanisms for assessing products from a vendor neutral perspective and help avoid getting lost the flurry of new features.

An example of how these GTP frameworks are used is available in the report “Microsoft’s Changing Social Software Strategy: Yammer, SharePoint, and the Role of Cloud Services within Office.” If your company is a Gartner customer you may already be able to access this and other GTP reports. To see if you do, contact your company’s Gartner Membership Administrator. If you do not know who that is ask Gartner.

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With Yammer, Microsoft Needs to Rethink the Office Suite

by Larry Cannell  |  November 9, 2012  |  6 Comments

Next week I will be at the SharePoint Conference, where Microsoft is introducing SharePoint 2013. While a big question on many people’s minds is Microsoft’s plans for integrating SharePoint and Yammer, we will also get a closer look at other social software improvements. The acquisition of Yammer and the changes in SharePoint 2013 show that Microsoft appears to be waking up to the importance of social networking capabilities within enterprise intranets.

However, these changes also highlight a need for more than the makeover being provided by the Office 2013 wave of upgrades; it’s time for Microsoft to cast a critical eye towards Office and reassess how it is fulfilling its original productivity charter. The suite has become far too complex for the average person to go beyond using its basic features and Office fragments information across too many places for enterprises to leverage these assets. In short, Microsoft needs to rethink the boundaries of Office’s components and the suite’s overall information architecture.

Although Office 2013 (and Office 365) enables new ways of delivering components, emphasizes cloud storage, and sports a sleek new user interface, it does little to simplify how people use its various components and how enterprises can exploit the information it holds. So, while there are many opportunities to integrate Yammer with Office components (for example, embedding a Lync user’s presence within Yammer), simply adding Yammer to the suite makes Office more complex to use for the average enterprise worker. In many ways, Office reflects the fragmented nature of many enterprise intranets that accrete feature upon feature, but eventually become too complex and overwhelms the individual, whose productivity they are intended to serve.

Features such as messaging, managing profiles (or contacts), as well as handling documents, calendars, or tasks, are provided by multiple overlapping Office components (e.g., Outlook, SharePoint, Lync, and now Yammer). To make matters worse, each of these components stores information in disjoint knowledgebases. This impedes opportunities for information sharing and requires the end-user to search multiple tools or manually aggregate information. For example, shouldn’t messages in a social network news feed easily transition to become group messages, private messages, or even messages that are sent instantly to our desktop computer or mobile device? Today, we have to treat these as separate messages, used within email, instant messaging or social networks. If the messages are in Office, they should be Office messages and shift to the context in which they are needed.

As IT, we can argue that certain tasks should only be met by specific tools. For example, “Lync is our chosen instant messaging tool.” However, consider an enterprise using both Lync and Yammer, whose “Online Now” feature clearly falls under the definition of instant messaging. It provides a presence indicator and involves messages that are sent instantly. However, “Online Now” also works within the context of Yammer’s private messaging facility (err, wait, shouldn’t we use Outlook for private messages?).

My point is that product segments are created to describe the present state of technologies. Ten years ago, instant messaging was still new and easy to spot. Today, Facebook may be the most popular form of instant messaging. Except we don’t call it instant messaging. It is just part of Facebook’s messaging capabilities. For that matter, Apple’s iMessage may be a more popular form of instant messaging. It goes well beyond simple text messaging and provides a near IM-like experience.

Successful consumer services don’t let old boundaries get in the way of their success. Likewise, yesterday’s productivity and collaboration product segments should not constrain today’s enterprise workers. The addition of Yammer to the Office suite is an opportunity for Microsoft to reestablish thought-leadership in the productivity suite market. However, to be successful, Microsoft needs to rethink the boundaries of its current products and focus on serving individuals navigating increasingly complex intranets, applications, and data.

You can read more about my views on Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer, what this says about Microsoft’s approach to the cloud, and the impact it could have on Office in the report “Microsoft’s Changing Social Software Strategy: Yammer, SharePoint, and the Role of Cloud Services within Office.” If your company is a Gartner customer you may already be able to access this and other GTP reports. To see if you do, contact your company’s Gartner Membership Administrator. If you do not know who that is ask Gartner.

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