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.