Larry Cannell

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Larry Cannell
Research Director
6 years at Gartner
29 years IT industry

Larry Cannell is a Research Director in the Gartner for Technical Professionals Collaboration and Content Strategies service. Mr. Cannell covers enterprise collaboration and social software, search, content management, and open-source collaboration and content solutions. Read Full Bio

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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Is This the Beginning of the End for SharePoint and Lync?

by Larry Cannell  |  July 23, 2012  |  5 Comments

Given that Microsoft is now saying that their focus is on delivering cloud-based offerings first, then the Office 365 Beta should provide hints as to how Office will evolve. My initial conclusion is that the Office 365 product is subsuming a number of existing Office products, whose identities are being eliminated.

In particular, Office 365’s navigation makes no mention of SharePoint or Lync, although it provides features we assume (if you look at the URLs) from these servers.

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My primary navigation menu for Office 365 (captured above) has these selections:

  • Outlook (which takes me to email)
  • Calendar (provided by Outlook.com)
  • People (contacts, also provided by Outlook.com)
  • Newsfeed (provided by SharePoint.com, a social network site that can also track activities across all of the SharePoint.com-provided features)
  • SkyDrive (provided by SharePoint.com, document libraries)
  • Sites (provided by SharePoint.com, I have the choice to go to a preconfigured team site or a public website)

There is also no mention of Lync. However, if I click the down-arrow next to my name then I am able to change my presence state (note: this only works when I am looking at my email, probably a bug in the beta).

A few questions come to mind based on this:

  • Will the identities of the Office servers (i.e., Lync, SharePoint, and possibly Exchange) will be subsumed into the Office 365 product?
  • Some brands stay within Office 365. In particular, Outlook and SkyDrive. Perhaps Yammer becomes the brand that replaces “Newsfeed”?
  • How long will it take Microsoft to resolve the inconsistencies in this unified Office experience? For example, contact cards found under the “People” tab do not link to SharePoint profiles. Office 365 has (at least) two contact cards.
  • How similar will this experience be to an on-premises installation?
  • Will Microsoft provide a unified desktop experience? The Word, Excel, and PowerPoint brands are probably too recognizable to eliminate. Others?
  • Will Microsoft merge other capabilities that cross today’s Office Server boundaries? These could include contact information (mentioned above), messages (e.g., unified message store across email, IM, and social network site), or search? Others?

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Search and the Enterprise Social Network

by Larry Cannell  |  April 9, 2012  |  3 Comments

Many people have pointed out the similarities between the messaging in email and enterprise social network sites. However, the synergy between search and enterprise social network sites is discussed far less. As enterprise social network sites integrate with more business applications, the similarities between enterprise social network sites and search will become evident from two perspectives. First, from the point of view of how workers will expect to interact with business application information via a social network site. Second, there are significant similarities between how business application information is aggregated into a social network site with how the same is done with search-based applications.

I’ve previously blogged about how enterprise frictionless sharing should become "the norm and what architects aspire to provide". In other words, information about what is happening in business applications should be surfaced within an enterprise social network site. For example, let’s assume that several business applications are integrated with an enterprise social network site. Entities within these applications (e.g., a customer in a CRM system, a project workspace, or a product in a release management system) are shadowed with non-person entities in the social network site. These entities should even have their own profile page, similar to a Facebook fan page except you would follow a customer’s CRM record instead of being a fan of Lady Gaga.

As changes occur to these business application entities (e.g., a customer makes an inquiry, a document is uploaded, or a product is released to pre-production) anyone following the shadowed social network entity are notified of these changes in their activity stream. For example, if I follow customer "ABC" within the social network site, then events involving the customer record "ABC" in the CRM system (e.g., a new opportunity for customer “ABC” is created) generate notifications within my activity stream.

Notifications can also spark conversations. For example, a notification from a CRM system could provide the opportunity for someone to offer additional information (e.g., "Be careful with this customer, I’ve had problems with them"). Or the conversation could be used to resolve an exception flagged by the business application (e.g., "I’m trying to determine why this release was kicked back to testing"). The notification and resulting interaction happening within the activity stream are compelling reasons for implementing these types of integrations.

In addition, these integrations offer longer-term opportunities to build the enterprise social network into a powerful knowledgebase that consolidates information across business applications; much like the role enterprise search can play today.

Think about how our previous example (several applications integrated with an enterprise social network site) will shape worker expectations for finding information. The social network site’s search function should naturally include results from these notifications. While workers may want to search for older events (before the business application was integrated with the social network site), it could be a matter of time before the social network site’s search results contain much of the workers’ needed information. The richness of the information contained within the notifications (e.g., changes to a customer record) and the descriptions reflected in the entity profiles (e.g., a customer’s demographic or contact information) will impact the effectiveness of these social network-based searches.

As multiple business applications become integrated with a social network site, a significant challenge will be the normalization of business entities across applications. For example, aligning a customer record in a CRM system with the same customer record in a warranty claims system. Without this alignment, cross-business application relationships cannot be captured within the site’s social graph and workers participating in the network will see duplicate customer profiles (one from the CRM system, the other from the warranty claims system).

Another important question regarding these types of integrations will be the role of security semantics managed by the originating business applications. Should the social network site enforce the same access control specified in the business application or should a different set of controls apply to this information? In other words, should revoking a worker’s view permission to a customer’s record automatically revoke this access to the entity’s shadowed social network profile? Replicating a single business application’s security semantics with the social network site may difficult. A more daunting task will be normalizing security semantics across multiple business applications feeding the social network site. As a result, compromises may be required, such as creating a new set of access controls within the social network site.

Many of these information aggregation challenges are not new. They share similar qualities to those being addressed by today’s enterprise search solutions (as well as data warehouse applications). Now, I am not talking about the simple keyword search, but rather search-based applications that aggregate information across multiple sources of business information. These applications often offer rich navigation methods for exploring the information and finding previously unseen relationships.

In short, I expect many of the disciplines involved in search-based application integration (as well as those involved in other types of data aggregation, such as ETL and data warehousing) will be important when striving to integrate business applications with enterprise social network sites.

Subscribers to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) can read more about the similarities between search and enterprise social network sites in the report “The Post-2.0 Era: Social in the Context of My Work,” where the concept of a Social Online Workplace is introduced. 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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Frictionless Sharing and the Enterprise Social Network

by Larry Cannell  |  January 27, 2012  |  Comments Off

Facebook’s new “frictionless sharing” enables someone to automatically post what they are doing online in a stream of status updates. To some, this is a little too much sharing. However, “enterprise frictionless sharing” should be the norm for internal social network sites.

As a result of Facebook’s frictionless sharing I am constantly seeing what songs some of my friends are listening to through Spotify or what news articles they are reading on Yahoo. If granted permission, Facebook applications (e.g., Spotify or the Yahoo news reader) are able to write to your wall without requiring explicit acknowledgement. In essence, these updates become a by-product of some (non-social network-related) action you perform, such as listening to a song or reading an online article.

Many in the blogosphere have criticized this new level of sharing and even go so far as to say that "Facebook is ruining sharing." Personally, I have stopped clicking links coming from one of the "frictionless" news readers because I know it will first ask me to install a Facebook application, implying that I too want my Facebook friends to see all the articles I am reading on Yahoo (for example). To me, this is just too much information to share with friends on Facebook.

What About Enterprise Social Network Sites?

However, for enterprise social network sites "frictionless sharing" should be the norm and what architects aspire to provide. It represents a new core IT capability that can turn social network sites from a seemingly interesting diversion ("Oh look, a corporate version of Facebook") to something that becomes an indispensable tool that information workers like to use because it can help them get their job done.

I should first explain that my use of “frictionless sharing” (let’s call it “enterprise frictionless sharing”) is slightly different than how Facebook uses the term. Instead of posting an update about every song I listen to on Spotify (or every article I click on Yahoo), “enterprise frictionless sharing” entails monitoring a business application for significant changes to an entity of interest (e.g., a customer in a CRM system, activity within a project workspace, or a release in a product management system). Similar to Spotify, these updates are posted to a social network activity stream as a by-product of something happening within the application (e.g., a customer makes an inquiry, a document is uploaded, or a product is released to production). So, instead of having to go to a business application in order to check on the progress of (for example) a product release, appropriate workers (e.g., managers, analysts, or engineers) can simply "follow" the product release through their social network site feed to learn of any significant change.

Now granted, there is a risk that notifications of these activities will over-run a news feed (and, in my opinion, the effectiveness of these feeds will differentiate products in this market). However, the surfacing of application-generated activities have the opportunity to turn an internal social network into a dynamic work environment that:

  • Improves the effectiveness of individuals through proactively bringing them information they need. By offering something of value to them, more people are likely to want to use the social network, rather than viewing it as yet another place to go.
  • Provide opportunities to spark conversations in response to events (e.g., someone posts a comment stating they have friend who works for a potential new customer).
  • Build a powerful knowledgebase that can be searched in the future (e.g. to help an information worker avoid answering the same question again and again).

The Social Online Workplace

In a recently published report, called “The Post-2.0 Era: Social in the Context of My Work,” I refer to this environment as the Social Online Workplace and describe it this way:

An enterprise social network platform plays a foundational role in the Social Online Workplace, but its effectiveness and relevance to the information worker is supported through the integration of events coming from collaborative content tools and business applications. This provides an environment that both improves the productivity of individuals (by enabling them to maintain awareness of activities within their sphere of responsibility) and allows people to interact and contribute comments and other forms of feedback in response to work-driven activities (in addition to social messages posted by colleagues) in a familiar collaborative context (i.e., the social network).

Subscribers to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) can read more about the Post-2.0 era here. 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.

** Support My Enterprise 2.0 Submission **

I have submitted a proposed session to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference that covers the concepts discussed above. Details about the session and how you can help get it on the agenda are available on this blog post.

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Email and the Enterprise Social Network

by Larry Cannell  |  January 20, 2012  |  2 Comments

Are enterprise social network sites an opportunity to remove the burden of email from information workers’ workload and move into a more collaborative messaging environment? While social networks have the opportunity to redefine messaging within enterprises, replacing email should not be a primary goal of their deployment.

First off, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that email is the best and only answer for passing messages within a company just because email has always seemed to be here. The global email system we have today is an evolution of complex workarounds that started years ago from a set of simple protocols for exchanging text-based communications. Quite frankly, it is a testament to the Internet’s open source-driven innovation and the creativity of email product vendors that the global email system works as well as it does. However, what we are learning from enterprise social network sites is that how we communicate within companies can be different to how we communicate with most of the outside world.

Enterprises are leaving an incredible amount of intellectual property locked inside of their email system and forcing their employees to spend far too much time “managing” messages, many of which they likely do not need or want. There are many use cases that would be better suited in a social network site (group messaging via distribution lists is a good example). Social network products have the luxury of learning from email and other forms of messaging systems, particularly in regards to assumptions about privacy of messages, recipient inclusion/exclusion, and longer-term sharing/KM opportunities. Social network sites are emerging to fill the role of a robust internal messaging platform that enables a more open and reusable flow of intersecting and persistent conversations, which can also form the basis of a powerful knowledgebase.

However, social network sites are still in relative infancy and haven’t gone through the school of hard knocks like email. In addition, most information workers have at least developed a basic set of skills and are quite familiar with email. While Facebook may be the most popular activity on the Internet, use of enterprise social networks is far from common. For now, even though there is plenty of overlap between email and social networks, plenty of room exists for both to operate. The curmudgeon in me seriously doubts email will ever be completely eliminated.

Instead of just comparing email with social networks, a more productive approach is to consider the type of messaging that meets the immediate needs of individuals and can also benefit a company in the long term. The context in which messages are exchanged makes a huge difference in regards to enabling the reuse of information contained within them and managing participation in the threads that emerge. Email is assumed to be private. Social networks, while they can accommodate private messages, are assumed to be public (or semi-public, in the case of an intranet). These differing assumptions alone shows that email and social network sites will co-exist for the foreseeable future.

Subscribers to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) can read more about the relationship between email and enterprise social network sites in the report “The Post-2.0 Era: Social in the Context of My Work,” where the concept of a Social Online Workplace is introduced. 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.

** Support My Enterprise 2.0 Conference Submission **

I have submitted a proposed session to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference that covers the concepts discussed above. Details about the session and how you can help get it on the agenda are available in this blog post.

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My Enterprise 2.0 Session Proposal

by Larry Cannell  |  January 6, 2012  |  Comments Off

Just a quick note to let you know that I have submitted a session proposal to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference and to ask for your support in getting this on the agenda. You can help by posting a comment or “Liking” the submission (available here).

The session is based on a Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) report by the same title. You can read more in this blog post.

Session details

The Post-2.0 Era: Social in the Context of My Work

The widespread adoption of Facebook, the embrace of activity streams by business applications, and the success of smartphone applications have significantly changed information worker expectations since Enterprise 2.0 was introduced in 2006. Post-2.0 technologies are enabling the Social Online Workplace, a worker-centric yet social environment facilitating ongoing discussions that are seeded by messages coming from individuals, business applications, and collaborative tools.

This is an opportunity for the IT organization to get out in front of this change and start planning how to provide social infrastructure within an enterprise architecture. While the initial application of these new architectural components should be on improving worker effectiveness by enabling ambient awareness of activities within a sphere of responsibilities, the social online workplace can also become a powerful new knowledgebase.

Attendees of this session will learn:

  • The relevance of activity streams and social network sites to enterprise IT environments
  • The concept of the Social Online Workplace
  • The value of a consolidated activity stream and social graph
  • How social infrastructure can be contextually surfaced to support natural work flows
  • The impact of social infrastructure on existing IT components, such as email, document management, and search

Thank you for your support. The session proposal is available here.

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