Interview: NewsGator's JB Holsten on Being a SharePoint PartnerWhen you think about Microsoft partners, one of the first that comes to mind is NewsGator. A successful third party integrator to Microsoft SharePoint, NewsGator Social Sites has over 4 million paid seats and is Microsoft's premier partner for social software integration. And while this last little while has seen a number of interesting events happen for NewsGator: Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer, a new version of Social Sites, a new version of SharePoint and a new CEO, it only spells good news for the social software company. Here we offer some of J.B. Holston's (now the former CEO of NewsGator) views on these topics.

CMSWire: NewsGator started as a company that supported RSS. What was the driving force that shifted the focus to social and SharePoint?

JB Holston: In 2005 we released an aggregation server based on RSS whose job was to allow organizations to securely and scalably manage subscriptions to unlimited sources, then intelligently redistribute those feeds. We called the product the “NewsGator Enterprise Server (NGES)” (We weren’t great at naming…). One of our first customers was Lockheed, Martin, which took NGES and combined it with SharePoint, which was already their base collaboration layer for employees; Google Search; and some custom wiki work and combined it into one of the first ‘facebook for the enterprise’ applications, which they called Unity. Unity’s business problem was tactic knowledge capture; about 25% of LM’s employees leave every five years and a large proportion of those were the folks with the deepest historical and topical knowledge. LM felt that a more social and easier means to share knowledge would help address that issue.

Soon thereafter the SharePoint team at Microsoft approached us -- MOSS (SharePoint Server 2007) was out and while it was being marketed for ‘social’ use cases, the product team recognized the deficiencies. They suggested we more closely tie NGES to SharePoint to provide an out-of-box social solution. We were smart enough to draw a line between the Lockheed Martin and Microsoft data points, and that led to the first version of Social Sites, which we launched with Microsoft at the Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston in the summer of 2007.

CMSWire: What made you decide to tightly integrate Social Sites with SharePoint and not build it as a standalone solution?

JBH: We felt from the start that the value of enterprise social computing would increase directly as a function of the number of individuals accessing the network. We realized that that meant the system needed to act as a scaled, secure, searchable enterprise application, or it would buckle or become prohibitively expensive as organizations sought to provide and support the network for everyone. SharePoint had taken off -- in no small part due to Microsoft’s sales and marketing strengths -- to become a ubiquitous available platform within organizations. We felt that leveraging its paid-for presence and technical capabilities -- and Microsoft’s commitment to it as their fastest-growing server product -- would mean we could provide a best-in-class solution at the lowest total cost of ownership to the broadest market.

CMSWire: What do you think makes NewsGator a successful SharePoint partner?

JBH: We’ve invested tremendously in the art and science of Microsoft partnering. Microsoft is a complicated organization that requires careful handling across different field geographies in parallel to close work with a multiplicity of highly-siloed product organizations. We invested the time and people to insure we understood all the different groups’ goals and objectives, and to do everything we could to be clearly and volubly positioned to leverage those goals and objectives. We were also always careful to over deliver on our commitments. And we learned to operate as Microsoft operates -- if they stood up a new reporting system we’d use it, however painful; when new technologies became mission-critical to Microsoft, we’d adopt and embed them first.

CMSWire: What excites you most about Social Sites and SharePoint and their future together?

JBH: Microsoft is pivoting hard toward the consumer and the cloud. SharePoint is a multi-billion dollar business and remains the fastest-growing MSFT server product in history -- and has over 135 million sold seats at last count. We believe there’s a beautiful future as the leading ISV bringing this pivot and these facts together to offer cutting-edge enterprise social solutions to organizations. SharePoint will remain a vital application platform and critical system of record for organizations; on premise for many, hybrid for an increasing proportion, and via the cloud over time. We believe that leveraging its strengths and the promises of other MSFT platforms will remain key to providing the best and lowest total ownership cost enterprise social solutions for a long period of time.

Side Note: When the news of Yammer's acquisition by Microsoft first came out, I had the opportunity to talk about it with Holston. And while I am sure it events had NewsGator jumping, Holston seems very confident this is only good news for the company.