Now that Microsoft’s long-anticipated US$ 1.2 billion acquisition of Yammer has finally been announced and the dust has settled a bit, it’s worth taking a fresh look at what can be seen both as one of our industry’s most fascinating transactions and one of its worst-kept secrets.
The well-deserved congratulatory parties and chatter (no pun intended for the folks at Yammer) started prematurely in mid-June and media accounts from Forbes, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and dozens of others almost immediately followed, long before the deal was actually announced on June 25. There is a ton of potential behind this transaction, but let’s hope everyone involved does a better job of executing than they did honoring what had to be a series of non-disclosure agreements. All that aside, there's a lot of interesting considerations involving a Microsoft-Yammer union, including:
More Weight for Our Industry
Combine the US$ 1.2 billion Microsoft is spending on Yammer with Oracle’s (Vitrue) and Salesforce’s (Buddy Media) recent investments in the social business space and we are talking about US$ 2 billion in investments -- in just the past month or so alone!
A lot of the “wait and see” talk of the past couple of years is now being replaced by a sense of urgency by some pretty big companies to get involved and to do so in a big way. It will be worth watching to see what comes next, as it feels that we’re just starting the latest parallel periods of innovation and consolidation.
Microsoft is Now More Relevant, but Again Late to the Party
Let’s face it: the company that brought us SharePoint has been lagging in the area of enterprise collaboration and is now deploying its considerable resources to get a better position in what it sees as a burgeoning marketplace. Will the investment be worth it?
We’ll see, but it’s clear that Microsoft thinks social business and collaboration is worth its attention and is now dedicating significant cash, as well as many of its smartest people to ensure that it is better positioned going forward. It would be naïve to think that one deal gives Microsoft the right to rest on its laurels at all, as we’re just getting started in this crazy new world of development for the enterprise!
This is a First Step for Microsoft
I’ve seen several accounts in which the Yammer deal is being characterized as Microsoft taking care of its enterprise collaboration/social business needs with one fell swoop via its US$ 1.2 billion purchase. Not so and not even close. Microsoft has provided an invaluable engine room for development and innovation via SharePoint and the familiarity of the Microsoft stack (Office, Azure and SharePoint) for enterprises, but plenty of challenges remain for the folks in Redmond.
One, the user experience for SharePoint 2010 still leaves a great deal to be desired and two, there is also significant room for improvement in the area of document collaboration for enterprises using SharePoint. There are plenty of other challenges, but Yammer definitely gives Microsoft a leg up in providing enterprise clients with access to proven, real-time social and activity feeds for employees, an important early step to be sure.
Are Yammer’s Capabilities Core or Tertiary?
As much as this mantra has been repeated here on CMSWire and elsewhere, there’s more to life than activity feeds. For those just getting familiar with our industry, there’s still a misperception that Facebook-like activity feeds equals social business and collaboration.
Yammer brings a solid and proven platform for feeds to Microsoft and I believe Microsoft will do a good job of integrating the technology and capabilities of Yammer into SharePoint and its other relevant technology assets. It will be imperative for Microsoft to always ask itself, “What’s next?” as the Yammer deal is a very good move for Microsoft, but largely a catch-up one, as well as a first step.
What can Microsoft and Yammer do to build upon their combined capabilities? Although, at a practical level, what can Microsoft do to keep Yammer’s talented developers and thinkers motivated on the back-end of this big transaction?
We have seen instances in which enterprise clients have asked for Yammer-like services as an afterthought to bigger-picture discussions about facilitating more effective collaboration and sharing within the enterprise. Additionally, a lot of enterprises using Yammer are using it as a free service, deploying the "freemium" model Steve Ballmer and others at Microsoft will need to address in figuring out how all the parts can and should work together from a business standpoint. In short, it’s tough to make money off of something that’s free.
Will People Still Speak Jive?
I found it fascinating that Jive's stock moved UP in value after the Microsoft-Yammer deal was widely reported. In the wake of this deal, Jive is perhaps the most vulnerable player in the space as a standalone business. I think Jive will start to experience more challenges than it's letting on, especially from the many enterprises out there which remain steadfast users of the Microsoft stack.
In the short-term, the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats might be at work here (as well as takeover/"who's next" speculation), but Jive has some serious work to do in a marketplace where sleeping giants like Microsoft are starting to awaken.
By now most of us have seen the not-so-subtle push in press interviews by Jive to woo Microsoft-Yammer clients away, but what I'd really like to see is what happens to Jive in the next three-to-six months. Its recent stock appreciation suggests a potential acquisition or merger, but who's to say?
I've written in the past about how Jive-powered social business solutions have facilitated inner-enterprise discussions about mission-critical topics like cats or whether or not feminine napkins should be free within a company. All sarcasm aside, such matters can seriously distract entire enterprises and actually reduce productivity more than anything else.
The immediate onus is on Jive to facilitate much more useful information and practical applications, regardless of whether its long-term play is as a standalone business or part of something bigger. If I am an IT manager looking at a renewal bill or for that matter an analyst covering the company, what are their adoption metrics once the “shiny new object” effect has worn off? I am sure someone will write an article about something to the effect that they no longer use email, but from what we are seeing in the enterprise, Outlook and SharePoint are still very important productivity tools.
Overall, I think Yammer is a strong play for Microsoft but it has to be seen and treated as a first step, not an endgame. There’s a ton of room for innovation by Microsoft and Yammer, but the real opportunity is for all of us in the industry to take advantage of the heightened visibility and priority being assigned to what we do every day. As I wrote a couple of months ago, I strongly believe that 2012 will be remembered as an inflection point for our industry. The responsibility is all of ours to develop comprehensive solutions that not only enable improved communication within the enterprise, but empower genuine and productive collaboration.
What an exciting time!
Editor's Note: You may also be interested in other articles by Kevin Conroy:
-- Driving Adoption in Social Business: Resistance is Futile!