"Work like a Network." Spend enough time at SharePoint Conference 2014 in Las Vegas and you're bound to run into this message. It’s central to the short-term improvements that answer questions about Yammer and SharePoint, and even more central to new investments that Microsoft calls Inline Social, Groups and Office Graph.
Since Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012, it has marched forward with the message of “Yammer First.” The company has encouraged businesses to lead with Yammer whenever possible and promised new integrations that will transform the ways users work together.
In two keynotes at the SharePoint Conference yesterday, Microsoft revealed some of the new ways it is integrating Yammer into existing Microsoft tools. Here are our takeaways.
Jared Spataro, general manager of product marketing for Microsoft Office, noted that the integration of SharePoint and Yammer once meant simply being able to sign-in to both services with one account. In reality, he argued, it is much more. By integrating the social experiences in Yammer with SharePoint, Microsoft is giving organizations different ways to work together.
Christophe Fiessinger, enterprise social project manager at Microsoft and Juliet Wei, senior product marketing manager at Yammer made it very clear in their session that while Microsoft still believes the best pure social experience is Yammer in the browser -- they called it the “hero” version of social -- that the future of work is social, and the future of social is in its ability to socially connect people within and around the documents, data and applications they care about.
Work Like a Network
Microsoft wants to incorporate things that impact our personal lives into the way we work collaboratively, a message brought up in this space last month. Through enhanced social networks, the company thinks businesses will gain new insights and have the potential to use that information to grow and expand. To help people understand this idea, Microsoft has created a video the highlights the concept of working like a network.
Three tracks -- “Inline Social,” “Groups” and “Office Graph” -- position Microsoft’s approach to Enterprise Social as something that includes SharePoint but extends well beyond it. They’re all providing a social experience across applications and platforms -- where SharePoint is still important -- but no more so than its siblings Lync, Exchange, Office and even Dynamics CRM.
The Dynamics CRM mention was slipped quietly into the talk track and hasn't received much fanfare, but for the corporate communications teams who often own internal social engagement initiatives this service should not be ignored. The new feature now available in Dynamics CRM -- Microsoft Social Listening -- pushes Microsoft firmly into the sentiment analysis game. Social listening can be pointed to external social but this product can also be turned on Yammer to provide valuable insights about your internal users’ social behavior.
Creating People Maps
Office Graph is one of the new features Microsoft is highlighting at the conference. It's a tool that allows you to create maps of people based on the content that they like, share, comment on or submit. This is an extension of the existing social graph within Yammer and basically allows you to map users based on their activities. It can extend across all of Office, providing a way to see users in relation to the context of the data they actively work on.
A new app with the codename Oslo is an extension of the Office Graph. It provides a way for users to reference and view additional data based on that Office Graph information. In essence, it is a way to pull together the information from the Office Graph in a way that pushes relevant data to users. Oslo will recognize users, what they are doing and the people with whom they should be connect. It's a way to push data to users that was once only discoverable through search. While it hasn’t been officially released yet, Microsoft provided several demos and screenshots that show the promise of what is to come.
The Group Experience
Microsoft also showed the new features available within the Group Experience. These new Groups essentially expand the idea of Public groups from Yammer throughout Office 365. This feature is a way to bring people, profiles, conversations, email, calendars and files together across Office 365. It will allow users to create a single group that can be accessed and referenced in multiple locations. This means users can provision a group anywhere in Office 365 with the knowledge that the components required for that team will be configured across the entire environment.
If you create a group in SharePoint, then a corresponding group will be created in Yammer as well as a shared calendar in Exchange and a team mailbox for collaboration. Wherever the group is started -- also concurrently spins up an a SharePoint community site with group integration such as a Newsfeed (e.g., the newsfeed familiar to Yammer users) and a Calendar -- essentially a social-powered version of Outlook Calendar. As users move through Office365, they will be able to access the content for the group.
In all of this, most of the user experience is very familiar and should be easy for Microsoft’s users to adopt, with one potential exception. The one feature in the set that may throw users off a bit is how Groups are managed in the Inbox. Expanding a Group conversation in the Inbox, the exchange between users is best described as a “card” similar to the Windows 8 Messages or Yammer apps. It remains a relatively new user experience for most people and the transition may be difficult for some.
The Group Experience seems like a great way for teams to use the best features available across all products and features of Office 365.
The concept of “Inline Social” is core to the idea of working like a network -- essentially, it’s extending the enterprise social model out of the “hero” version that is Yammer-in-a-browser and making it available everywhere people work. Inline Social brings together data and the conversations around it in one location. This means a user can be working on a presentation within PowerPoint and have a way to visually see and contribute to the discussions about the presentation. It allows users to have a consistent link and connection between structured and unstructured data. There wasn’t too much detail presented on this option, but the screenshots alone provide insight into the various things we can expect in the future.
An interesting bit of news related to Inline Social is the commitment Microsoft has made to providing Lync and Skype presence in Yammer. It provided no target date for this particular feature, but as it’s been a common question and clearly a key component of people working like a network, the acknowledgement that Microsoft hears the questions and is working on it was reassuring.
What the Future Holds
No article on the social features in SharePoint would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room. What happens if you aren’t moving forward with Yammer and you are considering using the SharePoint social features such as communities and newsfeeds instead?
Microsoft has been clear that its focus is on Yammer, and whenever possible it has encouraged organizations to use it. Christophe repeated during the session that there would be no further development of SharePoint’s native social features, and that Microsoft’s direction was to "Go Yammer," which made it seem that many customers still have not absorbed the significance of that statement. Microsoft emphasized this sentiment by clearly stating that all new innovations and features in the enterprise social space will be available only within Yammer.
Of course, many of Microsoft’s largest customers remain on-premises customers in whole or in part, and they were not left out of the new Roadmap. The recent release of Service Pack 1 included a Yammer app for SharePoint, embedding the Yammer feed in any on-premises SharePoint site as a simple configuration option. Meanwhile, in the cloud, users licensed for both Yammer and Office 365 can log in once to both environments and experience a common user interface, featuring shared global navigation and a consistent look and feel.
Other short term Roadmap items included two key announcements: (1) Yammer Enterprise will be available in Academic and Mid-Market customer SKUs this spring, and (2) the Yammer back end is moving from third-party data centers to Microsoft’s own US data centers this year.
In his blog about the new social features in SharePoint, Spataro stated that “While we’re committed to another on-premises release of SharePoint Server — and we’ll maintain its social capabilities — we don’t plan on adding new features.” This statement is by far one of the boldest that has been made concerning the future of the social features within SharePoint. There is simply no denying that Microsoft is fully committed to delivering Enterprise Social features through the integration of Yammer into the existing set of Microsoft products.