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Yammer is being promoted as the new social layer of SharePoint. But Microsoft is also tying it tightly into Office 365. In the past two weeks, this has resulted in the packaging of Yammer with Office 365 small business plans, while the price of Office 365 is also about to be slashed.

There are problems with Yammer. But the problem lies not the product itself.

According to David Lavenda, vice president of product strategy at Harmon.ie, the real problem is that many people who have access to it just won’t use it — or any other social network for that matter.

What Is The Problem?

This is not the first time we have come across problems with SharePoint, Yammer and user adoption. And it is unlikely that it is the last time we will hear about it.

In a provocative counter argument, Rich Wood of Perficient explored the issue in CMSWire last October. He contended the rise of Yammer, along with Office, will create a future situation where user adoption will no longer be a concern. According to Wood:

SharePoint itself hasn't hit the tipping point of ubiquity that email enjoys, but some of its core services (translation: document collaboration, search, social) have — and the most recent gateway to SharePoint, Yammer, boasts almost immediate usability for most new users. The world doesn't want to talk about 'user adoption' anymore. The world wants to get on with it, already."

But what if the problem is not about difficulty or learning curves but about culture? What if the problem with Yammer has nothing to do with the product itself and nothing to with usability, but rather with the fact that enterprise workers are holding onto email for dear life and are not prepared to give it up?

Microsoft itself appears to be aware of this. The addition of complimentary Yammer for the new Office 365 plans appears to speak to that. However, if Microsoft’s updated offerings are a step in the right direction, they won't solve the problem of social and collaboration in the enterprise.

Yammer's Progress

Microsoft has done a lot of work on Yammer to make it accessible. In the past two years it has been adding and adding and adding to Yammer. Some of the key points in recent months, according to Jared Spataro, General Manager of Enterprise Social at Microsoft are:

  • Feb. 2013: Microsoft integrated Yammer into Microsoft Dynamics CRM, allowing users to participate in social conversations, share data, and follow updates without ever leaving the CRM application
  • Nov. 2013: Microsoft announced the inclusion of Yammer Enterprise with all Office 365 Enterprise plans. It is now included with Office 365 Academic and Office 365 Midsize Business plans
  • Feb. 2014: Simplified login to Yammer from Office 365, in which Office 365 users are mapped to Yammer accounts. Now, when you click on Yammer from your Office 365 global navigation bar, there is no need to re-authenticate. This summer, we’ll surface the Office 365 navigation bar in Yammer, enabling unified navigation across Office 365
  • Feb. 2014: SharePoint 2013 Service Pack 1 (SP1), which makes it easy to connect an on-premises SharePoint deployment with an in-the-cloud Yammer network

This final release was a significant one in that one of the big, technology issues has been connecting SharePoint on-premises with Yammer in the cloud.

Happy, But ...

The overall result is a product that businesses are, to a large extent, happy with. So what exactly is the problem? David Lavenda explains it like this:

The companies that we work with are happy with Yammer itself, but are struggling to get people to adopt to it as a social platform. Most of the companies that we work with are SharePoint shops and have Yammer in their roadmaps… but it’s a bit of a struggle to get people to jump on board."

The issue, he says, is that all the  elements that people are working with are disassociated in users’ minds, even if they come together under a single banner like Office 365.

Part of [the problem] is because it is seen as a separate piece. … you know… I’ve got my I’ve got my Office stuff, I go Lync, I’ve got OneDrive, then I’ve got Yammer and its all very disparate."

There is also the problem with user behavior and how the new technologies are perceived and how users take to them:

Changing people’s behavior has always been the most difficult part of getting people to adopt to a new technology and if you’re used to sending emails to people and then suddenly you’ve got a message board it’s a very different experience."

However, Microsoft is actively working on this. In fact, its not just working on it, its doing the smart thing by bringing the Yammer window into the application window in Office 365.

The result is that now you can open a document window in parallel to your Yammer Window and make comments while you are working. It is these are the kind of things that are going to drive user behavior, and that’s the kind of thing that Harmon.ie have been working on since day one.

The key is to create a contextual experience so that a business users is talking in Yammer its directly related to the kind of work I’m doing in email then there’s a context and its much easier for people to adopt to use that tool because its connected and connected in a meaningful way.

The SharePoint Problem

But if the major of SharePoint implementations are still on-premises despite Microsoft’s efforts to move enterprises to Office 365, what do you do given the difficult of tying the on-premises SharePoint deployment with the cloud-based Yammer.

Two recent pieces of research provide two different views, which shows how difficult it actually is to make a definitive decision on this one.

 In October last year, Jeff Mann at Gartner Research published the provocative title, Should Microsoft Kill SharePoint?  where he argued that trying  SharePoint on-premises applications with cloud-based Yammer can only result in a mess.

Rob Koplowitz of Forrester is a little bit more optimistic. He argues that enterprises that have not  yet invested in enterprise social and are ready to embrace the cloud should consider the potential of adding Yammer to an existing SharePoint implementation. 

The third option is to bring in a company like Harmon.ie. Lavenda’s strategy builds on all these different facts. He stated:

With the larger companies, the challenge is that Yammer is seen as a separate piece of technology. Microsoft rightly identifies the challenge as one of making Yammer part of the daily [work]experience. Everybody’s using Office, everybody’s using email — so if you make Yammer a part of that experience rather than a separate experience, people will be more apt to use it.

This is not something that will be resolved any time soon. Lavenda points out that the vision for Yammer and the roadmap as far as it is known makes a lot of sense.

However, if large companies are still largely committed to on-premises and they are not going to move to Office 365 and SharePoint Online any time soon, the difficulty of incorporating Yammer into the daily work experience will remain as will the need for companies like Harmon.ie to tie everything together.

While you could argue that Harmon.ie would have to arrive at such a conclusion given that some of its business depends on this, it is also true that there are still major issues tying hosted Yammer to on-premises SharePoint . Lavenda concludes:

Our value proposition is that we go to companies and we say, you have already invested in these tools, you own them,but your not getting value out of them because they are too disjointed and there is no connectivity between the experiences of the desktop and the mobile. Technically this value proposition begins with SharePoint, but equally there is interest in presence awareness integrated."

There is still a long way to go on this and this undoubtedly will not be the last word in a debate that started just about as soon as Microsoft inked the Yammer deal. There’s still a lot of heat in this yet.

Title image by Thorsten Rust / Shutterstock.com.