Yammer Co-Founder Adam Pisoni on the Future of CollaborationA little over a year ago, I interviewed Adam Pisoni, co-founder of Yammer, shortly after it had been bought by Microsoft. There was much speculation at the time on how and when Yammer would fit into the Microsoft Office Division’s products.

We recently regrouped. Between Microsoft’s new CEO and Adam’s reaction to my predictions for collaboration in 2014, we had a very interesting discussion.

Where is Microsoft Going (with Collaboration)?

Pisoni started off by endorsing the new CEO, Satya Nadella, as a great guy and one who understands the working of Microsoft quite well, but also noted he was the head of its cloud business (I am assuming what this means to Adam is that he is less mired in Microsoft’s legacy business, and focused more on future cloud business). Adam told me that Nadella comes to Silicon Valley and San Francisco to see start-ups all the time, so he is very tuned in to the particular culture there, rather than the Redmond, Wash. culture.

I take all of these comments as positive signs. And that SharePoint and Lync will not be Microsoft’s main response to collaboration forever.

We turned our focus then to my 10 Predictions for Collaboration in 2014 (many of which he agreed with). But it’s where he disagreed that things got interesting.

I echoed Mark Andreessen’s comment about “software is eating the world.” Adam took exception to this, and said that not only would the subscription model for pricing and delivery remain (where as I predicted that the “fee for service” model would predominate (like Amazon Web Services)) but that the subscription would be to data, not software. In Adam’s words (and this is from a software guy),

Software is easy, it enables us to get meaning and value from the data, but it is the data itself that is both hard to collect and the most valuable, and that is what people will be subscribing to in the future.”

Google and Facebook were some of the examples he gave.

Does Shared Context Replace Trust?

I contend that trust isn’t enough anymore for distributed teams to run on, context is now critical considering the level of complexity that these teams have to deal with. I believe that team members need to understand the “local context” of each of their team members to be effective. Local context is made up of: their personal context, their work context, the company (cultural and policy) context, the country (cultural) context and finally the context of the project this distributed team is working on. I believe that with increasing complexity, these types of shared contexts are critical.


Figure 1: High vs. Low context communications

We did have some discussion about low and high context cultures (with the US as the example for a low context culture, and Japan the example for a high context culture) and how difficult it was for someone (like Adam or I) coming from a low context culture to understand if “yes” means “yes” in a high context culture (Adam had just returned from a trip to Japan). However, that was a diversion.

Transparency and Security

We then talked about transparency and security. I said “security is an illusion” -- you can make it difficult to get to your data, or expensive -- or both -- but if someone really wants to get to it, they will. Adam responded that even though this was true, it was IT’s role to keep critical data safe. By that he explained that he had an obligation to keep Yammer's client’s data safe, as they had entrusted it to him. I responded that the more transparency there was in organizations that work with consultants, experts, partners and even customers outside their firewall, the better they did with all sorts of problems and issues.