With the announcement of the Yammer integration roadmap a question remains: which direction should your company choose?

In my previous series of articles we have been looking at the ways that Social features can be included in your organization. We started first by exploring the idea that it isn't about the tools, it's about the users and what they are doing. From there we moved to the basic features of the two offerings and talked about the various technical elements within SharePoint and Yammer. In this article we are going to be taking a deeper dive into the decisions that each organization will have to make as they move forward with a social strategy.

This article has been a while in writing, because since the SharePoint conference I have really been trying to understand how this was all going to work together. At SPC we heard quite a bit about the acquisition of Yammer and the development of an integration Roadmap.

Now, several months later, many different organizations that I am working with have the need to take things to the next level. They are currently in the middle of SharePoint 2013 deployments and are trying to answer the question of how to best move forward with the available social features.


It doesn’t take much for organizations to realize the value in the features, but knowing when to move to what can leave a little confusion. As part of my research on the topic I approached the team at Microsoft to see if they had any input to share. I got to have a chat with Jared Spataro and got his insight on the latest updates to their integration roadmap.

The One Thing

In speaking with Jared, one quote that stood out above all was when he said,

If I could persuade you to do one thing that would be to persuade you to go with Yammer.”

When you think about it, this is a pretty powerful declaration, which shows the depth of the commitment from the Microsoft team. It’s hard to argue when you hear a statement like this that Microsoft isn’t fully committed to making the experience between the two products a streamlined experience. It hasn’t happened overnight, but small steps are being made in the direction.

This can be seen in things like the integration of CMR and Yammer that was released just last month, along with promises of continued integration available this summer. This is just further evidence of the change in approach that Microsoft is implementing when it comes to deploying its services and products.

Don’t Let History Determine the Future

I have heard many people compare the Yammer acquisition to the acquisition of Fast. At first, in order to take advantage of any of the features available in Fast, you were required to run both in your environment. Over time, the two products were fully integrated and now when you use SharePoint 2013 you are able to take advantage of all of the integrated features from FAST, directly within SharePoint. This effort took a great deal of time, but the wait paid off and the search experience in SharePoint 2013 is far superior to what we had in any previous version.

If we look back at history, this would tell us that we should wait for the latest and greatest with the new release of SharePoint to really see what the integration will be like. If we were only looking at the past, we would hedge our bets and only move forward with SharePoint 2013, waiting for the future when Yammer becomes more integrated with SharePoint.

By doing this however, we are ignoring the future direction that Microsoft is committed to. With Office 365 and now with Yammer, Microsoft has repeatedly emphasized the new direction of 90 day software releases. This new release cycle is going to allow for a gradual integration approach.

While we don’t have all the integration we need today for a seamless experience, by summer we will have a set of tools that will help with integrating the two. By the fall and then the following Q1 we will have even more tools.

This approach of having smaller release cycles will impact the rate at which the integration occurs, which should cause us to evaluate what we have done in the past to ensure that we can best align with the new approaches.

Having said that, I know decisions aren't based on hopeful promises and you will likely be looking for more reasons to go with one approach over another. The remainder of this article will hopefully help you see some key reasons why going with Yammer makes sense, and also some ideas on what to do if Yammer isn't an option for your organization.

Value of a Hosted Solution

In discussing the value of Yammer with Jared, two key points were at the top of his mind -- the ability to quickly innovate and the ability to provide a platform that is designed to grow with grass root efforts.

By design, Yammer is a quick tool that allows users to quickly start working together to do common things using a community approach. This allows organizations to start seeing the benefits of social immediately. And because Yammer is constantly being updated you can be ensured that you will always be running the latest and greatest features. Yammer has a track record of delivering updates based on the requests and needs of the users, and this isn’t going to change with the Microsoft acquisition.

Comparing this to an on-premises approach would highlight that the benefits of Yammer are not limited to the rate at which you can deploy changes within your environment. As Yammer changes are deployed you are able to take full advantage of them immediately.

If you decided to not use Yammer, and instead use the SharePoint 2013 social features you will be limiting your experience to what is available within this release and your users will have this single set of tools until the next release. By using a hosted solution you are providing a way for the tools to be updated in increments over time.

Since social is all about how we work together, it should be assumed that the ways in which we work will update over time. In the social space there are constant changes to how we do things. You probably can’t remember a time without Twitter or Facebook, but imagine what the trends will be just a few years from now. The tools we use to communicate together are constantly changing and evolving.

The Freedom of Choice

Reading between the lines in the latest roadmap for social, it is clear that while Microsoft feels the strongest about Yammer and highly recommends that all organizations move forward with implementation, it is also clear that they are not forcing a Yammer or nothing choice.

With the newest releases this summer, organizations will be given a choice as to what tools they want to use. The standard option will be the SharePoint social components, with the option to integrate them with Yammer instead. Organizations are being given the freedom of choice to make the decision that is best for them.

With SharePoint being such a huge component within organizations and there being a great deal of overlap with the existing Yammer features, there is really no one clear way to do things. At this point you can store documents in SharePoint or you can store them in Yammer. This is just one example of how the two products overlap. But, over time, these overlaps will come together.

When I asked Jared about how this would look in the future, he shared with me that the team at Yammer and the team from SharePoint are no longer two separate teams, but instead “one single team working towards a single vision.” To me this means we will likely start to see the best features in each product highlighted in a single way. While at this point and time it may cause confusion to have multiple ways to do the same thing, the future predicts that this will go away as the products continue to integrate.

The biggest question you will need to ask internally is how will you deal with the change. There will be costs associated with whatever direction you take; you just need to determine what the best strategy is for your organization. The beauty of it is though, that you have a choice. You can continue to use SharePoint 2013 social or you can make the choice to get started with Yammer integrated with SharePoint 2013. The integration will occur over time, but sometimes time can be a valuable asset. The choice is really yours to make.

On-Prem, but not Forgotten: The Beauty of Hybrid

Another point that was made clear in the roadmap was that there is going to be an effort to include integration options for users who are using Office365 as well as users who have an on-premises installation. While Office365 will be updated at a rate higher than the on-premises environments, there is still great opportunity for a hybrid implementation.

This would allow you to keep your SharePoint environment on-premises while allowing for integration with the hosted Yammer solution. By focusing on changes in Yammer, Microsoft will be able to deliver value without having to rely on changes to the SharePoint installation.  

While it's true that there will be periods of time where the Office365 offering has more features available, those changes will be integrated into the future releases of SharePoint. Microsoft has a clear path that includes providing information for multiple configuration types. This means that you can still take advantage of the features within Yammer, without having to use an Office365 configuration.

A Timeline to March With

The current roadmap is defined into three sections with three corresponding timelines. These timelines provide us with information on the incremental development approach that Microsoft is going after. Below I will describe each of the changes as I understand them. If they are true to the vision they are presenting, then by this time next year we should have access to a deeply connected experience that highlights the best features of both applications.

Basic (Summer):

This will be the first big integration point we have with Yammer and it will be a primary way for us to reduce confusion among SharePoint users. We will have the option to replace the current Newsfeed links with a link to Yammer. This will allow users to access one single newsfeed.

This will be our first opportunity to make a choice for our organization. If we decide to stick with the standard SharePoint 2013 social options, we can. But if we choose to switch them out, we will be given guidance and instruction on the best way to do this. We will also have access to a Yammer app that will allow us to display Yammer newsfeeds within any SharePoint site. This will give us the ability to streamline the two together so that users can continue to take advantage of both the features of SharePoint and Yammer.

Deeper (Fall):

Moving to the fall we will see a deeper level of integration that allows for a single sign on experience. This will allow for users to easily navigate between Yammer and Office365 through the use of a single navigation structure that crosses both applications.

There will also be changes made for the hybrid scenarios, but those aren't as clearly outlined in the roadmap. This is a great next step in the integration of the two applications and in my mind will be the entry point for many organizations as they are determining the best time to make the transition between the available social tools.

Connected (Q1 2014):

Beyond this fall and into 2014, we will continue to see the development of a connected set of tools. To me this means we will continue to see the best of both products being used together as if they were one product.

There aren't a lot of available details that have been released for this phase, but we do at least get a glimpse into the vision they are creating. Taking things one step at a time, this third step is sure to be one that brings alignment to some of the grey areas that currently exist between to the two applications.

Say “No” for the Right Reasons

Pulling it all together, the only conclusion that I can come to is that the best path is to keep moving forward, saying "no" for only the right reasons. Social features have the ability to change the way an organization works, because they provide a way for users to work together in a natural way that can grow virally within the organization.

Traditionally it has been a concern of many organizations that they are investing a lot into SharePoint, but not fully utilizing its functionality. Yammer in some cases may be the glue that is needed to really pull things together for your organization. Because of its viral nature and a user’s ability to do things quickly, with little training, it is a way that users can naturally begin to work together.

Microsoft is making huge bets on its integration plans and I truly believe that the best is yet to come. There are definite gaps at this point and time, but there are also roadmaps that show the future direction of the product.

While the roadmaps don’t exactly map out all things in detail, they provide details on the next immediate releases and provide vision for future components. So we may not know exactly what will be released in Q1 of next year, but we do know they are looking at connecting the way we work within the existing tool set. Having this information will allow us to plan accordingly and make the most of the current situation.

The Risk of Staying Still

If we ignore the process of change and simply wait to see what happens, we run the risk of falling behind. I stated earlier that I felt there were costs associated with whatever decision made; I fully believe that the greatest cost will be just waiting to see what happens.

Social components, while made available through technology, are more about the way that users work together and less about the actual tool set. So while we may not know all of the specifics of what we intend for users to do, we do know that they are working together to complete tasks and move organizations forward.

Yammer is a tool that is going to help enhance the movement that is already happening within any organization. By combining that with the powerful features of SharePoint, you are able to provide an extremely powerful, flexible and complete solution for your organization. Getting started with Yammer is easy, simply follow the steps mapped out in the Community Manager Playbook, where Yammer provides you with clear guidance on how to get started and information on what to do throughout the entire process.

Over time as the use of the tools evolves you will be able to better streamline the functions of certain features and provide additional guidance on how to best do things. Yes, there is a risk associated with allowing users to do the same thing in multiple ways, but there is also risk in not providing them the tools they need to work in the most effective way.

There will be costs associated with any path you take, my only advice is to look at the cost with open minds and take risks when they make sense. I think I agree with Jared on this one, go with Yammer, unless you absolutely can’t!

Image courtesy of yvon52 (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Jennifer's thoughts on SharePoint 2013 and Yammer, check out SharePoint, Social and Yammer: A Way of Working, Not Just Tools