Yammer Co-Founder Adam Pisoni on the Future of Collaboration
A 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.

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Figure 2: The Complexities of Supply Chain Logistics

Transparency Example

I gave an example where transparency would make a critical process a lot better. My example was focused on the supply chain, and how we could add collaboration to an already critical process. Supply chain in most organizations is very siloed, and not much collaboration goes on. We focused on the Executive Sales and Operational Planning (ES&OP) process. The picture below shows how this process is typically implemented.

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Figure 3: Typical Implementation of ES&OP From Bob Stahl and Tom Wallace


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Figure 4: Collaboration Added to ES&OP (From Collaborative Strategies, Inc.)

The second picture shows how radically different the lines of communication are when you add collaboration to this process.

We finally agreed that more transparency was a good thing, but that there was some data that needed to be secure, not transparent, and that it was the CIO's challenge to walk that line between collaboration and security to the best benefit of his company.

Advice to CIOs

Adam asked me what advice I would have for CIOs in this difficult position. I replied that investing in greater transparency, starting one department at a time, is the way I would go, probably using Marketing as the guinea pig, since they have mostly outward facing content, and probably less that had to be truly secure.

The other piece of advice I would give to CIOs about collaboration would be to look for new social structures that are emerging as a response to the rapid pace of technology. The example I gave Adam was that of Flash Teams (which I also talked about in my predictions).

The best example I can give for a flash team is from the movie “The Magnificent Seven.” In the movie (which is a westernization of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai”) Yul Brynner, the leader of what will become the Magnificent Seven, made a promise to a small town to protect them from the bandits that preyed upon them.

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Figure 5: “The Magnificent Seven” Yul Brynner front left

He then had to go out and recruit six other experts (gunslingers) or consultants, to help him keep his promise. Thus Flash Teams sit somewhere between crowdsourcing and consulting.

According to Daniela Retelny, a PhD student at Stanford’s The Center for Work, Technology and Organization, flash teams are “a modular and elastic team structure that can be replicated and re-combined, it is the idea is dynamic teams that can adapt to the specific project. These teams can be stable, evolving and scaled, and theoretically you could create a whole organization from these structures.” The idea is to bring experts from the crowd together for large, complex tasks.

Who knows what other kind of unholy hook ups collaboration technologies will bring into the enterprise?But as a CIO, I would stay flexible and remember, that all the departments in your company are your clients. Think of yourself as an internal consulting group whose goal is to keep everything running. That soon could be the case, if organizations change as much as I think they will -- paring down to a core of about 100 people, with every other job “smartsourced” -- outsourced to an organization with that particular expertise that has an established, trusted relationship with the core company.