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Microsoft Outlines Yammer Integration Plans

Social networking innovations in Microsoft's products will increasingly center on Microsoft's Yammer acquisition, with improvements rolling out this year, according to comments today by a Microsoft executive.

Jared Spataro, senior director at the Microsoft Office Division, suggested that companies "go Yammer" when considering the social networking capabilities offered by SharePoint and Yammer. Microsoft now has two social networking applications, which may leave organizations a bit confused about where Microsoft's product development is heading. Yammer was added to the Microsoft Office Division in July after Microsoft bought the company for $1.2 billion. In addition to Yammer integration with SharePoint, Microsoft is working to make Yammer work across Dynamics CRM, Outlook, Exchange, Skype and Lync.

Spataro explained in a conference call with press today that the social networking user experiences between Yammer and SharePoint are "a little different" today. Organizations have a choice on which of the two applications to use for social networking, but he suggested that future trends are pointing to innovation happening more on the cloud-based Yammer side.

Today, at Microsoft's Convergence event, the integration of Yammer and Dynamics CRM was demonstrated, using updated software. Microsoft had announced Yammer and Dynamics CRM capabilities on the Apple iPad in February. In addition to working on the iPad, Yammer and Dynamics CRM capabilities work on the iPhone, Android mobile devices and Windows Phone. In other Dynamics news today, Microsoft announced that it has acquired Netbreeze, which will add social listening and analytics capabilities to Dynamics CRM. The company also announced that it has added some marketing management capabilities to Dynamics CRM with a new MarketingPilot 15 release.

Spataro outlined a roadmap for Yammer social networking integration more broadly in his conference call. In November, he had explained that Microsoft was working on adding identity, document management and feed aggregation in Yammer, which will be available as both a standalone product and as capabilities integrated with Office 365 solutions. Microsoft has pared down Yammer into two offerings, a free Basic offering and Yammer Enterprise, offered at $3 per user per month. Microsoft plans to ship Yammer Enterprise with all Office 365 products (E1 to E4), at no extra cost, but only for Enterprise Agreement licensing customers.

Yammer Milestones for Office 365
Today, Spataro provided an update about when Yammer will get integrated with Office 365 products. In the summer, Office 365 customers will have the option to replace their newsfeeds with Yammer. Microsoft will release a Yammer application in the SharePoint Store around that time that will let users of a SharePoint site add a Yammer group feed to it. This Yammer app will also work with SharePoint newsfeeds when SharePoint has been installed on the customer's premises. Microsoft plans to offer guidance this summer on how such a hybrid deployment can work.

In the fall, Microsoft will offer a single sign-on experience with Yammer when used with Office 365 solutions. The user experience will become more natural with this update. Yammer will also get document handling capabilities in conjunction with Office Web Apps at that time, enabling the editing and coediting of Excel, PowerPoint and Word documents.

Microsoft is promising to move to a more frequent Office 365 update schedule going into next year, which will help to accelerate Yammer innovations. This new update cadence will be about once every 90 days, starting in 2014.

Yammer in Hybrid Networks
Yammer is an enterprise social networking application delivered as a multitenant service via Microsoft's datacenters. As such, it doesn't get installed at the customer's premises. For that reason, some companies may not want to use Yammer, and in those cases Microsoft recommends sticking with SharePoint for social networking.

Spataro outlined how Yammer works in hybrid scenarios, combining cloud-based Yammer and SharePoint Server on premises.

"They [customers] can use the social capabilities of SharePoint Server or they can also choose to replace SharePoint newsfeed with their Yammer network," Spataro said. "And this is a really exciting scenario for us because it essentially represents a very easy, understandable, seamless type of hybrid deployment. You'll be able to keep the stuff you know and love with SharePoint on prem…and you'll be able to again remove the SharePoint newsfeed and overall navigation, replace that with Yammer, and then allow your users to go and click on that Yammer path and start to get an experience that starts to feel more and more integrated."

Research and consulting firm Gartner Inc. has advised that Yammer is the way to go to avoid possible future deprecated features in SharePoint on the social networking side. Larry Cannell, a research director at Gartner, speculated in a Webinar last week that Microsoft may have to offer Yammer capabilities for its on-premises SharePoint customers, stating that "in my opinion, Microsoft is going to have to provide a Yammer-like experience within SharePoint for companies that can't use the cloud."

However, Cannell's comment was speculation, as Microsoft hasn't announced such plans to date. Nonetheless, Spataro did acknowledge the demand for an on-premises SharePoint newsfeed, although he touted the benefits of the cloud.

"There clearly is demand for on-prem SharePoint newsfeed that is not in the cloud," Spataro said. "A cloud service for us has two advantages in the social space that is tough to get with an on-prem implementation of social. No. 1, the cloud services have a tendency to be much more tuned for viral adoption, and this has to do with everything from security settings to just the ability to take advantage of data that you're getting -- signals that you're getting from the service -- and understand what's really driving viral adoption. With social, it really only matters when you get a lot of people using it. If you only have a small group of people using social, the network effects don't combine. So that online -- that cloud approach -- in social really helps with viral adoption."

Spataro's second point on the cloud-enabled advantages of social networking had to do with the evolution of Yammer, which will be facilitated by social analytics.

"We see this as a space that will continue to reinvent itself," Spataro said. "Users will use it [social networking] more than they do today. And the reason that's true is that we use analytics and a new approach to development to really measure how people are using it as we push up new features to measure if those features are sticking or not. And to tweak and tune the service the way that a high-end Web site in the past has tweaked and tuned its experience to get kind of off-the-wall performance. And that means that this kind of incremental innovation we get in Yammer is just something we are not going to be able to replicate the same way in an on-prem deployment."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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