Reports of Yammer's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Is Microsoft killing its enterprise social networking tool or is it adapting it to a changing landscape?
- By Christian Buckley
Change is hard. No matter how much we train ourselves to be flexible, to develop tough skin against the many bumps and scrapes that come with working in technology, every so often something happens that startles the community and catches us off-guard. And like a flip of the switch we go from "champions of change" to defenders of the "old way" of doing things.
For those unaware of the news this week, Microsoft made the decision to "release to industry" the Customer Success Managers (CSMs), a role created preacquisition by the Yammer team, which had been expanded to support the broader Office 365 platform in the last year -- but which had still been associated with Yammer by most within the community.
To clarify, some CSMs were hired after the expanded scope, and were more focused on Office 365 than just Yammer. Even so, why would Microsoft cut these roles that were so important to the community managers in Yammer, and participated in the ongoing training and support of Microsoft and partner sales teams who work with customers to transition to an enterprise social network paradigm? And what does this say about the general state of Yammer?
I'll divide my answers, beginning with what happened to the CSM role:
I heard the news when a good friend who is a CSM reached out through social media (Facebook Messenger, if you must know) to let me know of the change. Within the hour, I had heard from two more CSMs. All three were disappointed by the news, while not entirely surprised -- but also optimistic about their prospects and the wealth of opportunities still available within the Office 365 ecosystem, and around Yammer. I say they were not surprised because a recent reorganization had left them without a management champion who understood, and agreed with, their primary charter. Additionally, Microsoft had been moving toward centralizing much of their role within the FastTrack for Office 365 program.
I know many of you are asking what did the CSM role do, exactly? What was their charter? First and foremost, a CSM would work with the customer to define their collaboration vision and priorities. One of the biggest problems with social collaboration is that people tend to treat it as a technology issue without first understanding what their business needs, what their company culture requires, and what their employees want. Having a clear picture of where you want to go seems like a fairly obvious first step forward, and yet many companies (I'd say most companies) skip that step. Helping customers define and prioritize their plans and develop a strategy was a huge value add, followed by the second step -- identifying business outcomes. It's not enough to simply state what you want out of a tool or business platform -- you also need to identify what success looks like.
Having started my career as a business analyst, I've watched this pattern -- and struggled trying to convince customers (and employers) not to skip them -- play out again and again. To achieve any goal or lasting business change, you need to have a goal in mind, and an idea of what things will look like when you are successful. Only then can you start devising tactics or initiatives to help you reach your end goals.
The third role of the CSM was to help customers move into a social collaboration mindset, using social capabilities to help them reach their defined business outcomes. And finally, the CSM would guide the customer through launch, and be a supportive advocate throughout their journey.
Some of you are probably thinking that this role could easily be picked up by partners within the ecosystem. Yes, for sure. I think there is tremendous opportunity for partners to take the lead here, leveraging the tools and best practices available through FastTrack. While the absence of CSMs within the Office 365 Technical Community and other public resources (mostly on Yammer) will leave a gap, the community is more than capable of stepping up and filling this role, in my opinion. But the issue has more to do with the signal this change sends to customers about Microsoft's commitment to social collaboration -- and to Yammer.
Impact on Yammer
Which leads to the second question. What does this mean for Yammer as a platform? Absolutely nothing.
I need to be up front: I work for a social collaboration ISV that, for a while, was viewed as an indirect competitor to Yammer because we provide a similar experience for SharePoint on-premises as well as online customers. But we integrate with Yammer and work with many customers who use and love Yammer, and view the growth of the platform as good for our own business growth. I want an ecosystem where more and more businesses want to adopt social collaboration technologies to improve adoption and support deeper engagement on SharePoint and Office 365. And Yammer -- along with Office 365 Groups, Skype for Business and other tools and features -- helps extend that ecosystem.
While the loss of the CSM role has a short-term impact, it has absolutely nothing to do with the long-term viability of the Yammer platform. There are tens of millions of people using Yammer. No matter how much I agree that having a CSM mindset is critical to organizations creating sustainable change, 40 people (yes, there were only around 40 CSMs worldwide) will not cause millions of people to stop using the platform. That idea is simply ridiculous. Yammer as a platform and as a community has matured enough where members of that community -- members outside of Microsoft -- are capable of stepping up and stepping in, allowing Microsoft to focus more on what it is good at: making software. FastTrack is in alignment with that focus, centralizing tools and templates, best practices and community.
Yammer was built around a philosophy -- to work like a network, looking beyond job descriptions and titles, teams and business unit, where everyone has a voice and could make a difference. The CSM role fit that philosophy very well, helping organizations break down their communication and information silos. What made this role unique is that community success -- the idea of providing advocacy and support, not just at launch, but as an ongoing activity -- is so central to successful social collaboration.
But roles need to scale, and they need to align with business need. FastTrack expansion and having partners and customers take the lead is the logical next step in evolution in this case.
I'll conclude where I started: change is hard. It's often really uncomfortable. I suspect that this decision was not taken lightly, and have heard rumor that it has been in the works for many months. I've been very vocal about the lack of real integration between Yammer and SharePoint, but that story is far from over. For a large constituency, Yammer is simply the right tool, and will continue being the right tool.
I wish the CSMs best of luck -- and I'm hiring, if you're interested.
Christian Buckley, founder and CEO of CollabTalk, is a frequent speaker and writer, and a SharePoint and Office 365 MVP. In the past he worked on the SharePoint team at Microsoft and later served as an evangelist at Echo Technology, Axceler, Metalogix and Beezy. Follow him on Twitter: @BuckleyPlanet.